So I’m working on a novel for my senior project. And it’s about a college freshman who goes to school in Idaho and her weird roommate she lives with, and the problems that go on in their strange relationship. For a true synopsis see my What’s in the Cup page that includes my fiction works summarized for your perusal. However, in writing about a college student, I’ve had multiple people ask me if it’s a true story.
I had a wonderful freshman roommate. We’re still friends and we even lived together a second year and would have lived together this year if housing had worked out better. Sure, I include a few elements of inspiration I found from other parts of life. I mean the roommate first meeting, a few random quirks about living with a different person, and the roommate bonding experience have little bits of truth to them. But the majority of the plot is fiction.
Real life circumstances can be great inspiration. They provide a level of realness to the text, probably help show your real feelings and passions as well. It’s usually not the happy times that really inspire me though. No, it’s the ones where I’m upset or hurt. And sometimes I include those. And other times I don’t. However, I feel like life inspiration requires balance.
A few months back I was working on a fiction piece specifically inspired by real life feelings and circumstances. Sure, it had a lot of fiction thrown in, but it had enough basis in reality that one could easily track what had inspired it. I wanted an outlet for the crazy emotions of the moment. I felt dedicating a book to unrequited love and the pain of that might be meaningful as I wrote about in When a Writer Falls in Love.
However, the circumstances surprised me. I felt overwhelmed by putting all of my life on a page. I worried what people would think of me, became too concerned about how my protagonist would be received, and hit writer’s block at a certain point on realizing some of the story I felt was important was obviously meaningless. My emotional connection to the work was simply too much to deal with.
Similarly, my roommates of last year asked me to write a book loosely based on us. I came up with a crime novel, hoping that would remove some of the reality of the story, but still it was hard to write about real people. I was concerned they wouldn’t like how they were portrayed, sometimes felt I didn’t understand their motivations and actions the same way I do with characters of my own creation. I still do hope to continue working on that one some day, it’s a fun story really, but there are challenges included regardless.
Sometimes I find my writing subconsciously absorbs what I’m dealing with in my life, whether I want it to or not. Writing last year I was dealing with friendship issues and I suddenly found this randomly interspersed:
“The options before her battled fiercely. In the end what did it really come down to? People came and went in everyone’s life. Living as long as she did she knew that this was simply a reality. Friends moved on. Family changed or died or left. And often one was left seeking newness in their life. Her heart, however, was in utter rebellion with this logic. Wendy. Her name was being called by every fiber of Melanie’s being. Smart interesting funny clever Wendy. Did she abandon that for nothing? Or did she cleave instead an infectious tumor beginning to turn malignant? There was no true telling. Would removing this woman from her life remove a part of her very soul? Or could she survive, thrive, come to new life as a result?”
I stare at that looking back. Hold on, did I just write about choosing my own health over friendship? Did I just put myself in one of my character’s shoes? Did the brutal death later represent that coming to an end, my own frustration with all that had happened?
I don’t tend to try to write other characters as people I know. Sometimes it happens. However, I can’t deny there is something therapeutic in letting off steam at people who frustrate me, at situations that are distressing. So, if anyone who ever pisses me off reads my works and wonders “hmm is that me she’s writing about as a villain/brutal murder/pathetic character?” Probably, but you’ll never hear those words from my mouth. You can simply live knowing that if you make me angry, you’ll likely face the consequences in my fiction.
So yes, writing can emulate life. Sometimes that’s purposefully, using experience to create a greater sense of emotion in writing. Other times, it comes out subconsciously, especially in negative emotions. And sometimes I simply have to separate fiction and reality, because they become too overwhelming together. It largely depends. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see how the two cross over.
Fellow writers, how much do you include real life experiences in your writing? Any other writers relate in how they react to people who have hurt or angered them? Any other remarks to make? Any of my friends suddenly scared?