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  1. radkovelli
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    radkovelli Member

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    Theme Writing about something you've personally experienced?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by radkovelli, Mar 4, 2016.

    I've always heard people mention that it's bad to make a character like yourself but recently, I've created a character who has a rare disease I had as a young child and I've been contemplating the idea of writing a book about his experience with it. I'm dubious, though. While this topic is something that evokes a lot of emotion in me and I feel I'd write a powerful book with it, I'm unsure if it's a bad thing to do since it's something I've gone through firsthand.

    How do you guys feel about writing about things you've actually experienced in life? Does it make a book better since it comes from a personal place? Or does it make the story suffer?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's inherently bad to write a character like yourself. I think that the two main issues with characters that are like you are:

    1) Always doing it, so that all of your characters are essentially the same person.
    2) Making that like-you character perfect and flawless and wise and good, because you can't bear to assign flaws to "yourself".

    Those are things to be wary of, but not enough of a reason to abandon the whole idea.
     
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  3. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Of course you can make a character like yourself. Just try not to make EVERY character yourself.
     
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  4. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or make up a new character who has some of the same experiences as you did (in this case, the rare disease), and other experiences and traits that are different. That'll stretch your writing and avert MarySueage. (Pun intended.)
     
  5. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    The most positive responses I've gotten to my stories have always been when I put my own emotions into the writing. This sometimes means writing about things that personally happens to me, and my most successful story so far was based on my own experiences, but it can also mean putting my feelings into a completely different context. (For instance, I've never had a child, but I was able to take feelings of loss and put them in a story about a man who'd lost his son.)

    The biggest problem with using your own experiences is that it can lead to loss of objectivity. For example, the director Jean-Claude Brisseau was sued and convicted for sexually harassing actresses, but when he made a film about the experience, he framed his authorial stand-in as an innocent victim of the actresses. Writing closely about yourself requires the ability to recognize and acknowledge your own flaws and failures, and many people aren't capable of doing that.
     
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  6. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    They also say "write what you know".

    And, while many authors write outside their actual experience, they need to fill their knowledge out with research. Badly-done research, which makes it evident that the writer has no idea what they're talking about, can be a real turn-off.

    In your case, you need to balance putting in your experience of this illness without making it so autobiographical (and flawless!) as to be embarrassing.
     
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  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I keep my characters at enough of a distance that I am fine with slipping in opinions, experiences, likes, dislikes into my stories. My characters though are never ever me in disguise. But I will slip things in. I've slipped in a bad flu experience I had years ago into my WIP. Also my fear of bullies when I was really young. And Moonlight, My Advantage ( a novella I started years ago ) was based on summers I spent with my best friend at her grandmother's cottage in North Ontario. But I made sure to keep the character not me or my friend. That way I could manipulate everything - show them in bad lights, good lights without ever letting ego get in the way.

    I think that's the problem nowadays with a lot of lousy fiction - the author turns the mc into a wish fulfillment. There's no objectivity.
     
  8. KevinMcCormack
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    KevinMcCormack Member

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    I'm assuming this is a question about fiction? The reason I'm asking, is that nonfiction works where the author talks about herself transparently can be quite powerful. Kerouac and HSThompson come to mind.

    If it's fiction, I still think there's no inherent problem with building a character based on one's own characteristics. It's what you do with that character that matters. See below about Mary Sue. That's what I have heard most agents advise against, since these stories can be tedious and the commercial footprint may be an audience of one.

    There's a mirror image of Mary Sue that I forget the name of, where the author injects real world rivals into the text as incompetent antagonists. Go ahead and write them, but appreciate the target audience for these is probably pretty small.


    I think this is referred to as a [Mary Sue]?
     
  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    In a class on writing for the stage, we were told to never write about an event in our lives until at least ten years had passed, presumably because we'd have digested the experience after that amount of time.

    In most cases, I think this works. There are some experiences, though (deeply traumatic ones) that need more time.
     
  10. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I disagree .. Those deeply traumatic ones are best written as soon as possible so you can remember all the details of the pain you've experienced. Even if it's not for a current project, get those experiences on paper (or disk)
     
  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    If you're talking about journalizing, that's fine. But trying to bring them into a work of fiction? It'll be far too one-sided. You'll have absolutely no perspective on the situation.
     
  12. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I have done before in fact I do it regularly and I think it makes the story much better.
     
  13. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I don't think this will hurt your story at all. Most of my heroes and villains when I look back, have some part of myself in them. Even when I try not to make it the case.
     
  14. Holden LaPadula
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    Holden LaPadula Member

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    Writers inevitably pull their content from their own personal experiences; there is no escaping this, no matter how hard we try, because it's all we really have to work with! Just make sure that you don't overdue details that are more important to YOU than they are pertinent to the story. Ensure that each aspect of your experiences that you use has a clear purpose in your work.

    Good luck!
     
  15. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    I'd tell you to use your character as a starting point. Start with you, and then add elements that would have turned him into a different person than you ... some traumatic event, a parents' divorce, a move to another part of the country. That allows you to shape a character in ways that are not yourself. The character gradually assumes a life of his or her own, and the exercise allows you to put some distance between you and the character. If you've done it well, it gives you insights into how differently you would have turned out if the dice had rolled another way.
     

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