Are all novels autobiographical?

Where do authors find characters for the novels they write?

You could say that the characters are all, in a sense, versions of the author. How else can authors enter the minds and emotions of their characters? Everything they write is filtered through their own experiences and perspective.

So, in a way, all novels have an element of autobiography.

But a gifted author does more than write from a personal viewpoint. The greatest pleasure of being a  novelist, in my opinion, is that I can create and recreate characters that come from my life yet also come from my imagination. This gives me the freedom I need to weave a story that's completely fiction out of the strands of what I've seen and done in my own life.

In Žižkov 
For instance, the lead character (protagonist) in Prague for Beginners is a woman, Elizabeth Logan. She is 34 years old, from Tennessee, and works in Prague in 1994 as an English teacher. The novel chronicles one eventful year during which she responds to unexpected and unwelcome changes in both what's around her and what's inside her. Elizabeth uses these changes to build a whole new life, one she couldn't imagine until she lived it.

Parts of Elizabeth are autobiographical--I have lived in Prague and taught English. My descriptions of the city are, in large part, from my own observations. But most of her comes from my imagination, a swirling kaleidoscope made of bits of stories, memories, dreams, and emotion that coalesced to produce this woman. Elizabeth revealed herself to me as I wrote, often surprising me with her slowness to act and the depth of her feelings.

Yes, novelists write from themselves, but the best novelists put themselves at the mercy of their own rich inner life. This is the wellspring of fiction; this is my greatest asset.


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