How Much Personal ‘Stuff’ Do You Write Into Your Novel?

The experts tell us to write what we know. On one hand, I find this rather humorous as fantasy worlds full of dragons, gnomes and fairies do not exist in reality so how can one write about them? On the other hand, my characters are really no different from us. They all have the same problems. They all fall in love. They all experience deceit, anger, triumph. They know what it means to fight for something they believe in and they know what it means to feel safe and scared.

I think grounding your characters in reality is really important when writing a novel. I like to use certain personality aspects of my family, friends and people I’ve met and put those characteristics onto my characters. There is one character in my novel that is a cross between my dad and an ex-love of mine. There is another who has the humor of my oldest son but the stubbornness of my oldest daughter. There is another who has the artistic attributes of my youngest daughter and the sarcasm of my youngest son. And all around them are others who mimic my husband, people I’ve worked with, friends and strangers I’ve encountered in my life’s journey.

I’ve always been more of a watcher than a participant, if that makes sense. At parties, I tend to listen more than talk. I take mental notes of the way people speak. Their inflections. Their mannerisms. I listen to people’s stories and ask questions when a topic interests me. I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve hiked and camped in the woods in the freezing cold and in the miserable heat. I’ve heard the sounds of the forest at night and have had to rough it in the woods when nature called. I’ve experienced the wonderful miracle of natural childbirth with my four children and I’ve experienced the horrors of death: the death of my father who died in a car accident while on active duty in the military when I was 12, my mom just two years ago. A man I loved the way I’ve loved none other. So many times I have had to pull from those recollections to make dialogue work or to strengthen a character’s resolve, establish a setting, or add intrigue to my stories. So, in this respect, I am writing what I know, and as long as I keep writing this way, then my novels will be grounded in reality and hopefully appeal to my readers on a personal level.

So what about you? How much of your own personal experiences and characteristics of those you know do you incorporate into your works of fiction?


2 thoughts on “How Much Personal ‘Stuff’ Do You Write Into Your Novel?

  1. I’m scared of writing too much personal stuff. It will come back to haunt me, letting secrets out. But all my work comes out of me so is part of me and about me–how I see the world and my responses to it. But certain family stuff I’ll never write about though many would say the family secrets are the best stories.


  2. I really understand your point here, I think writing about what you know is a tricky one and personally writing is an escapism so I don’t think I would write about the big things that have happened in my life.
    However I totally agree that characters are formed from the people around us, though for me I take a lot of influence from music and film to help me feel emotions or create characters I wouldn’t have otherwise come across.


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