Self portrai in oil pastel, self-portrait in mirror.
Writing from truth, using a real event, can lend work real emotion, emotion difficult to conjure otherwise. Tears in a writer will bring tears to a reader, so they say. And as an artist, it is often your job to stand naked in front of the world.
Writing from fact does have its downside, however. Firstly, a straight account is reportage, not fiction so you must add extra spice and colour to the mixture to make it fiction, and interesting.
It is important to get to the naked crux of what your story is ‘saying’ and make sure your narrative never loses sight of this point and – so, even if when you were all driving to the hospital, Brad told a joke so funny you’ve just got to mention it. No, don’t mention it. Stick to the point of the story – the story is the hospital, remember, not Brad’s unrelated joke.
You may also have to leave out years of backstory if it does not serve to drive your own story on in any way. You may have been brought up by the funniest, most eccentric, most loving or most dysfunctional family in the world, but if they have no role in the story at hand, don’t mention them.
Another issue with writing from real memory is that ironically, fact is often too weird and too unbelievable to work as fiction. Your readers will say, ‘oh, come on, that would never happen.’ And you can’t phone them all up and say, ‘actually, it did. I’m not making it up. I once knew this bloke…’ Instead, you’ve often got to tone down the story to make it more credible. Real-life coincidences can be particularly problematic here.
And remember if you stick too close to the truth, you may be setting yourself up for some legal headaches, especially if you are presenting another person in an unflattering light. It’s best to change names and/or genders, and settings. Once you make those factual changes, most people will fail to recognize themselves in fiction, simply because we don’t see ourselves as we are seen by others….
March 10th, 2012 at 12:22
I can’t imagine writing anything of substance without including part of me in it. In some of my stories the ‘parts’ are very real and help inform the character.
Of course, some of it is complete fabrication. I’ve *never* whacked a Turkish assassin in the head with a mostly full bottle of vodka.
March 10th, 2012 at 12:30
Great tips – maybe a reason to why we keep memories is to share them in the future …
March 10th, 2012 at 16:16
You are a brave woman. I love the self-portrait and that you had the guts to share it. You give me lots to think about. Thanks.
March 10th, 2012 at 16:37
Thanks Sue. As always great suggestions. I myself have never been big on public nudity, or even wearing a bikini for that matter. Colorful layering can be more interesting to me….I wonder if there has ever been a study done on people who frequent nudist camps and who tend to write the “naked truth?” 🙂
March 10th, 2012 at 17:24
Ashamed to say, I have done this in critique groups. “This sounds unlikely.” “Oh, no, it isn’t. It happened to a friend of a friend of a friend of mine.”
I know better. If it sounds unbelievable, if it’s not working, take it out.
March 10th, 2012 at 18:14
I wouldn’t have the guts to post a naked picture of myself!
March 10th, 2012 at 23:43
This is great – it goes along with thoughts that have been going on (in both real life and literature) about real life events as a springboard into fictional creations. As someone who likes realism (but also aspires to a Kafka-esque surrealism!) I find I am often inspired to write by seemingly mundane things.
March 11th, 2012 at 09:02
Great post, I have the problem of being too secretive in my writing, I think the reader should find out things. Drives my wife nuts as she has to read it all and tell me what needs to be opened up.
I like hidden writing, but finding the balance is hard.
March 11th, 2012 at 20:09
Although I paint I would not dare to do a self portrait.I would need to order a tanker of flesh tones first.
I do write from my heart. It is my choice to.
Actually that is wrong.I write “me” because I don”t seem to have a choice.
Write what you know is what I was told.So I do.I write of me.
My poetry is my voice.Here,even under pressure,I remain stammer free.Here you see your idealized portrait of me.
March 11th, 2012 at 20:26
Mind you a bloody good imagination helps too.
I have never been a hangman yet I have written of being one in the first person.
I have written ,and write , love poems yet I am still single.
I have not been a soldier but I come from a military family.
One thing binds all these and more.
I love words and words speak for me.
Only one of my blood family knows I write lots of poems.
Only one has read them all.
I envy your skill with pastels all the same 🙂
March 14th, 2012 at 03:10
Write about what you know, but avoid libel. Good advice.