1. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    A Story About (some of) My Life. Interesting or Not?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by TLK, Jul 23, 2014.

    Bit of a strange question here, but I was considering writing a book (most likely a novella) based heavily on my own experiences. I was wondering, quality of writing aside, whether there's any point in doing so. Is anyone actually going to want to read this?

    I'm not looking for sympathy here, but I haven't had the best life I could have had. I'm fully aware that I'm lucky to be from a well-off family in a first world country and that the majority of my life is still ahead of me, but, considering that, I've generally not enjoyed my time on the planet that much. I am, however, quite an open person with regards to feelings and, though I wouldn't discuss personal matters with strangers (no offence guys), I'm quite happy to discuss such matters with friends and, for some crazy reason, feel like writing it all down.

    Perhaps, as an author, shielded behind a wall of text, I feel ok with people reading a book based on my life. But maybe it's because I feel I've learnt a lot about life and what really matters, a sort of wisdom that I think should be passed on in one form or the other. Sometimes I feel I could drown in all the deep shit I think about.

    But will people actually care? I plan to write about stuff that's happened recently to me, and maybe continue the story based on the months to come and how I'm dealing with my current situation. But, to me, good books are about dragons and quests to save the world/universe with lots of fighting and suspense. I really doubt any of that will feature.

    I'm pretty sure it'll do me good to get this down on paper, but will it be worth it in the end? It will interfere with another writing project, but I can't see it doing so that much. I'm hardly writing War and Peace here, and likely I'll just jot down a chapter when I feel it's appropriate, with editing to come when I think it's finished.

    Thoughts, everyone? Thanks in advance :)
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only thing that will determine whether people want to read it, is how well you write it. The problem with personal experience-based books though, is that the knowledge and the message we want to describe might be far more profound to us, than to others, because it is our life and our journey. Unless we are famous and people want to read all about us anyway. Another issue is that the story being so close to us, we might not have the sense of humour required to pull such a narrative together. Having a sense of distance and perspective helps with not becoming boring, lamenting, complaining, all the things we usually do when we think about personal pain and obstacles, tragedies, challenges etc. What I'm trying to say is, it's difficult remaining brutally honest with ourselves, and if we aren't, we might cast ourselves as Mary Sues/Gary Stus/perpetual victims in our own autobiography, and people don't care to read that.

    On the other hand, writing personal stories, memoirs etc can be deeply cathartic, and that, in and of itself, is a part of a writer's journey that needs to be fulfilled. If it isn't, we risk inserting ourselves into story after story, which results in some problematic characters. Don't consider it a waste of time. They say you need to write a million words before you are good enough to write something publishable, so safe bet is, nobody's gonna read it at this stage anyway.

    If wanting to share your experience is very important to you, post it on the internet in chapters, as you write it, get some following on facebook or wherever, or just put it up on an anonymous blog. Or self-publish it when you are ready. Or see what you want to do with it later, for now, if you feel a need, just do it. Good luck :)
     
  3. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Thanks for the reply, jazzabel. I'll dwell some on what you've said!

    I think I've got a good enough sense of humour to pull it off, and I do view my in a strange sort of way: being quite mean to myself about it, in a jokey sort of way (there is a word, I forget what it is).

    It's also a good point about it being more of a book for me, rather than anyone else. I'm still a novice writer, so I suppose the practice will do me good, especially as it's outside the realm of what I'd normally choose to write. It would also be good to experiment with self-publishing, since, although it's not the route I want to take with other works, it may be useful knowing how it works and how well it goes. But will self publishing one work put off traditional publishers for other works?
     
  4. JamesBrown
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    JamesBrown Active Member

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    I would say try and take all that you have learnt and try to put it into a fictional work. Parts of it can of course be based on actual events, but if you literally write an autobiography you will end up putting the boring bits in as well.

    People are only interested in reading autobiographies of the rich and famous. Maybe think about writing a novel that features a father/son relationship, with the former imparting wisdow on the latter, with the plot being based on how he acquired that knowledge.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @TLK : I think that's a really good way of looking at it. Having some early works self-published isn't detrimental at all to a writer's career, but if a work is self-published, it is difficult to get a trad publisher interested in it, unless they headhunt you because the self-published stuff did well.

    Once you are sending your good stuff to traditional publishers though, I'd wouldn't mention being self-published in a query letter. It doesn't directly relate to what you are trying to achieve, and it might give a wrong impression of being rejected before.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2014
  6. bythegods
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    bythegods Banned

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    A novella based upon your life of suffering? Why not wait a few more years until you have enough material for a full length novel to describe your life of hardship?
     
  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^ Major red flag. Not saying this applies to you for a certainty, but the last thing anyone wants to read is a memoir from a privileged young adult who takes him(her)self a little too seriously.

    If you are not famous or have not faced genuine adversity (pimples don't count) I can think of only a few ways an autobiography might still prove interesting.

    1. You are a young female sharing your many sexual experiences
    2. You killed someone.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2014
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I remember reading somewhere, in an essay about writing, that people who write about their own lives directly often lack the insight to make a good story about it. They are too close to the subject, and just end up rehashing old grievances, old pains and problems in a diary-like way. Going over old ground may be cathartic to the writer ...but surprisingly it can also evade catharsis for the very reason that the whole picture still isn't clear.

    I'd say use your experiences to inform your characters AND your story, but try writing fiction instead. And don't just directly parallel your life by just changing names.

    I'd say turn your experiences on their head. Maybe set up a story where the POV character is totally UNLIKE you, as far as you know. Maybe they have a different personality inserted into familiar situations. Or they have your personality, but are enacting their lives under totally different circumstances from your present one.

    How would somebody like Batman act if he was living your life instead of you? How would you act if you were in Batman's situation? How would you behave if you were suddenly rendered blind? (Presuming you aren't already.) What would a boy raised in an inner city ghetto make of your somewhat financially privileged life that you live now? What if you adopted him? What would he be like?

    In other words, use what you've got now to create something else.

    You will be astonished at how much you learn about yourself during this process. Also, if catharsis is needed, this is how to get it. If your life is crap (or you think it's crap) you can use fiction to change it. Obviously you aren't going to make a story about yourself when all your problems are solved, but you can use yourself at that starting point to create another kind of story. Be the 'lucky,' well-loved, well-provided-for person with high self esteem who is in a position to adopt somebody who isn't any of those things ...and see where that leads you. Your comfy life will certainly be shaken—and you may well end up with some conclusions about your present life that surprise you.
     
  9. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    I'd hardly say I'm privileged, I'm just not living in poverty struggling to feed myself. What I mean is, although at many times I count myself unlucky as far as life is concerned, I'm still fully aware that there are several billion people on the planet and, in the grand old scheme of things, I'm actually one of the lucky ones.

    This is actually a really good idea and I'd never thought about this. However, while I do prefer writing fiction, I think I'd struggle to fit my own experiences into the kind of fiction I'd write. I like to write Fantasy and will probably dabble in sci-fi in the future (pun completely intended) and the problems my characters will likely face in such stories are far from my own problems. My life hasn't fully gone to plan, but I've never had to trek to Mordor to destroy a ring and save the world.

    I guess I could add in a smaller problem on the side but, from my personal reading experiences, I really don't care that much about them. I want to know whether or not the MC will kill the dragon, not whether or not his parents like him.
     
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  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I personally prefer this method of writing. Channeling one's own feelings/experiences into a dramatic story.

    Let's say it's summer and I'm hot. I'm also a high stress person with a low temper. Maybe my own hostile encounters never escalate beyond harsh words with an old woman in a parking lot. Also, I'm a 15 year old skinny emo girl. These feelings I'm currently experiencing might not translate to others best through my own persona or my own history. However, maybe I'd channel all this irritability, use it to write about a middle aged, middle class, hot tempered man named Philip, whose electricity has gone out for a week, right in the middle of the hottest summer Ohio has seen in ten years. Write about his squabbles with his family and neighbors (also out of power), as they work together to survive the heat, dark nights, and rotten food, and perhaps some sinister secret which Philip will stumble on. ...

    And this is also why I am no longer a fan of fantasy. It feels too superficial to me, because these real life elements are so often not translatable to stories of that genre.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    But see, here's the thing. If you WERE going on a trek to Mordor to destroy a ring and save the world, how would you behave? You as you are now ...forget Frodo. That's what transforms a story from a personal diary of real grievances and woebetides into something other people will really want to read.

    If all you care about is whether or not the dragon dies, then your story will be over with really quick. However, if this character who is out to do the deed has a real personality, hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, conflicts within himself, personality and backstory ...hey, the story is already a lot more interesting, isn't it? Generic Hero A goes to slay a dragon, versus TLK goes to slay a dragon? I know which story I would like to read.
     
  12. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Stories are secondary. More than anything in the world of novels, people invest in characters. If your character, you, is engaging and interesting enough, and they can relate and believe, it will work. Your humanity will be the key.
     
  13. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    Not sure I agree. Golum's relationship with his precious is actually a really interesting dramatisation of narcissistic relationships. The victim of the narcissist is held in thrall to the object of their desire, and despite the punishments such a relationship brings they cannot bring themselves to give up this thing that hurts them.

    He loves and hates the ring, as he loves and hates himself.

    That's why it's such a compelling story, we can see parts of ourselves, phases of our lives played out in the torment of the characters even though the context has nothing to do with reality.

    I highly doubt Tolkien wanted to highlight the dangers of narcissistic individuals in his tale, but giving the ring a life and corrupted purpose of it's own made the story so much more frightening and intriguing than if it were merely an important object. Fantasy should never be empty if it is to be good.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2014
  14. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    @123456789 , @jannert and @PensiveQuill your replies regarding fantasy are interesting, and I do get where you're coming from but I'm not sure if I'd be able to implement what I'd be planning to write about in this work into fantasy. I'm sure I physically could, but I don't think I'd want to.

    Love, as you might have guessed, plays a part in my story and, while it certainly can in Fantasy, it always annoys me, particularly in films, that love always seems to crop up as a secondary theme. I'm struggling to think of a theatrical release film that I've seen where there isn't some sort of romance. I'm sure there is, but they're certainly a minority. My latest major quip is the bizarre love triangle in the latest Hobbit film. I know it was the studio who insisted on its inclusion, but it feels like a ragtag add-on, that has no real relevance to the story.

    And so my own series of Fantasy novels that I'm planning don't include any aspect of romance at all. In fact, I was getting round to posting a thread on whether this would matter (I don't need an answer now, but you get the point). To me, Fantasy is a genre which one can use to escape the monotony and hardships of daily life, and immerse yourselves in far more interesting monotonies and hardships, like walking across fantasy landscapes and slaying dragons.

    So I'm not saying I couldn't incorporate these two ideas for stories into one, it's just that it wouldn't be what I'd choose to do. I'm kind of set on my current Fantasy project having no romance (or, "nomance" as I like to call it) and, although I could do another with some in after that, it would be a long time coming. One of the attractive things about this pseudo-biography novella thing is that it's a project on the side that won't really take up that much time. It's something I can add to week by week, or event by event, at my leisure and something I can use to get stuff off my chest and maybe explore self-publishing whilst I'm at it.

    Thanks for the continuing replies and bearing with my walls of text guys, it's all been really helpful. Keep it coming! :)
     
  15. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    I think the only way to successfully accomplish this is to fully embrace how egotistical it is.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2014
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I wasn't thinking you needed to write yourself into your Fantasy story, if that's not what you want to do. Sounds to me as if you have that story already pretty well thought out. It was just an idea of how to create characters in the story.

    However, lots of people write straight autobiographies, or autobiographical 'fiction,' so if that's what you want to do, go ahead.

    I'm curious as to what the conclusion to your autobiographical story will be. Will your 'character' who is really you in thin disguise end up exactly where you are now? If not, what will change?
     
  17. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Yeah, I guess so, though I'm not the type of character I'd normally create. I do need to work on my characterization though, so perhaps it's worth a shot.

    I can't quite answer that one just yet, I plan to see what happens over the next few months. However, I used to get really worked up and upset when things went wrong in my life whereas now I'm starting to finally mature properly, and starting to realise what's important in life. At least I think I am. Life is, of course, a journey, and I've learnt a lot on mine, things which I think will be valuable to share with younger people. Where I'll end up, I can't say. Perhaps for that reason this is all folly, but I still think I could stumble across a decent place to end.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Changing your fictional 'outcome' will give you so much insight into your life. In fact, oddly enough, it might even point to the fact that you are really where you want to be after all. Or, you will see potential problems in ANY avenue of choice. Even the best-case scenarios have built-in pitfalls. You can explore these, if you're willing to do more than just diarize your life, rehashing old events as they happened. Play around a little bit. What do you wish had been different about your life? Is there a turning point where you feel you took the wrong turn? If so, go back and take the 'right' turn and see where it gets you.

    I think anybody who has ever written a 'diary' can look back on it years later and realise how blinkered they were at the time. Or how het up they got about stuff that didn't really matter. Or what they should have done and didn't. Who they should have listened to instead of who they did.

    Because life is a learning experience from start to finish and your learning changes you, your outcome is unlikely to ever be what you think it will be.

    I'd play around with that concept if I were you. Just sharing your negative experiences with the reading public won't do you or them much good, will it? It's insight that makes this kind of thing worth while. And you're more likely to get insight if you turn the whole thing on its head. Maybe write your life from somebody else's perspective. Have you got a brother or sister? How would they be likely to see your life? You could write it as if you were them. If you don't have one, make one up. Just play around with perspective and outcome if you want this exercise to be truly cathartic.
     
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  19. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Please don't tell me this is all about a girl.
     
  20. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    @123456789 As I've said, romance plays a part, but it's only one facet of my life and of this story. I'd be writing a romance otherwise. However, I will admit that I get more worked up about romance (especially the failed kind) than most people, and more than I should. That too will form part of the story.

    @jannert Fantastic advice as usual. You're right about being insightful, and that was indeed something I'd planned to do. I'm aware that complete negativity isn't the greatest read, but trying to explore those other paths is a very interesting concept. And again, perspective is another idea. Although there's a lot of people I'm close to, I don't think there's anyone who could "narrate" my entire life. Including passages of what I think other people (especially those who play an important role in my life) think of me is something that seems worth doing.
     
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to decide how cohesive and how unique your personal story is.

    Cohesive - do all the different elements in the story, failed romance, failed career, etc require being told together?

    Unique- is there something factual about your life that stands out? Rare disease? Forced to work the coal mines? Anything that allows you to offer the rest of us something we might not know about t. It has to be objective, not an opinion.


    If it's neither, it might do to create a fictional story that is either based on or utilizes some important aspect of your life.
     
  22. Russo
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    I write my stories based around my life. I pick certain events and throw them into the stories plot. Or, sometimes I even base my characters on the people around me. To answer your question, there's nothing wrong with writing about your life. There is people out there who'd be interested (me included). Write what you see fit. Actually, it wouldn't matter if it's about your life or not...unless you give a little insight in your novel that it is in fact based on true events, then would they really know? Just as long as you have an excellent attention grabber and a mountain-climbing plot, then there you have it. People would, in fact, be interested.
     
  23. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    You say writing it all down would do you good. In that case, absolutely. Write it all down. Do it for your own value and mental health. As far as writing it with the intent of publication and "Will people care?" That's a totally different story (npi)

    Biographies/Autobiographies have two factors to consider:
    1) Biography - Is this story about a famous person about whom 'the masses' would have some paparazzi-esque interest? If so, it's probably worth considering.
    2) Autobiography - does your life and/or some particular experience or set of experiences offer life lessons for some segment of the population?
    Is your life so incredibly interesting, rivaling the world of fiction to the point that people would want to live vicariously through your experiences? If so, it's probably worth considering.
    3) While there are exceptions, of course, this pretty much puts a laser pointer on the reasons to write or not to write a biographical work. More specifically, is there anything in your life worth telling the world population about in the interests of learning through another's experience? If not, then go ahead and write your story. But do it for you. Do it for your own inner peace. Don't expect the rest of the world to give a rat's asterisk about it.
     
  24. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Yeah, I'd be writing for the first part of point 2). My issue is not whether people will learn things from it (I'm confident they will) it's whether or not they'd be interested enough to pick up the book in the first place.

    Writing it anyway because it'd do me good is a good point, and I understand it, but being able to fully concentrate on my other writing project would also do me good. See where I'm coming from?
     
  25. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nobody can guarantee you sales or interest. That depends mainly on how good a writer you are (how good a story you can spin) and how interesting is your plot. From what you said so far, I think if there was a scale of potential from 0 to 10, where 0 is no interest in it whatsoever, 1 is only your family and friends and 10 is an instant bestseller, I'd say you are squarely in the category 1 right now. As a proposed genre, autobiographical stories of non-famous people, are also in category 1. The main reason is because this genre is overpopulated by self-indulgent sob stories, most of them self-published, and most readers steer clear. However, if you can write etc, you can be in category 10, who knows? This is why only you can decide to put in the effort (or not) and face the consequences. But it isn't a 'sexy' genre, you must know that already.
     
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