Using Real Life Experience in Fiction

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People are always telling us to write what we know. The best way to do this is to write our real life experiences into our make believe world through the layered fabrics of our characters’ lives.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t set a story in France if we’ve never stepped foot in France. It means we need to know the people and relationships we’re creating. It means we need to know our story arch and detailed research can do the rest if we allow ourselves to be immersed in the setting. It isn’t enough for our characters to see, feel, smell, and hear things-we need to see, feel, smell and hear what our characters are experiencing. I want to share a few ways I do this in my writing, as well as some tips in how to make an author’s experience the character’s experience.

Let Your Characters Own the Story
The story you’re writing isn’t yours-it doesn’t belong to you. Give your characters ownership.

If you’re writing about a personal experience that brought a great deal of pain, be aware that writing about it can be therapeutic and part of your healing. Go ahead and write the first draft. Get it down on paper or on the screen. Set it aside for a few days. Then come back to it and read it through your character’s eyes.

Would you’re character REALLY say that in the dialogue? Would he/she REALLY describe their feelings that way in the narrative? Is your character’s reaction what you did or wanted to do or something appropriate to your character’s personality and background?

Once you go through this process, you’ll see that you’ve taken YOU out of the scene and have given your character ownership. I had to go through this process with the opening scene of my new book, Highland Sanctuary. The original scene was 8 pages longer, and I sobbed my way through it. By cutting out MY story, and by God’s grace, I was able to make it my characters’ story.

Experiencing a Place You’ve Never Been
A lot of people assume I’ve been to Scotland after reading my books, including those who have been there. I can assure you I’ve never had that pleasure. It’s still a dream of mine.

I’ve had to do the next best thing, immerse myself in Scotland. Read about it, talk to native Scots, watch Scottish movies, go to highland games, and visit the Scottish Tartan Museum. It’s no different than writing about an historical time period we can never live in. Historical authors may want a time machine, but I’m very certain no historical author has discovered one. They rely on good old-fashioned research-even if using modern technology to do it.

Remember Varying Viewpoints
Each time we go through a particular experience, someone around us witnesses our reaction, and they go through it with us-in their own way. We may not notice them since we’re consumed in our own world of pain, but loved ones feel something. Think back to how they might have reacted. What did they say? Get a testimony of their feelings and what they remember. This will help you write other character point of views beyond your own. The experience may be yours, but now you’re adding another layer of depth. You’re main characters are influenced by other characters or are being the influence.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of historical Christian fiction set in Europe and the Carolinas and a speaker on topics of faith, writing and publishing. Her work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, Romantic Times Book Reviews, and The Military Trader. She serves as the Publicist at Hartline Literary Agency. Jennifer graduated from Elon University with a B.A. in Journalism. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with family, long walks, traveling, touring historical sites, hanging out at bookstores with coffee shops, genealogy, and reading. Jennifer’s fiction is represented by Literary Agent, Terry Burns with Hartline Literary Agency.

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