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Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I’ll stop by.
As the saying goes, “Write what you know.” Inevitably, writers transfer some of their own experiences onto the page. What we know may become the basis of the setting, the plot, a line of dialogue, or maybe even just a character’s gesture, but it’s probably in there somewhere.
How far is too far? At what point does that mantra become a crutch, giving us the freedom to pull from ourselves instead of making it up? Does it even matter?
I struggle sometimes with how much “me” to allow into a novel. Is that my subconscious poking around on my pages? I will sometimes write something really dark and messy and scary and think “Whoa. What’s going on there?” I’d like to think it’s just my imagination going someplace interesting, but perhaps I’m really just a sick and twisted person.
(I’m not. I don’t think.)
On the flip side, what if what you know is a story that needs to be told? What if real life presents a situation so absurd, so fantastically unbelievable, so incredibly poignant, that it would be a shame not to use it? I think sometimes that it’s not fair to share those bits of myself in my fiction. Those are the things I should treasure and hold on to as my own, yet the story aches to be written.
I think that’s why journaling has always held an appeal for me. It’s a chance to write those stories and get them out, even if they never see a vast audience. In acting, pulling from experience to get to real emotion can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you’re able to access real, honest feelings. On the other hand, with time those memories will lose their emotional gravity. In writing, however, it seems like emotions can find deeper resonance the more you explore them.
The bottom line for me is whether the story is benefiting from the pieces I use. If something seems off, it’s probably because there is too much “me” bleeding through and not enough of the character. As much as I want the story to be personal and meaningful, it has to remain the character’s story, and not mine. Still, if an experience of mine makes a perfect plot element, I feel like I should use it.
Am I the only one that struggles with this? How much fiction needs to be in our fiction? How much of ourselves can we get away with incorporating into our stories?
If you’re not a writer, what about as a reader? Do you find that you put your own personal experiences upon the character? I definitely do this as a reader as well. My experiences will color my perceptions of the books I read, for better or for worse. I can’t help it.
What about you?