Why would a novelist Ask Amy about how to handle criticism?

A first-time novelist writes in to Ask Amy with this problem: a friend does not like the way the novelist portrayed a character who is loosely based on her.  The friend has responded with a scathing, personal online review, saying the novelist needs counseling.  The novelist whines to Amy:

How can I convey to her that while this fictional character shares many of her attributes, it is not her?

The novelist published her book using a pseudonym because she was afraid of negative feedback. Amy says:

Negative feedback is one of many risks you take as a writer and until you can truly claim ownership of your work (no matter what name you use), you will be on the run — creatively, anyway.

Amy, that wise woman, is right, as usual.  This is a war a writer cannot win, so it’s not even worth trying.  At an extreme, here is how the conversation will go:

Ex-friend: “That awful character in your novel — it’s based on me.  Admit it.”

Befuddled writer: “How can the character be based on you?  It’s not even human!  It’s a telepathic slug from the planet Remulon!”

Ex-friend: “Sure, you changed a couple of the details.  But everyone can tell it’s me.”

Ultimately, of course, the writer has to choose which matters more: his art or his personal relationships.  And that brings us to this great quote from William Faulkner:

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much that he can’t get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.

Sorry, Mom!

1 thought on “Why would a novelist Ask Amy about how to handle criticism?

  1. My reply to this situation would be. “No that character is not about you. There are no characters about you in the book because you are not that interesting. However, I promise I will create a character based on you for the next novel. Now, lets talk about the qualities you would like to me highlight.” Then buy the person a cup of coffee and have a nice conversation.


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