When art is a little too close to life – Kathryn R. Biel

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By Kathryn R. Biel

I’m a pantser. To many people, it’s a made-up word. To writers, either you are or you aren’t. It means that I write by the seat of my pants. This is in opposition to being a plotter, where every chapter is outlined and sketched before writing commences. Plotters get to use post-its and index cards and lots of different colored pens. While I’m terribly jealous of their use of stationery supplies, plotting just isn’t for me.

I like to wing it. When starting a story, I’ve generally come up with a very basic idea, and sort of have a thought about what’s going to happen. Take, for example, my latest book, Made for Me. I’d already created the main character, Michele. She was the best friend in my holiday novella, Completions and Connections. In all honesty, I didn’t know much about Michele, other than she wanted to be a fashion designer and had a job with chaotic co-workers. When I watch TV, generally it’s HGTV or TLC (or sports). My one exception is Project Runway, which I love, probably because I dabble a bit in sewing. So, last winter, when the idea for Made for Me was swirling around my brain, I came up with the concept:

Project Runway meets Kate Middleton (with a dash of Say Yes to the Dress).

Michele was going to go on a fashion design show to make a wedding gown for a woman who’s about to marry a prince. This concept necessitated me inventing not only a whole country but an entire cast of characters for a TV show. I took the easy way out and only had ten contestants on the show. Some of them didn’t last long, so I didn’t have to think much about them. One of the major minor characters was a flamboyant and jealous man named Dexter. He’s talented, gay, and black. I started writing him last April (which I remember distinctly because I was working on it when Prince died).

Fast forward to September. I receive the final edits and make corrections on Made for Me. I format the e-book. I’m almost ready to upload it to Amazon. The file’s not due for a week, so I decide to hold onto it for a tad bit longer before I upload, knowing that I won’t be able to change it once it’s uploaded.

And to celebrate all this work, I decide to watch Project Runway. I can’t believe they start the season with the unconventional challenge! It’s incredible. There’s yellow wigs and glitter and a flamboyant gay black man named Dexter. WAIT, what? You heard me right. It’s as if the character I invented five months earlier stepped out of my computer and onto this TV show.

So then, what to do?

Sometimes, especially being a pantser, I don’t give much thought to names. I pick a name I’ve heard on TV, or of someone I see scrolling through my Facebook feed. Not this time. The name Dexter was very purposefully chosen. I love it. The character was totally a Dexter. Sigh.

I don’t want to get sued for plagiarism or whatever it would be. I know I didn’t rip this character off from a TV show. My beta readers who read as I was writing know. But in this case, art is a little too close to life. Dexter is now Lexington. Dex is now Lex. Close, but not the same.

You know, this would have happened even if I’d plotted out the whole book. It’s a coincidence no one saw coming.

Telling stories of resilient women, Kathryn R. Biel hails from Upstate New York and is a wife and mother to two wonderful and energetic kids. She works as a school-based physical therapist. She is the author of Good Intentions (2013), Hold Her Down (2014), I’m Still Here (2014), Jump, Jive, and Wail (2015), Killing Me Softly (2015), and Completions and Connections: A Romantic Holiday Novella (2015), Live for This (2016), and Made for Me (2016).


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