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:

Funny
Embarrassing
Difficult
Hurtful
Eye-opening
Disgusting
Sweet
Exciting
Frightening
Tender

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?

3 Launch Pads from Which You Can Blast Off Creative Ideas

“In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.” —Eric Liddell

Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of digidreamgrafix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you used the same launch pad, the same source, for your creative ideas? Has the distance your ideas have soared become shorter?

Then it’s time you try a different launch pad or improve the one you’re using. Here are 3 launch pads your creative ideas can blast off from.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launch Pad 1. Your Experiences

This is probably the easiest and most popular launch pad. But in our Financial Peace University class, Dave Ramsey made a poignant point about our experience with money. With credit, debit, and ATM cards, we no longer feel the pain of shelling out money as we do when we count out dollar bills and coins. Instead, the pain comes when a check bounces or we realize we lack rent money.

Possibly, we need to revamp our “experience” launch pad. The experience of attending that class alerted me to how some of life’s improvements have desensitized me. I want to seek new experiences that allow myself to feel all the wonderful emotions God gave me.

My creativity thrives from those experiences in which I feel wonder, surprise, sadness, empathy, pain, awe, joy, my funny bone, etc.

Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launch Pad 2. Your Research

For us who see research as work, we may forfeit some great ideas if we avoid it. I’m often surprised when I’m reading a book or article and an idea pops up for a project. Or while I’m researching the Internet for my novel, I’m delighted when something grabs me and an idea forms for another activity.

I learned how amazing research could be when I attended an American Christian Fiction Writers Conference when Francine Rivers was the keynote speaker.

Earlier on a cruise in the Mediterranean, I happened to be reading Francine Rivers’s A Voice in the Wind. The ship stopped in places the Apostle Paul visited: Rome, Corinth,  Athens, and Ephesus. I was stunned how Rivers brought alive Rome and Ephesus, whose streets we walked.

At the conference, I said to her, “You must’ve had the same tour guide we had in Ephesus, because you captured what he related in your novel.” She answered, “I’ve never been to Ephesus.”

This experience launched my great respect for research and how it can give me ideas for scenes in novels.

Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Launch Pad 3. Others’ Experiences. 

This could come in the form of eavesdropping, an email loop, biographies, famous quotes, friends and family.

After I watched the movie, Chariots of Fire, I watched an interview on the DVD about Eric Liddell. He was the 1924 Olympic medalist runner who refused to run heats on Sunday. Elderly people, who’d been youths imprisoned in the same Japanese interment camp as Liddell, related Liddell’s selfless service. His example for youth as a runner and missionary touched me.

This birthed the idea for my hero in the romance I’m working on. My hero also saw the movie when he was young and his dream is to be the Eric Liddell of golf. Giving the youth of today a role model.

If you’re running dry for ideas from your favorite launch pad, try increasing your exposure in another.

Do you have another launch pad for creative ideas? How have you used it?

How to Use Your Creativity to Make Good Choices

“Take only your imagination seriously.” — Thomas Berger

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We have a choice. A or B. Temptations slither in and suggest Reason go eat an apple. We make our choice with the serpent’s help. Later, we discover another choice would’ve made life easier.

Here’s a creative method that will help Reason fight temptations and lead you to a good choice.

Imagine accurate experiences of each choice.

 

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our imaginations tempt us to make bad choices. We imagine how good we’d look in the red Camaro, and we buy the smokin’ hot car. Then reality bites when those age fifty-plus legs have to lift our time-grown bodies from ground zero every time we exit the car. Talk about hot. Sweaty hot.

Since misdirected imaginations get us into trouble, let’s use our creativity to cultivate truth-telling imaginations.

When you make a choice, make a mental movie of the experience living with choice A. Do the same for choice B. Choose the best experience.

Example: A realtor took John and I to view river properties. We hoped to purchase one to entertain our family and visitors.

The lots surpassed our dreams. The realtor said the owner was prepared to take lower offers.

River PropertyThen temptation tickled our greed. We could buy three adjacent lots, A, B, and C, with riverfront of 600 feet total for a reasonable chunk more than the price for F, a deeper lot with 175 feet of riverfront. How could anyone pass up such a deal?

While John talked to the realtor, I walked the properties. I imagined the experience of our guests on A, B, and C lots combined.

Lunching near the river, we’d sit in the hot sun, unless we bought a shelter. We’d view a house on the other side of the river. We’d listen to occasional passing cars from the nearby road. To free shade trees, we’d bush-hog wild growth. Sweat almost trickled down my face. Our young grandsons would climb the trunks of the two trees that leaned over and shaded the river. One would fall in. My heart stopped.

Then I imagined our experience on lot F.

Boys' Fort?
Boys’ Fort?

My three young grandsons would pretend the space in the copse of ten large shade trees was a fort. My granddaughter would nap beneath another tree. We’d eat in the shade, listening to water gurgle over rapids, and view lush trees across the river. We’d pitch tents near trees farther back and hear occasional cars high up the slope. The boys would drag sticks through the small creek. I almost smelled hamburger and hotdogs grilling over the existing fire pit.

Lot F filled the dream. We didn’t need to get greedy for more land.

Take your best imagined experience seriously. 

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Once we’ve pictured the best experience and made a choice, we must avoid discounting it.

Stop thinking you can change yourself or things to improve poor options.

Example. During a family vacation in Brazil at age thirteen, I tried on gorgeous loafers. The too-small shoes were the only pair. I imagined limping with painful blisters. But I convinced myself that with hose on I could bear the tightness at school. Others would admire my shoes.

I wore them once.

 

MP900314284Re-imagine the experience when the situation is different.

Example. At our last house, we chose to allow two water snakes to live in our pond. Then one made the mistake of chomping down on a goldfish while I snipped cattails nearby with pruning clippers. Snip. No more snake.

Then today at our new house, the mowers asked if I wanted them to kill a black snake. I pictured the field mice near our house. I imagined the snake as the most natural mousetrap. I saved his life.

A good choice for one circumstance may be poor for another.

What experiences have you imagined in making the best choice?

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