How writers channel their lives to their work

“Most fiction is shaped by geography and permeated by autobiography, even when it is trying not to be,” Ross MacDonald (Kenneth Millar), in the introduction to Archer in Jeopardy, a 1979 omnibus of three Lew Archer novels, published in 1979.

There’s an old saying you should “write what you know.” But, for many fiction writers, it goes beyond that.

Writers, whether they intend to or not, show what is going on with their lives.

Take, for example, the James Bond novels and short stories by Ian Fleming. “The early novels have an engaging style that concentrates on mood, character development, and plot advancement,” Raymond Benson wrote in The James Bond Bedside Companion. “In the later novels, Fleming injected more ‘pizzazz’ into his writing.”

Toward the end of his run, Fleming had other issues. In April 1961, the author suffered a major heart attack, according to the Ian Fleming Publications website. Fleming stories written after that time reflect a fascination with death, especially the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice.

Nor was Fleming alone. Paddy Chayefsky had a dark outlook about humanity. Characters played by James Garner in The Americanization of Emily, George C. Scott in The Hospital and William Holden in Network are, in effect, alter egos for Chayefsky.

This post began with a quote from Kenneth Miller, aka Ross Macdonald. His Lew Archer often probed troubled families to solve a mystery. Miller himself channeled his own troubled life when writing his Lew Archer stories.

Writing fiction is hard. Doing it well takes talent and effort. Even though who do it well may not be able to make a sale.

Regardless, the authors tell more about themselves than they perhaps intend. As Kenneth Millar observed most fiction “is permeated by autography.”

2 Responses

  1. His Lew Archer often probed deep into troubled factories to solve a mystery.

    Factories? Was that the word you meant? I haven’t read any Ross MacDonald in a very long time, but I seem to remember a lot more family drama than industrial espionage.

  2. No, families. Fix made.

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