“I write a lot from personal experience, but I also embellish a bit.” — Miranda Lambert
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.
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:
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.
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.
Instead of using the actual incident, give the feelings you had to your character in her similar situation.
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.
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.
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?
I tap into my past for emotional content, and my own experiences and travels, as well as those of other family numbers that I am close enough to “see” the scene from the inside, for setting and plot. For example, I lived in Honduras for eight years, and experiences and places there frame my Pre-Colombian historical novel, Listen to the Wind, and Mountain Cry, the first in a children’s middle grade series. A contemporary novel I’m working on sprang from a prayer request from my daughter in college. And an Amish mystery I completed last year draws from the Pinecraft community nearby and my grandmother’s background. So, it’s all fodder, and my sibs and kids know they may pop in and out of my writing. As you did, Zoe, I change enough facts to hide identities.
Hi Jane, I just realized comments to my posts are going to spam! You have truly used your experiences in your writing. I always tell my husband he’s fodder for my heroes.
Nice post, Zoe. It’s said we each a little of ourselves in our books. I believe this and can identify this when I know the author. In my Chanute Crossing series, I used combinations of random names from my ancestry and didn’t know but one of my name combinations had actually been a real woman. My character had addiction problems! Sob!
Jude, comments have been going to spam. I also used my grandmother’s middle name for Cisney in Calculated Risk. Nice to honor our family.