Blurring the line between fact and fiction

It’s great to write from your own experience; true events that are unique to you and that no one can take away. This is not about perfectionism in writing but about having fun and enjoying the memories of experiences you have had, even if doing so is far from perfect. Only last week, I wrote about my own fond memories from my travels. The trip itself was one that many people have done before but my experience was nonetheless unique. For me, this was due to a relationship and the strength of character I saw in my travelling companion.

Beware, though. This emotional connectivity did lead me to a certain degree of clinginess. I did not want to edit my piece once it was written, did not want to cut it down, and I did not want to take out any passage, whether it be about a fox-bred dog or a crying child. I was too emotionally attached to the real life events and I only loved it because of the personal connection.

So I had a good idea but an inability to pull it off. That is, until I put all my trust in Dan to suggest areas for editing. This did involve giving up a lot of control but he held a degree of objectivity that I just didn’t have.

Let’s make no mistake: I am talking about writing fiction here, not non-fiction. Mixing real and imagined worlds like this is not an easy thing to do. However, the benefits are clear. You can get realism, emotion, characterisation and an arc to your story that is not always easy to achieve. Dialogue can also be enhanced as, if you use memories of real conversations, you are more likely to avoid laboured speech. The dangers? Egotism on the part of the writer, severe boredom for the reader, or that feeling of a story completed that, despite some promising areas, didn’t really go anywhere – these are just a few of the problems which may arise and may hamper your writing efforts.

Here are two steps towards becoming more comfortable with this writing style:

Step 1 – Write everything you know

Firstly, from recent experience, the best way to deal with possible pitfalls is to throw yourself into it and let your memory and creativity go wild. This is when the world you lived will really be created. Have fun and don’t try to write the perfect piece.

Then get a friend to act as editor. Pick someone you trust and ask them to explain their editing decisions to you. If they explain why they like certain segments and highlight those which need more work then this will make it easier for you to replicate your moments of brilliance throughout.

Most importantly, listen to what they have to say and act on it, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.

Step 2 – Move away from reality

From the conversations you have with your editor, start to look at the arc of your story on your own. There will be elements of the tale which are not best met by reality.

What do you wish had happened? Or perhaps, what are you glad didn’t happen but would make one brilliant story? Be controversial. This could include changing a character’s actions, either positively or negatively, that would have had resounding impact on the story’s outcome.

Remember that you are writing fiction, not a memoir. The story is for the reader, not yourself, and what you write must be engaging.

As your internal editor becomes more inherent, you can start to play around with the format and structure of your experiences. Without the need of a friend (although you may always find a friendly editor helpful) you can figure out for yourself what is needed and what is not, and merge the non-fictional and fictional world together.

In this way, you can fill out the characters that seem underdeveloped, or expand a scene that, in reality, was over just too soon. That’s the beauty of fiction: you can make life as interesting as you like.