1. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    Style Using One's Own Life Experiences in One's Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DrWhozit, Dec 15, 2013.

    One of the options more than one writing instructor I've encountered suggests is to write about things that are familiar to us. Few discourage taking scenes from our own lives and turning them into a story. How many characters and scenes you create are actually embellishments created around events and people you know or knew?
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    All my characters contain parts of people I know - that's how characters become "real" versus just characters. And there are incidents in all my stories that are based directly or indirectly on things that happened in my life, to me or those close to me. Taking things from our own lives is the most basic way to make our stories come alive. I can't imagine any writer not doing so.
     
  3. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    Sometimes truth is stranger (and maybe even more interesting) than fiction.
     
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  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is really what is meant by "write what you know." It doesn't mean limit your writing to your own experience' it means inject your personal experiences into your writing, and extrapolate from them into the situations you create.

    If you don't put your own experiences and feelings into your writing, it becomes cold and sterile.
     
  5. Laure (could be)
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    Laure (could be) Member

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    It's funny because any time I try to use my own experience or people I know as an inspiration, the final result is very far away from them.

    Of course, I think it's a good thing to rely on what we know about but, at some point, when you start to really work on your story and your characters, you have to "get over yourself", if I may say. Unless you're writing a very cathartic story, your experiences are just a point from which you really start to create. And then your writing becomes something intended to the reader, something that can go beyond simple testimony.

    And I totally agree with Cogito: the important thing is beeing sincere, using your questionings and feelings, not "yourself".
     
  6. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    A friend of mine who eventually found success writing crime fiction wrote at least three novels before hitting on something that got published (this was long before ebooks). Her first novel, which I only read part of, was, as she put it, "thinly disguised autobiography." What I read of it wasn't interesting to me, and this was when I was her boyfriend and her life was definitely of interest to me, just not as a novel. After toying with fantasy and something else, she worked hard on her research and did a detective story where the detective was essentially her, although younger, tougher and braver. So she found a way to use herself and by extension her experiences to write and sell books.

    I'd drop her name but she values her privacy now, even though she very much wanted to be famous when she began.
     
  7. JetBlackGT
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    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

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    In some ways, our writing is very much like our dreams. Every character you write... is you.

    However, if you think of someone you actually know first, then make them the model for the character you are writing, you will better know how they react to situations. It's MUCH easier that way.

    For me, anyway. I can tell which characters are not modeled on people I know. They don't feel as full and "textured" as the ones that are.
     
  8. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    I enjoy reading first person narratives most when it feels as though the author is that character. If I can get the feeling of credibility proliferating because there's an air of truth in the story, it grabs my attention.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_of_'42

    Summer of '42 was a movie before the novel was written, still it's based around Herman Raucher's youth. It became a very popular story. One could identify with the truth.

    One might wonder about stories like Spielberg's "Close Encounters." How much was derived from real UFO sightings? How much stretched the story beyond belief? Did Spielberg ever see one?

    ...And we disclaim any such connection in our copyright page.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    from all to none, depending on each piece of work's storyline...

    for instance, in the longish short story, 'it's greek to me' the two main characters were myself and a ship's captain i knew, much of the action took place on a cruise ship i had sailed on twice and was described almost exactly as it took place... where the story veered off into less reality-based territory, it became out and out make believe...

    and in a much shorter short story, there are only two characters, myself and a young man i met exactly as i wrote about the first meeting... all after that was imaginary, but based on what could have taken place, had i acceded to his pleas...

    the first novel i wrote was set in a beach cottage in puerto vallarta and was a blend of real people [myself, my husband, friends, and a blend of lovers i'd had], with a plot that was completely made up...

    another novel i began but never finished was based on a period in my own life, people i knew and real events, expanded to include ones that didn't happen, but could have...

    in some of my other fiction pieces i used bits of myself and other real people and settings, but all the events were my own invention...

    i also wrote short stories and started a historical novel that featured totally imaginary people, settings, and events...

    this is nothing more than most fiction writers do... i'd venture to say more do, than don't...
     
  10. Laure (could be)
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    Laure (could be) Member

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    If it feels like the author is the character, it means that the writer is good, whether it's written in the first person or not. But that doesn't mean the writer is the character.
     
  11. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    ...Any more than it means he isn't, cleverly disguised.

    The concept of one's writing being cathartic is interesting. Isn't all writing, barring reporting, something of a catharsis? Even if I write a non-fiction textbook oriented toward a scientific theory, it is purging my soul of the need just to get that accomplished and made available.
     
  12. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I'd say a good 75% of Alesia (possibly going to be re-titled to "Rain When I Die") is my autobiography with major embellishments including, but not limited to:
    A sex change for the MC (I am male, she is female)
    Career (I used what I wanted to be vs. what I actually do.)
    Military career (I was denied due to bad knees)
    Parental issues (my father was the abusive one vs. AJ's mother is the abusive part)
    She is gay, I am not.
     
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  13. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    @Alesia
    Having read some of your MS, I wonder why you embellish. In that subject area, most will benefit from a bona fide autobiography, if such is your life. There are many depressed people out there who benefit from the triumphs of those who suffer similarly.
     
  14. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    My life isn't a triumph in my eyes. From my POV, who wants to read about someone who goes through all of this just to come out on the other side as a fast food worker who ends up relapsing in the end?
     
  15. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    Doctors, for one, who have little insight beyond hour long one on one and group sessions. Remember that when Pandora's box was opened and the contents came flying out, there was left love and hope. Your cliff hanger is "Where does she go now?"
     
  16. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    If you do it well enough, I would want to read it. I love realism, as the word is commonly used and as a "school" of literature and art. There seems to be a current taboo on writing something that doesn't "uplift" or have a happy ending. I'm not of that opinion.
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let us bear in mind that using our experiences does not have to mean the actual experience - as in Spielberg and UFOs. But I'm quite sure he had experienced something(s) that gave him that enormous sense of wonder and awe - and that's what he put into the story. Same with characters - we can base them on one or more people we know, but we don't have to stick with what those people would do.
     
  18. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    If you define "experience" widely enough, there's nothing BUT experience we can draw on. But more narrowly, there's a difference between the things we absorb by living and firsthand interaction or incidents. My own feel for human behavior is the result of living and paying attention. Then there are characters almost directly modeled after people I know. To use the Spielberg example, his characters were possibly people he knew but were put in a situation they obviously had never experienced. I think most of us could take someone we know and put him or her in place of one of the characters and the plot wouldn't much change, but the flavor would.
     
  19. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    I would think there are numerous people out there who have seen something, paranormal or otherwise, that someone else hasn't. People with a passion for storytelling certainly have had some incident that drives them to share it with others.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0062509438/?tag=postedlinks04-20

    I read this sometime ago, finding it a page turner. Someone else might find it boring. Once I was told that for every person there are bout 1000 others, in todays census, that think along the same mindset. That tells me that for every writer, there is at least an audience of that magnitude.
     
  20. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    To be brutally honest, the ONLY part or my life I think people would find remotely interesting is when I tried and failed to break into the music industry. I've done background work with bands such as KoRn, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Demon Hunter, Living Sacrifice, Advent, Famine, As I Lay Dying, and many others. I grew up not far from Hollywood, so the whole entertainment thing played pretty big in my life growing up. Aside from that I find the rest of it to be pretty boring/cliche' drug addict: Abusive father, divorced parents, grew up with my grandparents, was raised in a mostly black neighborhood where I was horribly abused because I was white. As a result of that I became angry and entered the Neo-Nazi culture for awhile until (as part of rehab and therapy) I was able to change that mindset and break free. I've been expelled from school three times, once for something I didn't do, the end result of which I dropped out of school in 9th grade and never got my GED or went to college. Then my girl/crush since 6th grade was killed and I started using more and more drugs to cope and feel in control. During that time from about 2004-2008 I spent time bumming/drifting around America and trying to break into the entertainment biz. 2008 I had my first OD and nearly died, following which I immediately went home and did more drugs. 2011 I finally went to rehab (entered at 6' 1" and 128 lb and so weak I had to walk with a cane. MD's said a few more months and I would be dead.) It was a god-awful experience, but it got me sober. I swore against rehab centers after that. I stayed clean from late 2011 to 2013 when I recently started smoking weed again, drinking, taking Hydrocodone, and came close to shooting up with a buddy from work. I currently work as a grill cook at Hardee's making minimum wage and I've already been written up for drinking and may get fired for another alcohol related incident.

    Sound interesting enough to write up un-embellished??? IMHO, anyone reading this would ask what the point was. Nobody got sober. Nobody improved themselves. The protag just ended up in a miserable rut.
     
  21. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    @Alesia

    Seriously? I think you need to PM me and unload A LOT. Maybe we can get you through the drudgery of a job you just hate by finding that you may be there for some purpose you haven't reached in time just yet. I'd go have a talk with my boss ahead of that firing and plead for the next chance, then not blow it. Let's get you a plan that includes some goals. You've already seen some compassionate people here, so that love and hope thing is still staring back at you from inside the box. The protag just started doing things. Write! (pun intended)
     
  22. Wild Knight
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    Wild Knight Active Member

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    I would have to embellish the hell out of my life story as well. Who wants to read the story of a person who's done nothing with their life for almost twenty-six years? The only thing of note that I can even write about is from... well, my childhood.

    Even I think: "Parents divorce? A mean stepmother who frames me and gets me in trouble? Sounds like something out of a badly written fanfic." And that is among other things.
     
  23. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    I don't think there's any embellishment needed, that's a very powerful story. The only thing really missing is an ending, and since you are still alive, you'd have to see where you are when you get through writing about your past. My brother was a junkie and died a junkie. If he had had the courage to actually write about his life he might have found something to salvage a meaningful life. Instead he preferred to ignore the ugly in his life and it killed him in the end. I am no therapist and don't presume to tell you what to do, but I wish my brother had been as honest about himself.
     
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  24. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    @Alesia

    From the writing aspect, should you find embellishment as the way to go, consider accenting on "the comedy of errors." Murphy's Law of schlemiel proportionality to the number of bad creamers that can make it to a customer's coffee cup."
     
  25. Leigh Silvester
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    Leigh Silvester Member

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    As I have known some very strange people I do tend to borrow from them, and then tone it RIGHT down to make them "believable".
    I think I am a strange-person magnet.
     
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