By Anna David
FICTIONALIZING the people you’ve dated can be tricky — not so much because of how they might respond (you can always deny it and then define the word “fiction” at obnoxious, patronizing decibels), but because of how you might.
When I started writing my novel, “Party Girl,” I decided to use the man I’d most recently dated — the one who’d come on strong, disappeared into the ether and left me feeling bereft — as inspiration for the romantic interest character.
Thrilled to have found a way to put my obsession with him to good use, I cobbled together memories with scenes I could imagine taking place, writing his dialogue with such intensity that at times I felt I was actually channeling the guy.
Still, my character, “Adam,” didn’t feel complete. So I delved into him more ardently, bestowing upon him the best lines I’d heard from other men’s mouths and the most compelling experiences I’d had with different people so that he eventually managed to encompass a sort of “greatest hits” of my love life during a certain period of time. After adding just a dash of my age-old fantasies about what the perfect man should be like, I felt I’d created a guy who was charming, self-effacing and lovable. At least my protagonist sure thought so.
Working on those scenes offered its own reward: Unlike in real life, where I never had any control over what transpired, here I could decide every detail, from where and when a kiss would take place to my protagonist’s sharp dialogue — words I would never have been quick enough to form without time and a computer in front of me.
Then, three years after he’d abruptly exited my world — once the book had sold and was close to being released — real-life Adam returned. He’d changed, he explained, giving me that old line that somehow manages to sound fresh only when you’re desperate to believe it. He wasn’t going to run away anymore, he assured me.
At first, I didn’t want to believe that the three-dimensional guy wasn’t quite as lovable as he was in the book. But the contrast between the two quickly became difficult to ignore. Although real-life Adam adored “Party Girl” and was utterly thrilled with his part in it, he tended to be incredibly judgmental about every other aspect of my career.
“That’s just so beneath you,” he’d say, whether we were discussing my new novel, the blog I write about reality shows or a television segment. “I mean, you wrote an amazing book. How can you do that?” An I-just-smelled-sewage type of crinkled nose would punctuate the last word of the question.
Furthermore, in the book, Adam’s career as an actor is just a backdrop and the fact that he’s neurotic is quirkily appealing. But in real life, dating an anxiety-ridden actor meant being canceled on at the last minute, either because he’d gotten a part or hadn’t, because he needed to study his lines for his important audition or because he was exhausted from the sleepless nights he’d endured while obsessing over whether he’d get the important audition.
But the main difference between reality and fiction is that in the invented story, Adam didn’t pull the protagonist in only to push her away, whereas in real life the guy took off the second time even faster and more dramatically than he had the first. “I’ll call you later — I’m just really stressed right now,” were, in fact, his final words to me before he cut off contact altogether.
Getting over him, however, was far easier than it had been before; not only did I have practice with it, but I also finally saw that continuing to pretend he was someone he wasn’t would be the real fiction.