Experience vs Pure Fiction

Why write stories based on real life experiences, as opposed to making them up completely? A look at writing what you know.

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I’ve always lived by the old adage: “Write what you know.” It’s a good lesson for anyone who’s a writer, really, because the experiences shape what you do. They give you a unique insight into what you’re doing as opposed to having to figure it out from scratch. I will, however, give props to anyone who can write a novel that’s 100% fiction – that stuff is hard! I can’t imagine staring at a blank page and saying “OK, I’ve got to build an entirely fictional world, with an entirely fictional race and currency and…” my head hurts just thinking about it!

What I love about writing from my own experience is being able to tweak little bits so it’s the situation I wanted. For example, when it came to writing about Sarah’s relationship with Barnaby, I gave it the ending I wanted for my own relationship which, at the time, was abusive. However, the ending mine had wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, so with my fictional characters I was able to change it. I also like the fact that you can use memories instead of having to think about how someone would say it – I can remember a time when my mum said something that has now made it into a book, or when a situation occurred that I can put into a book. The whole of Never Surrender is based on a 10-year friendship that turned out to be something a little more sinister, for example, and those memories are really helping me to write the book.

However, there is a lot to be said about writing 100% fiction. You get to make up your own rules, your own races, your own language… it can be a really fascinating process. Time-consuming, frustrating, and downright annoying sometimes, but fascinating too. One of my favourite genres that is 100% fiction has to be science fiction – simply because it’s a completely new concept, it pushes the boundaries of what’s believable, and it challenges the ideas we have about what we’d do if we did find life out in the solar system (and beyond). Star Trek and Star Wars are both classic examples of this, as is Doctor Who – they push the boundaries of time and space, whilst still maintaining the fictional pull that draws us all in and captivates the imagination.

So there you have it – the reasons why I write from experience, with a massive nod of respect to anyone who can write 100% fiction. I wish I had half their commitment and creativity!

Mother of one, mental health carer and author. Jess loves books of all kinds, and does her best to bring worlds to life.

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