Putting the Truth in Fiction

Can you put too much of your personal life in a work of fiction?

This is the question that is currently hanging over my head. It comes with three problems.

  1. Does the familiar, realistic element of the character/story have a negative impact on the writing?
  2. What happens if someone recognizes him or herself in your work?
  3. Are you giving away too much of your personal life?


Aside from journaling, I write fiction. Telling the truth can open the door to a world of problems in your personal life. Personally, that’s not something I want to think about when I’m writing. (Kudos to those of you that do it.) Still, to say that we fiction writers don’t pull from our lives to write our stories would be a lie. The novel I’ve been working on for the last two years developed because of one of my obsessions. From there, it took on many new forms and went in several directions due to different things that were going on in my life.

I’ve blogged about the situation I am in with my grandfather, so there’s no need to describe it here, but because I’m a caregiver for him, it was suggested to me that my protagonist work as a caregiver for a dementia patient as well. I’m not sure if that will make the final cut, but at the moment, it’s something I’m toying with. The issue I face in writing these portions is knowing how much of my story is too much. I’m finding that it’s harder for me to write about something so familiar to me from the perspective of someone else. My protagonist is most certainly not meant to be me, but as I read what I’ve written, I see my situation in it, even where I never intended for it to be.

Do I leave it alone? Or is it there for some cosmic reason? (There’s the romantic writer in me.)

I wonder sometimes if “writing what you know” is always the best idea. Is it possible that writers sometimes hinder their work by being too close to a topic, or does that closeness propel it forward? I’m sure that the answer to this question isn’t always the same, but I’m wondering if there’s a way we can tell when we’re in the midst of the writing process.

As fiction writers, do you worry about someone you know being offended by something in your fiction, or even recognizing something?

I’m curious to know how other writers address this dilemma. I’ve read that many authors see themselves in their work long after it’s finished, without having realized it before. If you realize it from the start, is that a good or a bad thing? Can it confuse you when writing a character?

Share your thoughts! Comment below.


3 thoughts on “Putting the Truth in Fiction”

  1. I think that when writing fiction about something real feels “wrong,” that’s when you know you’re supposed to write nonfiction about it. Personally, I really like transforming real life into fiction, but sometimes it just feels wrong, and that’s how I know what genre it needs to be. Advice: your allegiance is to the WORK, not to the people in your life. You make decisions based on the work, not on how it’s going to make people feel.

  2. I don’t know that the pieces of myself I put into my stories is something others would recognize. In both the novel I’m querying and the one I’m working on for CampNaNo I’m conscious of the decision to add a bit of myself to the characters. It’s more of an emotional addition and not so much a physical one. Maybe my parents might find a common thread but friends, extended family, I don’t think they would notice at all.

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