This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
A lot of my friends give me knowing winks and comments about my book, telling me that they recognis bits of me or stories that have happened to people I know in real life. But the truth is: I’ve realised that it’s easier not to write about what I know.
In my latest novel, I wanted to base my characters’ work team-building trip on an army bootcamp weekend I went on a few years ago. The fear of being in dark, damp tunnels and carrying double my body weight in the boiling heat have never quite left me. I thought there would be endless humour for my character in these situations, and I’d certainly know how to portray the emotional roller-coaster she’d have gone on. Only the more I tried to write it, the more boring the story got and the more the writing stalled. In the end I ended up changing the team building trip to a totally different situation.
That’s not the first time that I’ve developed writers block writing about an event that took place in real life. I’m one of those people that random things happen to, and I can usually be counted upon to have one of those stories that friends say, ‘Anna, that could have only happened to you.’ But, when I try and rehash one of my funny real life stories into one of my novels I can never get it to work. And I think it comes down to the fact, that no matter what my friends think, I’m not my main characters.
Looking back on my novels, Millie and the American Wedding, is probably the book with the most true life events thrown in. In fact, one of my friends (whose wedding was the inspiration for the book) managed to predict bits that would feature in the story. Not main plot twists, as they were fiction, but some of the funny little stories that happened along the way that actually happened to me. And maybe it worked because Millie was more like me than I realised.
Yet, in the novels I’ve written since, whenever I draw on real life, it feels like I’m shoe-horning the stories in. I feel that it restricts the story taking its own shape as I’m trying to make it exactly what happened to me, and thinking about how it would have happened to my characters.
I do find it a difficult creating a balance between writing what you do and don’t know. I mean, there have to be elements that you draw on from real life to give your novel that feel that it’s not set in some fantasy world. It’s always helpful to have been to the places you’re describing to accurately describe them. But there’s always research to fill in those little knowledge gaps. My current character, Penny, works in HR, and whilst I’m drawing on my own experiences of HR from companies I’ve worked in, I’m also picking the brains of a couple of good friends that work in HR and getting them to test read so it’s believable.
Am I the only writer who finds it easier not to mix real and fictional life, or do your own stories pop up in your novels?