1. Cosmos
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    Cosmos Contributing Member

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    Personal experiences and how they influence our writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Cosmos, Dec 31, 2009.

    So I didn't see this type of thread anywhere but feel free to lock or merge if one of you do.

    I've learned that a lot of writing has nothing at all to do with my life and experiences, but much of it does. Recently I've had a really fantastic idea for a novel that relates back to a bad experience I had relatively recently. I'm very torn about whether I should start or not. I've written lots of related stories and created dozens of characters, but I feel like this one might hit a little too close to home and might even start to seem self-pity.

    On the other hand it would be a wonderful opportunity to express and draw upon the feelings of frustration and suffering I've had possibly making it far more realistic and emotional. This will most definitely not be autobiographical (it's set in a sci-fi/fantasy world after all) but it will draw upon some very personal experiences.

    What are your thoughts? I simply don't know it's a good idea or not.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think that not using your personal experiences in life as part of your writing would be missing a huge opportunity to bring realism into your work.
     
  3. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    If it's based on something you've seen and experienced, and you have the good sense to not use real people / names / etc as characters, then why not go for it?

    If something appears in a book, that means the author believed the situation was plausible. Everything from the body language and the dialogue to the broader situation - be it a bloody shootout, a love triangle, a neat technical solution to a previously insurmountable problem - had to be imagined by the author, and it had to pass his or her test for "Does this seem reasonable?"

    So if you've been through a messy break-up, or have failed a class in college or high school, or have fallen off your bike in such a way that you broke some ribs and the doctor told you that you might have died if you'd landed on your back instead of your side, feel free to use that in a story. The messy break up obviously wouldn't have to turn out the same way. The college kid might figure out what he was doing wrong and fix it in time, and the fall victim might have been a hacker at MIT or an unlucky roofer on Mars instead of a bike rider.

    It's also possible, of course, to write about how an event affects a character emotionally by drawing on how you felt during a similar or lesser betrayal, romantic relationship, competition, loss, or joyous event.

    If you're mostly worried about "writing too close to home," as it were, then there are a few things you can do. I'd portray the affected character as someone of the opposite gender, with different goals and, of course, a different background and appearance. That way a) you might be able to distance yourself a bit from the character, b) you will be able to stretch your writing muscles, and c) you will avoid having other people read your work and ask uncomfortable questions. "This sounds a lot like you..." is probably not on your top ten list of things you want your audience to say upon a first read-through.
     
  4. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    I agree. I have brought my real life into my work many times while leaving the majority of the situation out. Actually, it's how I get the ideas for most of my stories. But I'm always careful to leave the names & stuff out. ;)
     
  5. TedR
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    TedR New Member

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    Writing from your personal experiences gives you that touch of realism that you might otherwise not have. Readers can relate to personal experiences and become more emotionally involved in your work. For example, lots of people have had a crush on someone or broken a bone or something, and that touch of realism can strike with the reader, make them think, "Yeah, that's happened to me."
     
  6. taylor.kuykendall
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    taylor.kuykendall Member

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    I've never really written anything outside of personal experience--I mean, otherwise how would you know anything about the topic? I find myself projecting a lot of me or people I've met into my fictional characters. I think it's perfectly acceptable...
     
  7. fandango
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    fandango Member

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    I'd always advise caution. Just how close to the truth are you riding? Writing about events that happened to you - are you willing for that truth (and from what you say, self-pity) to be laid bare? I would hazard a guess that it won't be difficult for those who know about the events to recognise what's happening in the writing.

    Equally, which other people are involved in the events? Are they likely to recognise themselves in the writing? If they are, then that could cause a serious issue.

    I think I'd agree with other posters that it's hard to avoid writing about anything other than personal experiences, either first hand personal experiences or second hand personal experiences. But these experiences should be morphed into something new to avoid being biographical in anyway.

    I'd suggest writing the piece and see how it turns out. You might find that it's sufficiently differentiated from real life to be publishable. If it isn't you can use it as a "therapeutic" piece for yourself.
     
  8. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I've found I dislike writing about personal experiences. It never quite comes out right, at least as far as telling a autobiographical story goes. Using a single type of experience, like say working at a fast food restaurant, or as a retail clerk, or a waitress, and infusing it into a character's background works, sometimes conversations we've had work well on the page and can be worked into a story, but for writing a full out story based on true events it is difficult to pull it off.

    I tend to keep my personal experiences to a minimum when writing. On the flip side, aiming to gain a personal experience to use in a story can help, like say spending the day with a fish and game warden to see what their job is all about, or something like that, can help a writer gain the emotional insight into a character and how they might feel about any given situation.
     
  9. Newnonel
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    Newnonel New Member

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    Use your experiences, but do not use the exact situation. Its always better to write about something you've experienced with as you would know what exactly it felt like and what you thought at that moment, and it'll bring, like what the others have said, a touch of realism into your writing.
     
  10. MelissaL
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    MelissaL Member

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    Writing about a personal experience makes you story stronger and makes it so much easier to write. For me sometimes my personal experiences seem to come out when I don't expect it to. It all depends on your personality and your own life I think.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I draw from personal experience, but it's important not to have every character react in the same way, so make sure they are not all different versions of yourself! (A mistake I have made).
     
  12. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    My thought is that the key to this issue has to do with understanding that personal experience and imagination are two different things--both of which, together, account for the kind of story a writer tells. In a personal, real life experience my intellect is likely to dwell on, the trick for me is to work more in imagination than in reality. My real life experience will color that in some way I don't even need to think about anymore, if only I can unleash my imaginative side. Here's what I do to jiggle that loose and provide the distance I need.

    I close my eyes and think about a word or a phrase that simply bubbles up to the surface. I write it down and fiddle with it until some new image comes into focus. Then I extend the writing in order to bring that image to life on the page. Inevitaby there will be a character who is either experiencing the image, or the image itself may actually be the character. Once I identify the shape of the character, I imagine what happens to that character in the very next moment and start to build some kind of fictional experience. By now, I'm no longer "vested" in telling a story about my experience, but I've got very strong foothold in my own imagination, and I go wherever that leads. I have found over and over again that I learn more (even more about what I think and feel) from writing an "imaginative" story than from efforts to present my personal experience in some way.

    If I was determined to write about my own experience, I'd do that as nonfiction. But most such stories I read (unpublished manuscripts of real experiences, often masquerading as fiction) end up with the exact flaws you worry about and for the very reasons you might expect (being too close to the reality to deliver an imaginitve and (therefore) compelling and plausible story.
     
  13. Angel-Eyes
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    Angel-Eyes New Member

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    I think it is a very good way to bring some reality into a story. A bad experience often changes a person and since you have actually experienced it, you can make you're character very realistic by making it have the same devolopment.
     
  14. love2listen
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    I tend to write my own personal crusades and interests into my stories.

    I love to write about DJs and characters going to raves and stuff. That is because I am a DJ and that is a big part of my life. One of my film scripts is about a young DJ who drops out of high school for a permanent club gig.

    When I decided to join the AIDS awareness masses one of my characters was a rape victim who lived with HIV and later in the story suffered from AIDS, making sure all references were backed with research and information was correct.

    Melissa De La Cruz, YA author, advises writers to go out and live and then write about it, saying in this interview she knew an author who was writing about a teen's first kiss and had never been kissed.

    the book I am writing now is a memoir, and its largely about a man I was deeply in love with who hurt me badly. I am still not quite over him yet. This writing is deeply personal to me. I'm trying to be as open as possible.
     

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