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?

5 Steps to Tap “Greatest” Moments to Improve Your Creative Writing

“The wise learn from the experience of others, and the creative know how to make a crumb of experience go a long way.” —Eric Hoffer

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You realize you need strong emotional events for your character’s journey.

Try using greatest, closest, and funniest moments to pump up your story. Here’s how it works:

Step 1 Ask a question at your next social gathering, such as:

  • What situation was the moment you came closest to death?
  • What has been your greatest fear?
  • What was your greatest embarrassment?
  • What was the greatest injustice you suffered?
  • What was your funniest situation?
Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Example: What situation was the moment you came closest to death?

First, the facts:

Response 1: When she was twenty, she hiked a cliff path with her parents. The drop from the path to the boulder-filled creek below was over a hundred feet. She stumbled on a jutting rock and shot out her foot to steady herself on a smooth stone slanting toward the drop. It was wet and slippery. She slid toward the drop. Her mother caught her arm and pulled her back onto the path.

Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of SweetCrisis at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Response 2: On a dark night, a wasp in her car forced her to stop on the side of a deserted road and exit her car. A car pulled up alongside hers, and the lone man asked if her car had broken down. She said it hadn’t. He drove on a ways and then slowly made a U-turn. She jumped in her car, wasp or no wasp, and sped by him.

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 2 Ask the teller to expand on her emotions during the situation.

In telling mode:

Response 1: Desperately trying to get traction, she squealed. Her mother screamed. Afterwards she couldn’t stop shaking. She found it difficult to deal with the realization that her mother, without thinking, risked her own life to save hers.

Response 2: She was terrified the wasp would sting her. The man’s ogling eyes creeped her out. When he drove on, she was relieved. At his U-turn, her heart stopped. Forgetting the wasp, she panicked to escape him.

Step 3 Collect the stories and organize them by subject. I’d file these under Death Defying.

Step 4 Select a situation from your cache when you need a situation for a character.

Step 5 Massage the situation to fit your story. Let’s select Response 1.

Hikers_on_green_fieldsBriefly, in telling mode:

On a team-building weekend, Anne and her colleagues traverse a narrow path along a cliff. Anne precedes Cindy, the ambitious, disliked co-worker. Anne wishes she could pass three people and hike next to Mark, the hunk she and Cindy have their eyes on.

Anne is mentally grumbling about her bad luck, when she trips on a jutting rock. Her left foot zips out to steady herself. She can’t gain traction on the slippery stone slanted toward the boulder-filled creek below. Panicking, she yelps as she slides toward the hundred-foot drop. Cindy grabs her arm and pulls her back onto the path.

Later, still trembling, Anne refuses Mark’s invitation to eat beans together. She’s compelled to understand the woman who risked her life to save hers. She joins Cindy on a log.

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    • How to tap yours and others’ “greatest” moments to improve your creative writing.
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    Now you have a situation with real actions. You can add details and show the emotions.

    What situation have you used to enrich a story?