Novels are works of fiction. In other words, novels are made up stories about made up characters. Still, I’ve come to learn readers expect a certain level of realism in the fiction. If a fictional character or setting is properly portrayed, readers will identify/empathize with the character or easily picture the setting.  If not, they will let the author know!

Fiction can also be used to present differing points of view or to make readers aware of situations or circumstances they may not be familiar with.

Writing “real” fictional characters or settings can sometimes create tension for me especially when my characters act in a way that would not be natural for me. In my personal life, I don’t swear (unless I’ve stubbed my toe really badly!). I don’t use drugs, I don’t drink excessively and I’ve been married for a number of years. However, the fictional characters in my novels are not me although I am their creator and therein lies the tension.

My first novel “A Grave in the Vegetable Garden” tells the story of a married woman who takes desperate measures to protect her daughter. Some readers were not happy with the subject of domestic violence and some of the details while others liked the fact there was no swearing or sex scenes. As the author, I didn’t believe swearing or having sex was relevant to the story, but I did want to present a “realistic” story of a woman who claimed to suffer battered wife syndrome and let readers decide if she actually did.

My second novel “A Table on Kilimanjaro” chronicles the fictional climb of two families up the famous African mountain. Some readers took offense at the description of the mountain toilets as well as other physical activities the characters engaged in as they ascended the mountain. One of the characters utters a couple of swear words and one scene could possibly depict sexual activity depending on the reader’s interpretation. As the author, I believed it was important to include certain descriptions to indicate the breaking down of the characters’ previous physical, emotional and mental social barriers. I also wanted readers to be aware of the sanitary conditions many rural Tanzanians live with every day. As for the swearing, I believed it was the “realistic” reaction of a character to a shocking occurrence.

My third novel “The Smallest of Waves” is set in a fictional Southern California beach town. Two of the characters are homeless. I wanted to depict these characters as “realistically” as possible while at the same time keeping the swearing to a minimum. While I understand some readers might be offended, I believe I found a good balance. And yes, one character is drunk in the opening chapter!

As a reader, I tend to choose novels that don’t overwhelm with offensive language or graphic descriptions of sex or killing so naturally the novels I write won’t do so either. I realize authors can’t please everyone nor should they strive to do so.

My fourth novel is still in my head. I don’t know yet exactly what my characters will do or say, but my goal as always will be to present them in as “real” a way as possible using language and actions I might not say or do, but that I wouldn’t mind reading.