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Nothing personal

Have you ever read a book and thought the author’s tale was so authentic she must have lived through something similar? I know some writers fear that a reader will think a scene or storyline comes from experience. Write about sexual abuse, you must have experienced it. Bad parents? Yours must be monsters.

I admit the thought has crossed my mind on occasion.

Of course, if I write about being chased by a hunky cowboy or pursued by a dashing CEO I’m pretty sure readers won’t think it’s autobiographical.

While personal experience might inspire a story, mine are a mishmash of my own adventures, copious amounts of research—thank goodness for the Internet and the library—and, above all, pure fantasy.

For example, I worked at the football office of a San Diego university as a college student. I did not work at the basketball office, get rejected after a one-night stand with the star forward, and eventually fall in love with an athletic trainer while being stalked by a coworker at my new job.

I’ve been on a few boats, and I have a friend who was a cop assigned to a DEA task force once. I have not been kidnapped by members of a drug cartel, escaped from a fishing trawler, or been rescued by an undercover agent on a yacht.

I haven’t been shot at, protected by a hot pararescue jumper-turned-mercenary, kissed by a handsome billionaire, born a bank heiress, or gone for a ride in a Lamborghini Murcielago. Though I’m suddenly feeling the need to rectify a couple of those.

As a reader, I don’t usually think much about the author at all when I’m reading a good book. Other than, “Damn, how does she suck me in like that? I hate her for being so much better than me,” and other petty thoughts, I pretty much assume the fiction I’m reading is just that. Fiction.

How about you? If you’re a reader, do you ever stop to wonder if the author has first-hand experience with her tales? Writers, do you ever shy away from subjects that readers might mistake as autobiographical?

Photo credits:
YOUNG COUPLE ON THE BEACH © Elizabeth Moore | Dreamstime.com
United States Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Val Gempis


18 Responses

  1. Gwen, Since I started writing, and got a glimpse behind the curtain, it’s different.

    I miss the magic of not knowing — like when you learn how an illusionist does a trick. It’s just not the same, afterward.

    On the other hand, it’s so cool to deconstruct someone else’s scene and see how they made it work.

    Yeah, and I hate them while I’m doing it too. 😛

  2. I had a friend going through a very nasty divorce (honestly one of the nastiest ones I’ve ever seen!) Her now ex brought up the fact that she wrote erotica. The judge feel into the mindset that she must have done all that stuff to be able to write about it. (um,NO) She said (on the stand), Nora Roberts has never killed anyone or traveled to the future but she writes about those things. its’ the same with me.

    My first book has 5y/o boy who is a scene stealer. I don’t have any children nor do my nephews live near me. All from my mind.

    No I wouldn’t shy away from a topic or experience I had in real life. Hopefully my personal experience would help make it real for the reader, who should always assume everything in fiction is just that…FICTION!

    • How sad, Cyndi. I’ve found myself reluctant to use a situation I’ve been in lest someone else think it really happened or that I wish it would happen to me.

      For example, I could see a woman meeting a SWAT member at one of the hostage exercises I volunteer for. But if I write about it, would my husband think I’m fantasizing about those men? Would he wonder if that’s why I volunteer?

      I guess if it sparks a good story line, that’s half the point of the experience, right? I need to get out of my head!

  3. Sometimes you do wonder where they got their inspiration from. I’ve read a few books that were just like “WOW” where did they come up with that.

    To me as long as it’s a good story with an emotional connection between the characters I just try and sit back and enjoy the ride.

    • Thank you, Heather. Before I started writing, I’m not sure it ever occurred to me that a writer did anything but make stuff up. It’s only now that I see where the seeds of an idea sometimes come from, and listening to others worry about it, that I started to wonder if readers are more inquisitive.

      And like Cyndi pointed out, when it comes to sex or erotica, people–usually those who don’t read romance–seem to think *that part* is from personal experience. Go figure.

  4. Oh, Gwen, what a great topic. And ya know, I always pictured you being chased by a hunky cowboy or a powerful CEO. 😉 Maybe that saying, write what you know is way too engrained in our pysches. We need a new slogan. “I make this stuff up!” Great post!!!

    • Haha, thanks Donnell! I guess if we live vicariously through our characters, I’ve been chased by some of the hottest men alive. 😉

      Love the new slogan. “I make this stuff up!” That should have been my blog title.

  5. heh. I had several stories in a row where a character had crappy parents. I thought this exact thing so my next herione had the *perfect* loving parents.

  6. As a reader, I tend not to think about it, to wonder what’s made up and what’s inspired by real life. Unless I know enough about the author to know what things WERE inspired, and then I like feeling like an insider. LOL

    As a writer, I don’t take a lot of the broad ideas stuff from real life—it would be hard to, since I write about modern-day goddesses and adventure heroines. 🙂 But I do sprinkle some details in, places or small events that happened in real life.

    • Natalie: I like feeling like an insider too. That also applies to location. It’s fun when I can picture a spot in a city or area exactly.

      I definitely use locations I’ve been to as much as possible. Preferably lived in or spent a fair amount of time in unless the character is a tourist like I was.

      I suppose the real answer is that there is some of us in every book, even if it’s just emotion, a familiar location, or passion for a cause.

  7. I’d like to think that I do a mish-mash of my real life with fantasy. I think it’s good policy to draw from your emotions, feelings, etc. but I do think you have to be a little careful that you don’t put something that could hurt someone…or heaven forbid, start legal action.

  8. This is always at the back of my mind as I write, Gwen! Especially since someone dear to me read one of my books. Even after I assured them the mother in the story in no form or fashion was anything like her, I don’t think she believes me. LOL It never even crossed my mind!

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