Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Should Our Fiction Be Autobiographical?

photo credit: HaoJan via photopin cc
Writers are often told to “write what you know”. Of course, this is great advice. I believe that writing what we know can tremendously enrich our fiction. But should we go to the extent of making our fiction exactly about us and our life experiences, almost to the point that it’s autobiographical?

I recently read a guest post at Author Steph Bowe's blog where Author Cally Jackson discussed whetheror not authors should incorporate real-life experiences into their fiction. She mentioned that several people have asked her if her debut novel, The Big Smoke, was autobiographical.

I thought this was interesting since, fiction is, in fact, based on real life. There is no better writing inspiration than life itself. Authors tend to pull from their own past experiences, memories, and people that they know personally into their fiction. This could be considered “writing what you know” so that your fiction seems more real—since, well, it somewhat is.

However, should our fiction—or at least our debut novel—be completely autobiographical?

While writing my debut novel, Purple Moon, I tried to stay away from making my main character, Selena, too much like myself. However, even though she has a completely different past and family situation, I did incorporate a little bit of “me” in her.  For example, she’s passionate, a dreamer, an artist, somewhat of an introvert, has the same style as I do, a romantic, and a little too obsessed with coffee. All much like myself. I've also given her some of my flaws. The beauty in writing is that it can, in a way, be therapeutic. A healing process, even. Some of the things that Selena deals with in Purple Moon are things that God has been having to work with in me for the past few years. I think it’s completely fine to give your main character some of your own strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. I also think that authors should use past experiences to enrich their writing, just like an actor should do with a character they’re playing.

On a side note—although I didn’t exactly put my memories into scenes in my book, Purple Moon seemed to have put some of its scenes into my own life. After I wrote the first draft, many things in my own life have occurred that are scenes in my book. It’s kind of like having a dream that becomes reality. Kind of strange. I'll have to create a page on my website when Purple Moon is released so readers can see what life has pulled from my book. =)

One reason I stayed away from making my debut novel auto-biographical is because it kind of takes away the joy of writing. Yes, some of my own experiences have influenced a few scenes in Purple Moon. But I was sure not to copy them exactly. And since I love to act, I enjoy putting myself in someone else’s shoes and creating a world different from my own. I think if I would have made Purple Moon autobiographical, it would’ve sort of taken away the thrill of using my imagination, of exploring certain issues, and being someone else in a completely different location.

So yes, it’s okay to pour some of ourselves, past experiences, and things that we’ve learned in life into our fiction. Even in a way that it becomes not only a healing process for our protagonist, but for ourselves as well. However, be sure that you're still writing fiction rather than an autobiography of your life. Write what you know in a way that there’s still some room left for you to use your imagination. I think that being able to write based off our own life while remaining imaginative is the beauty of storytelling. 

Do you think our books should be autobiographical, perhaps even a healing process? Has life ever copied your writing?


  1. I think our life experiences shape the kinds of stories we gravitate to. For me, the connection between life and writing is about drawing on the emotions. If I wrote a story too close to my own experience, I'd have trouble stepping back far enough to see the whole picture--like the motivations of other characters. I suspect I'd want to keep in unimportant details that would only bog down the story.

  2. Great thoughts on this--really gave me a boost of confidence about my in-editing process "first" novel. My natural tendecny with said novel is autobiographical...but while I've been berating myself/doubting it, reading your piece has given me more peace with it. When you said, "it can even be therapuetic", I nodded in total agreement. Been there, felt that with my first novel. ;)
    Thanks for sharing!


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