1. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    How personal experience are you comfortable with using?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by w176, Oct 15, 2010.

    In my writers course we discussed and had assignments about mixing self experienced material with fiction, and what we personally feel comfortable with writing in that aspect.

    Legal issues aside, how much and what of you personal experience you comfortable with using, and where do you draw the line?

    Using inspiration from you big bunch of siblings to write about a character with many siblings?

    Using loads of inspirations and scenes from different relationships you had in you life to write a romance novel?

    Sharing you deepest pain in a slightly changed form?

    ----

    Me personally would be comfortable with using most things but never letting the reader know exactly whats is fact and what is fiction. As long as they cant draw a line and with 100% certain attribute things as true in willing to draw on any experience, sexual, painful or just private. Well. Almost. I got a few things to private and beautiful that I prefer to keep to myself.

    And of course, anything used would be used with a lot of respect for all people involved, no matter if they deserved that respect or not.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use a lot more personal stuff than I realise while writing it is only when rereading it I see things from my life. For example when my character first came out the closet didn't realise how much of my bestfriend was in him lol then one day his brother was distressed and handed him a snotty handkerfchief back and he recoiled. I knew who he came from.

    I see a lot of my own difficulties with parents although not as extreme in the relationships my characters have with their parents. I see some forming relationships I would like to have happened etc

    Personally don't think about it while I am writing but it creeps in - what I write comes from deep within.

    This paragraph comes to mind - whilst my child is not a teen and can't turn into a bird I know who it relates too:

     
  3. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually took a creative nonfiction class my last year of college where our grade was 100% based on a personal essay we spent the semester writing, and I wrote it about what is probably the most painful, personal experience of my life, so....I'm pretty comfortable writing about personal experience.

    That being said, I've tried turning that personal essay into a novel, and I can't do it. So while it doesn't make me uncomfortable to write about personal experiences, I apparently can't distance myself emotionally from my writing at all...
     
  4. Egil1Eye
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    Egil1Eye Member

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    I've used personal experience is most of my writing as well, but I end up editing myself quite heavily, maybe I'm too selfconscious. I suppose that as you said yourself, it's a personal preferance as to how much of yourself you're willing to put out there.
     
  5. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm pretty okay with the experiences, but when it comes to mindset, once I realised one of my characters felt the same way I did on a very personal subject I got emotionally blocked and had to backtrack and write around the issue, or paper over the surface. Fortunately we're very alike in that we can do that and it didn't seem to be an issue with his character consistency, and it wasn't an issue that was plot important.
     
  6. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    No limit. There's nothing I've experienced that I wouldn't put into something I was writing. You gotta write from your roots, and that often includes experiences.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Stories are not written in ink. They are written in a blend of blood, tears, endorphins, and flopsweat.

    Anything less is lifeless slop.
     
  8. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    LOL. So true, Cog. So true you are. I'm finding that out more and more as I work on my story. It's hard to get a grip on that, but sooner or later, I'll have to except my fate. :D
     
  9. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    How much personal experience am I comfortable using in my writing?
    If I had been asked this question a few years ago, I would have answered 'very little'. Now the answer is; I am prepared to use quite a lot, but I may never admit to it being based on fact. I guess there comes a time in life when we lose a lot of our inhibitions.

    When it comes to writing; experience, knowlege (albeit limited) and imagination are the three main ingredients I use to the best of my ability.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a few short stories that I've never been able to show anyone because I think they might hurt some people's feelings or spoil my relationship with them. Some of the events/characters are too recognisable, for example my stepdaughter's self-harming, and so I don't want to even try submitting them, although they are among the best I've written.
     
  11. thalorin19
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    thalorin19 Member

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    I think you write down your experiences without really thinking about it. I mean, you're putting your roots on paper. Just with different characters and settings.

    There has been one instant though, where I intentionally put a specific personal experience into my novel. It's something that happened to me, which sucked in real life, but I thought would make for a good backstory for a certain character in the novel.

    Which leads to one more thing I want to add. In my novel, I have several different characters in which you learn about them in POV chapters. The best way to give them an intersting backstory is to take an unique personal experience of yours, and maybe tweek it a bit and then - viola! You have a background.
     
  12. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    I started out writing almost-autobiographical work. It was personal, it was heart-wrenching to write, and the result wasn't bad. Then I got more imaginative and started writing stories that were good and not just not bad.

    Amy Tan once wrote something about not writing about real-life truth, but emotional truth. You know how the worst thing that ever happened to you made you feel; throw somebody else into a situation that makes them feel those same emotions, only they're a character in a gripping story.

    They say "write what you know," and I think unless you're up for loads of research, it's good advice. If you're an undergrad chem student, your character can be, too.

    Sometimes I take brief exchanges or images and turn them into stories. Like a homeless woman playing a guitar and grinning, or the cashier letting a man stay at the counter while he scratches his lottery tickets.

    Getting emotional truth out, through autobiographical writing or using an invented character, can be as good as therapy. And it'll make the writing richer.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think it's possible to write fiction without informing it with your own experiences. I would think that even writers of fantasy form their characters with reference to people they've known, even if unconsciously.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I must agree. What better source have you than your own inner self when it comes to making your words hit home? Now, since your question concerns how much of what is you are you willing to expose, my answer is that the amount or the extent is directly correlative to how real and personal and art oriented is your work?

    In an unrelated thread I made mention of my experience with a song by the incomparable Joni Mitchell which I did not really understand until one crucial piece of information about her life was made known to me. When I truly understood the song, which concerns her having given up a baby for adoption when she was very young, the words became soul rendering and I felt almost an embarrassed shame that I had come to know this most intensely personal piece of who Joni is. It hurt. It was painful. And it is very, very, very real. The song goes to a place that one is not normally invited into. This was a shaping trauma for Joni and she shared it in a way that truly moved me. It wasn't a ditty or a jingle or a bit of fluff to dance to. It was a glimpse into her soul. If that's not art, then I don't know what is.

    BTW, the song is called Little Green for any one who cares.
     
  15. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    As an extension to what EdfromNY said, I may write about things that I have never experience or create chars who do things which I have never done or anybody who I know did, still I would say the emotions my chars display are based on myself and people I know.

    Wreybies mentioned songs, I have this habit of creating chars in my head as I listen to songs I like, specially songs which tell a story. Sometimes I use these chars in my stories. Weird, but true lol
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...in my old write for money life, i used as much as was relevant/useful in whatever piece of fiction i was writing... i saw no need to draw a line for any reason other than normal legal cya limits...

    ...why not?... if that's the background you come from, you'd be using that knowledge anyway, even if subconsciously...

    ...of course!... i even included sex scenes from fond [and not so fond] memory, in my stories...

    ...naturally... it's what all writers do, whether on purpose or not... it would be a foolish waste of experience not to, so i don't really get why these questions had to be asked...
     
  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I feel the question has validity when one takes into account the youthfulness of the forum.

    In youth, our definitions of self are based as much on what we have not done as what we have. I've never smoked a cigarette. I've never had an alcoholic drink. I've never kissed a boy/girl. I am still a virgin. Youth is a time of being on one side of these first experiences where we are told that the side we are on is exactly where we should be. Most of us, during these tender years, hold these things-not-yet-done proudly to our bosom. Even when we have already passed to the other side of these hurdles, group pressure and societal ideals lead most of us to lie and say no, never, not me, what kind of girl/guy do you take me for.

    So, for a young writer to use a real life situation and write something like, "I had a very bad couple of months and started making some bad choices. I spent two whole weeks drunk and slept with fifteen guys/girls in as many days," would be shocking and perhaps ostracizing for that young person, no matter how real and gritty and visceral it made their written piece of work.

    There would be a cost. There would be a cost regardless of ones age, but in those tender years this cost would understandably seem very dear indeed.

    Our years temper our understanding and our definitions of self and we lose, to an extent, the piousness of youth with its rules of what we can and cannot do. With time, most of us come to understand that definitions are rarely so clear and sovereign as we are taught in youth. When we are young, sex means one thing: coitus. Penetration. We bargain with the rules set before us and say, "Well, I've done this and this, but never that, so I am still pure. I am still virgin." As we grow and experience more in life and behind the closed doors of intimacy we come to adopt a much more ample definition of what is, and of what is not sex.

    But these things come with age.

    This, to me, is only natural and a part of the journey.
     
  18. Zombie_Chinchilla
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    Zombie_Chinchilla Member

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    I remember reading somewhere that Gary Paulsen put himself into many of the situations that he had written about. For example, he got lost in the woods and ate different bugs and animals to accurately describe his emotions and how everything he ate tasted. I always found that interesting.

    Personally, I use as much personal experience as I can get. What does it hurt? It's accurately described when you've experienced it yourself.
     
  19. makdadsb
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    makdadsb Member

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    Without a doubt.

    Here's how I decide when the level of personal information is too much: If I am writing a specific scene that is based on a real life incident, and I sit back and think "Hmm - so-and-so might read that and know I am talking about them," then I would change it.

    :)
     
  20. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    I concur. When that kind of phrase pops into my head, I know I've gone a bit too far.
     
  21. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes people writing with a lot of heir own experience own experience can become just plain embarrassing to read. People writing books like the worst kinds of blogs. Just sharing any kind of crap, to glorify their own lives or try to make them self sounds as martyrs. On the other hand, when used correctly it is a great tool for great literature.

    Moving on to another subject. I find it it interesting that very few people said that they wouldn't have any borders on what to share and don't share more then respect for other people. The discussion sounded very different in class.

    Might it be because writing forums attract relatives extrovert of the blogging and Facebook generation, liking to share their experience perhaps.

    I agree that part of willingness to share might be because of age, we are brave and inexperienced and that might make saying that you been willing to share anything easy.

    I had an experience once at improvisational theater / larp with really dark themes. Before beginning we informed people that it would be stop words and told them to share if there was anything they where uncomfortable with upfront before we begun. We where about 40 people. Almost all but themost experienced players said that they could take anything, but the most experienced player spoke up and where very specific about what to avoid around them (everything from pregnant women not wanting to be pushed due to safety concern to people with claustrophobia or hearing disabilites).

    During the game we had servant incidents with inexperienced players that couldn't handle, things got to hard, to dark, to emotional and went overboard and we had to interrupt the game to take care of the players. Since then I'm always been suspicious of people that haven't really tried their limitations and personal borders saying that they can handle stuff. Especially if it said in a group when someone else already say that they could take anything.

    And I been thinking about about what you would be willing to share, compared to what you want to share. Erectile dysfunction, your feelings about a close family members suicide, you bout of post pregency depression when you actually didn't feel anything for the little baby etc might be thing you willing to share only under very special circumstances etc.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i thought you were asking about using one's experiences to 'inform' their fiction, but now it seems you are referring to writing memoirs, personal essays and the like... my responses were based on simply using what i've experienced in developing characters and writing scenes in fiction, not referring to myself directly...

    i do agree that people writing about themselves overtly is often embarassing to read and doesn't do the writer any good...

    but your 'moving on' dissertation seems to again be referring not to fiction, but to more personal kinds of writing and even speaking about events in one's life to others... so i'm still confused as to what you were asking about to begin with...
     
  23. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh. Yea. The question in discussed in class was formulated a bit differently and a bit of it got lost in translation to English. The question I wanted to ask was focused on focused on mixing self biographical/self experienced works with fiction in general on any level and left a bit open to see where the discussion would take the subject.

    Sp whatever you prefer to answer. Just letting it inform and enrich emotional, mixing fiction and half truth, mixing up a self biographical work with fictional passages, etc. The whole spectrum.
     
  24. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Using personal experience to inform fiction helps to infuse the fiction with a certain authenticity that an astute reader will appreciate. In another thread, there was a discussion about writing about places the author has never visited, and there were warnings that doing so would leave the writer subject to criticism from readers who knew more about the place than he/she did. Well, that applies to experiences as well as places.

    That is not to say that all writing based on real experience makes good fiction. As w176 mentioned, there are people who are simply exhibitionists and gladly parade the flotsam and jetsam of their miserable lives for the rest of us to see. Obviously, that would not make for quality writing.
     
  25. mummymunt
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    mummymunt Member

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    Huge amounts of personal experience, both mine and other people's, has ended up in my writing, in ways I would never have predicted. I have used stories to get fictitious revenge on various people, to work through problems from both my past and more recent times, to say goodbye to people I never got the chance to say goodbye to, all kinds of stuff.
    Without it, my stories would be much flatter, less authentic. Just less, really.
     

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