A Life In The Book Of…

by limebirdster

Now, I don’t know a great deal about Autobiographical writing, but I did pick up a few points during my course at University.

Point one is that most writers’ first book is at least partly autobiographical. Now this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, I don’t think that Tolkien lived in a hole in the ground and was a hobbit, but it tends to apply to general fiction. There’s something about your life in there, whether it’s deliberate or not. Because you write about what you know, and what do you know better than yourself?

Point two is that you start with the facts and embellish them. For example, just writing that you were born and started school when you were five won’t make all that thrilling a read. But if you add in a story about your first day at school, or something you remember from nursery, or some anecdote about your birth that you don’t actually remember but that you’re always being told by your parents. That’s when your writing becomes a story.

So if you want to write about your life, you want to pick out the key moments and find a story to go with them. Just saying that you went to university isn’t very interesting and also only takes up a couple of words. Writing about how you met your flatmates and how many times you tried and failed the cinnamon challenge in your first year when you were supposed to be revising is not only more entertaining, but will also use up a couple of chapters so that you might even get a book out of it in the end!

And if you don’t want to write about your life, or if you want to write but you don’t know what to write about, then invent a character and write their life instead. Decide where they were born and where they went to school and what they studied, and then write the little stories in between, the ones that tell the reader who this person is by how they react and what they say. And, somewhere in there, you’ll find a bit of your own life has seeped through the cracks anyway. Because you have to get your inspiration from somewhere and you write about what you know. And what do you know better than yourself?

20 Comments to “A Life In The Book Of…”

  1. Thanks so much — I needed this!

  2. Well, I guess I really stuck with writing about my life for my first book (a memoir). But my next book will be fact filled in with fiction–more like what you’re talking about here. It will be nice not to be constrained by the truth all the time!

  3. Nice post, Ster. Though, real life is often stranger than fiction, so you never know what in your life or your imagination might make the best story. πŸ˜‰

  4. Hmm, the characters from my first novel will tell you they chose me to write the story because I “share” some experiences with them. But to suggest they are me in disguise? If they could physically enter this world, they would kick you hard. πŸ˜‰ But for other writers, they will admit you raise some good points!

    • Hi, I don’t mean to suggest that you are your characters, unless you are genuinely writing an autobiography! Just that our own experiences can influence their stories, like by sharing some of the same experiences.

      We often find our inspiration in our own lives, but we very rarely just write it down as it happened, it just helps to shape the story that we were already writing. I hope that makes sense!

  5. I think thats one of the great thing about Stephen King’s work, there is always a little piece (or sometimes a big chunk!) in his characters and settings.

    • Hi Laura, I’m just reading On Writing and it’s really interesting to read how parts of his books were influenced by his own life. I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King, but I feel like I know his stories now!

  6. I’ve often thought I’d like to write my autobiography, I think it would be a hugely therapeutic process, and like you say, I would envisage doing it by picking on key points of interest from throughout my life and telling those tales.

    Can you forgive me if I just put my health and safety hat on here for a minute? – IF ANY KIDS OR UNI STUDENTS ARE READING THIS, DON’T DO THE CINAMMON CHALLENGE, IT’S DANGEROUS. IF POWDER GETS INTO YOUR LUNGS IT CAN CAUSE BIG HEALTH PROBLEMS!!! (Sorry Ster, I know you weren’t advocating it as such, but as a mother of a teenage daughter, I felt it my duty to do that πŸ˜‰ )

    • By all means, feel free to issue health warnings! It just happned to be something that we were talking about at work the other day. It sounds disgusting!

  7. Great post Ster, and when I looked, I did see myself in my work. I’ve noticed it a few times and tried moving the setting location to a different place and to make sure that the characters names aren’t anything like anyone I know; but I keep seeing myself in this character, and my best friend in the way that one responds, etc.

    It’s kind of cool now that you point it out, but really, how can we write anything that isn’t part of us? I may not be a dwarf toiling in a mine inside a mountain but I know what it’s like to be underground in a cave, I know what it’s like to have to work in a hot environment (as I imagine the inside the mines would be), and I could use those experiences to create a reasonably believable dwarf. Is he grumpy? I have my bad days (Lord knows!). Is he silly? I’m the queen of silly! etc.etc.

    You brought up some really good points here, it never occurred to me that the book might be autobiographical but you know… some of it is!

    • Thanks Neeks! I think we just need to accept that it happens rather than try to avoid it, as much as we use our imagination to write our stories, our heads are still full of who we know and what we’ve done!

  8. Yes, definitely in early drafts there is a lot of me in there. But not so much in later drafts. I’m sure I edit myself out when I realize that something my character says or does is more “me” than the character. I think it’s nearly impossible to not write something that has a part of us in it anyway. I think that’s true of all art forms. For instance, I see the actor/actress in the characters they play through body language or mannerisms or speech rhythms. Not all the time, but there are glimpses.

    • That’s true, I think you’re more aware of it when you read things back.

      I quite liking spotting bits of actors in thier performances, it’s something to do when that film gets a bit boring! lol

  9. What a fabby post – my life pops up in my writing all the time – I’m just so glad that people don’t always know which is the reality and which is the fiction!

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