I think all writers do this, although sometimes without realizing it. I know I do.
In memoir, of course personal information is shared. That’s what memoir is all about, allowing your reader to share your experience. But in my fiction, when a critique partner asks why a particular character didn’t do what the partner expected, I answer, “Oh, that’s because he would never do that.”
And my critique partner would say, “No, Vic. It’s YOU who would never do that. Your protagonist must do that so the story can move forward.”
And that’s the point. All writers need to have their stories move forward, no matter if we share a part of ourselves in the story through a character or an event or experience or make things up. Stories must move forward to interest readers.
But writers must also remember that sometimes real life isn’t easy to believe. This happened in a few of my short adventure stories for teens. I usually set my story in a national park my family has visited. When my husband and I camp with five kids, we try to take in as many of the park ranger hikes and talks as possible. That’s where I get my knowledge that’s shared through my YA adventure stories.
In two of my stories published in Cricket Magazine, the editor contacted me about the reality of the situation. Remember that I write contemporary and not sci-fi or fantasy. The first story question was easy. I simply sent him links to prove my point: one to the park webpage and one to a blog post that explained my family’s experience with the park and had a photo of trees and pine cones with people to give perspective. Writers always want to make things as easy as possible for busy editors, right?
The second question the same editor had was in a later story. The only proof I could tell him was that we heard a similar situation from the park ranger on a hike in that particular national park. I gave the editor a link to the park’s website. The editor bought the story.
I wonder if this particular editor thinks I send my own children into all these risky and scary situations alone as I do my protagonist. I hope not. Therein lays the fiction part.
Whether writers use personal experience or beliefs or events in their writing or not, we writers need to be sure those personal experiences sound logical in the stories we tell, even in fantasy and sci-fi. Good luck in your story telling!
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This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.
36 thoughts on “Insecure Writers want to know: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?”
When were the stories published in Cricket? I would love to read them. I love National Parks and enjoy reading about your adventures over on the other blog. Next summer we will be hitting up some parks in Colorado.
Envy you your present day writing. I spend my time writing as a child in the 1700's or as a twelve year old in the eight hundreds. Battling with the history and speech patterns adds more pressure!
I love way you obtain your story topics, it sounds fun, Victoria!
What, they didn't think hiking all of the trails was real enough? We'd probably gone off on many of those trails as well.
You are right, it is all in service to the story. If we are not doing something to make it better we need to change something. Awesome that you have someone to point these things out.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Carole. But wow! The historical references in your writing are fascinating. No kidding the history and speech patterns add pressure. More power to you!
Thanks for leaving a note at Adventures in Writing. It's greatly appreciated.
It's difficult to imagine the Sequoias if you've never seen them. And the pine cone differences out in California are truly amazing. In the other story, I had my protagonist encounter a baby bear [which my family did on a ranger hike] AND a mountain lion [which the ranger told us about]. Thank God we didn't see the lion. The kids would never set foot in the woods again. The bear was enough to make the twins, my youngest, climb up the side of a boulder to be farther away from the bear.
Ahh, good camping memories! It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Alex. Thanks for your comment.
Hi, Morgan. Thanks for asking about my Cricket Magazine advventure stories. Here is a list of my published Cricket stories:
Oct. 2012 – Emerging From Darkness
Feb. 2014 – My Father is Grand [not a Nat'l Park story]
Nov/Dec 2015 – Brotherly Love
July/Aug. 2016 – Natural Instincts
I don't know what issue the recent purchase will be in. The Brotherly Love story takes place in Rocky Mt. National Park. Colorado is gorgeous and has numerous parks to investigate.
Thanks so much for your comment on Adventures in Writing, Morgan. It's greatly appreciated.
Yes, I'm lucky, Brandon. My writer friend takes the time to tell me what's missing in my short stories. But it is good to have a few people read your stories, if you can.
Thanks so much for your comment on Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. All best to you!
That is cool you have someone you trust to tell you truths about your stories. Juneta @ Writer's Gambit
Hi Victoria – you must have a wealth of stories to bring to life – and obviously you're doing it well – perhaps too well … if they need to ring and check – but brilliant. Lots there for a book or two too – cheers Hilary
I love it that your settings are in National Parks. The American West has so many of them to offer. My husband and I are currently house sitting in Colorado and plan a short visit to Rocky Mountain NP this weekend. 🙂
Your examples of editors not believing the real stories made me think about all the times I had to answer questions by Homeland Security when entering the US. While I would never lie and my life is quite unusual, the way they looked at me almost made me believe I was making it all up.
Yes, as I told Brandon above, I am lucky. But writers need to know what critique to listen to and what lies outside the story they are trying to tell.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Juneta!
It's true, Hilary, I do have a wealth of stories to tell. It's just finding the time to write them that's the problem. And yes, I've thought of a book of family adventures, too. Again, like so many other writers, it's the time needed to write the book that's the problem.
I always appreciate finding your notes here at Adventures in Writing, Hilary. Enjoy your week!
Oh my gosh, Liesbet, there is soo much to see at Rocky Mountain NP. We spent close to a week there and still didn't see all of it. The Rocky Mountains are truly stunning.
Yes, right about now, Homeland is probably suspicious of flies. You have the best lifestyle, house sitting, Liesbet. Enjoy it to the fullest. I love all your input and comments here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks so much!
Sometimes, life is so unusual and strange, fiction writers can't even come close. Unless they use their lives as a base for their fiction. I imagine your true stories from that park will feed your imagination for a while.
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Olga! Yes, my true adventures in national parks do inspire my fiction. It's true. Real life can, at times, seem too strange–even for fiction.
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Very good points. I think it's neat that you could prove to the editor that what you wrote was true. A lesson for all of us to remember.
Those personal experiences give our stories life.
Wonderful post. I agree with Lynda, it's those kinds of things that make me as a reader enjoy a story so much more. And thanks for your lovely comment on my blog.
It certainly helps, Beverly. I think it's important to make things as easy as possible for editors. If we do, hopefully, they will seriously consider our work.
Thank you so much for visiting Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. It's greatly appreciated. Enjoy your weekend!
Yes they do, Lynda. Personal experiences give stories depth as well. It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Karen. Thank you so much for following my blog. It's appreciated more than you realize.
And thanks so much of your kind words. I truly appreciate them. Enjoy your weekend!
Real life isn't always easy to believe, you're right, which is why we can get away with so much in fiction. It often surprises me when a reader says a book was far-fetched because anything can happen in real life as well as fiction.
They say real life can be stranger than fiction. Also fiction supposedly must make sense and real life doesn't have to. Heh. It's good you had things to back up why you wrote your story a certain way. I do wonder if any of the editors thought other parts were true too.
Yes it can, Chrys! It seems the more realistic something is the more it seems too good to be true. Yet sci-fi and fantasy can stand as is because we don't expect it to be real life.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Cherie! I agree. Real life IS stranger than most fiction. And definitely fiction must make sense. And yes, I do wonder if these editors think I send my children off to face the elements alone. I don't! I don't! I swear!
Thanks so much for your comment here on Adventures in Writing. It's appreciated more than you know. All best to you!
Yes, our personal experiences make a story interesting to read.
They truly do, Nas. We just need to know how to frame it and make a point for memoir. In fiction, sometimes our life experiences need to sound truer than real life.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Nas. Have a good week!
Look at all those stories! Congrats!
I run into this problem as well, and I try to solve it by thinking, what would make this situation believable. Is there some context I can add?
It's so interesting that we need to think how to make a real life situation more believable. But you are correct, Raimey. That's exactly what writers need to do.
Thank you so much for your comment here on Adventures in Writing. It is truly appreciated.
Thank you so much, Raimey! I so need to hear this every once in a while. Thanks for you note on Adventures in Writing. All best to you!
I think it's nearly impossible to not put some of yourself in your books. Though it's never the evil parts, I swear 😉
I'm with you on that, Elizabeth! The evil parts stay tucked under my bed. Nuts! I just gave away their location.
Thanks so much for your comment on Adventures in Writing. I greatly appreciate it. Enjoy the rest of your week!
Those sound like some juicy stories! I love hiking.
Thank you, Tamara. I love hiking, too! And I'm lucky enough to have a family full of hikers.
Thank you so much for your note here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!