4 Tips in Using Your Personal Stories in Your Writing

“I write a lot from personal experience, but I also embellish a bit.” — Miranda Lambert


by Rgaspari
by Rgaspari

Why is it important to include our personal stories in some way in our writing?

Well, few can imagine catching a sailfish better than a person who actually landed one.

When you don’t use your personal stories in your writing, you ignore your best resource . Click to tweet.

Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some avoid using personal stories because it’s difficult to relive the experience. But when they do, readers reap the blessing.

How to Use Your Personal Stories in Your Novels

Knowing it’s your list to use as you wish, brainstorm your experiences. Here are categories to help you:


Tip 1

Many situations from your list are nonthreatening to you or others. So use those incidents in the life of your character to tell a richer story.

by anairam_zeraria
by anairam_zeraria

Example: As an actuary, I shared ideas with my analytical team, making notes in every direction on a piece of paper. I added boxes, squiggles, arrows, and circles as I talked. When I finally stopped, a team member always grabbed my “collage” and made copies for each team member for documentation. That struck me as humorous. I used this in Calculated Risk, but Nick, the actuary, responds differently to the “collage” Cisney, the marketing rep, creates.

Tip 2

Instead of using the actual incident, give the feelings you had to your character in her similar situation.

by creative_xen
by creative_xen

Example: A boyfriend took out his frustration verbally on me when he played poorly on the tennis court. So, after the first time my future husband mishit a golf shot, my heart pounded, and I feared he’d act similarly. He didn’t. Cisney’s ex took his aggravations out on her. So, when Nick and Cisney have a flat tire, her first reaction is to scrutinize how he handles the situation.

Tip 3

When you use a significant event to shape your character’s experience, pull in all the elements. Include how all your senses reacted. The thoughts going through your head. What you learned about yourself or others. Your first and second reactions.

Example: Working for three insurance companies, I knew several actuaries whose behavior was considered weird. In one job interview, someone asked if I minded working with odd people. A little scary. But I learned weird means interesting, less affected by peer pressure, and loveable. I used my friends’ unusual behaviors in the tale Cisney’s overbearing father tells about actuaries. His story offends and embarrasses Cisney. As I did, she’s learned to look past harmless external habits.

Tip 4

Be careful to avoid elements of an incident that identify an actual person. Change the props, actions, and mannerisms so the new ones produce the same reactions received from the real-life situation.

Example: In the last example, I used some of the actual behaviors of one actuary. I realized his actions were unique and others would recognize him. So, I changed the behaviors to fictional habits equally unusual to most people.

How have you used personal experiences in your writing?

2 Reasons Why You Must Make Your Characters Struggle

“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.” — Timothy Dalton


by grafter
by grafter

Recently, I read about people being intrigued with reading or writing books with characters traveling in time. Characters get to go back and right a wrong. Or prevent a future undesirable event.

So why would I say it’s important to make characters struggle if readers enjoy stories where characters can change bad outcomes?

Reason 1

If characters could go back or forward in time at will, they’d less likely learn from their mistakes and struggles. And why would they even try when they could always go back and redo what they didn’t like. Or go forward to prevent a disaster.

Characters who’ve risked nothing in the game of life do not attract readers. Click to tweet.

Even animal characters in children’s stories have struggles and lessons learned. Those three little pigs certainly did.

Image courtesy of Dr Joseph Valks at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Dr Joseph Valks at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Time travel authors know this. Characters in time travel books are usually allowed to time-travel only a limited number of times. And they still have obstacles and struggles in each time period. And sometimes what they accomplish is something different than what they set out to do.

I think the unique kind of struggles time travelers face makes these stories appealing.

Reason 2

I think many readers are attracted to books whose characters handle struggles similar to theirs. If nothing else, they take comfort that others deal with problems like their own.

We love the conflict between the hero and heroine in romances. But usually these two characters face other struggles as well.

by AuntLaya
by AuntLaya

In Marion Ueckemann’s Helsenki Sunrise, Marion shows in this delightful romance how God orchestrates the bad things that happen in our past into something beautiful. It depicts how we waste our precious time being bitter and missing out on what God has for us.

In my contemporary romance, Calculated Risk, Cisney can choose to be hassled by her father or stand up to him. As a reader, besides the romance between two opposites, I’d like to see how Cisney learns to respectfully stand up to her father. Especially in his trying to control her profession and who she marries.

As a reader, I want to grow in character from the books I read.

Readers grow when they learn how characters deal with their struggles. Click to tweet.

If Cisney in Calculated Risk is still accepting her father’s bullying by the end of the book, why would you be, or not be, satisfied?

Why You Should Strongly Consider Writing in One Genre




My guest today is Jennifer Slattery, author of Beyond I Do. Jennifer shares an important principle. Be ready for her thought-provoking examples. And don’t miss more about Jennifer and Beyond I Do following her post.


 As a freelance editor I’m often asked by new writers: how do I start? And I always answer: just start. Sit your tush in front of your computer and start. Write and keep writing, and eventually, God will direct you into the genre that best fits you.

I believe, through prayer and persistence, God will help writers find their niche.

But what about those writers who want to dabble in a bit of everything? Is that wrong?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wrong might be a strong word, but unless you’re the brilliant Dr. Dennis Hensley, dabbling in literary diversity could work against you. This topic has been sufficiently debated in numerous writers’ groups, and most often, our arguments are centered on the reader. While it’s imperative we consider our readers in all we do, I suggest we consider this discussion from a different angle—that of personal growth and our pursuit of excellence. 

Let me explain:

Every genre has unique yet reader-expected boundaries and expectations. Click to tweet.

For example, literary fiction often contains a great deal of introspection, examining the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of their character/s at a deeper level than contemporary fiction, and the story ending can be tragic or sad. Suspense on the other hand is largely plot driven and moved very quickly. Romance requires two point-of-view (POV) characters and a happily-ever-after ending.

If you’ve followed Zoe’s blog for any length of time, you likely know this. Perhaps you even feel as if you know the parameters of all genres so well, you feel equipped to write in each one.

Image courtesy of shirophoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of shirophoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If that’s you, let me ask you this: if you were in need of a heart transplant, would you prefer to go with a general surgeon experienced in a wide range of procedures or one that had been performing heart transplants for the past twenty years? Or when you go out, do you normally find better coffee at a large restaurant or a coffee house?


You see, there’s a difference between knowing and mastering. Specialization isn’t a bad thing. I believe it’s actually quite good. It allows us to pursue excellence in one particular area. Yes, we can dabble in many, but when we do, I believe our growth will be divided. Imagine how our writing might improve if we focused our efforts.

Granted, some genres are similar enough to allow for easy writer-expansion—contemporary romance and romantic suspense are one. Also, many writers can easily switch between fiction and non (as we get a great deal of practice with the latter doing blog tours! Heehee.) But even in similar genres, I believe the principle still stands. In every field, excellence, I believe, is found in specialization.

That isn’t to say writers can’t write well in a variety of genres. I believe some, like Dr. Hensley, can. But for the majority of us, I believe our efforts will be maximized when we narrow our focus and pursue that narrowed focus with diligence, intentionality, and perseverance.

What are your thoughts on this subject? How many genres do you write in and why? Have you found your genre “sweet spot” yet? Do you prefer to write in one genre or do you enjoy dabbling in a variety? If you believe writers can diversify, do you believe there’s a point when they’ve expanded too much?

headshot2013Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, is currently discounted in e-book format for under $3! You can find it here

She also writes for Crosswalk.com, Internet Café Devotions, and writes and edits for Christ to the World Ministries. When not writing, Jennifer loves helping aspiring authors grow in their craft, and has editing slots open beginning in November. Find out more here

Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. 

 Beyond I Do:

 Will seeing beyond the present unite them or tear them apart?

Marriage . . . it’s more than a happily ever after. Eternally more.

Ainsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignite a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.

Read a free, 36-page excerpt here.