My Grandmother was in town for the holidays and while at my house - freezing and watching my pathetic attempts to start a fire using my first draft - she asked to read a few pages.
I beat around the bush for as long as she'd let me. "I don't know. This is my first draft and my second draft on the computer is so much better."
"Computer?" Grandma isn't a technology friend. "Just give me a few pages."
So I flipped through what was left and found some relatively good pages - safe page - as what I've written about is taken from my life, and a not so nice part of it. She read through what I handed to her, decided that yes, first drafts do suck, and added then to the fire herself.
"See, Grandma. Told ya so."
However, this brought up something rather important. Something that I think everyone should consider when thinking about writing a novel based on a true story or true life events. Especially real life events that instantly make people you know say, "Hey. I know who you're writing about...That's you!"
If you are thinking of taking your life's experiences and putting them into your book, or making the book all about them, there are questions that I think you really need to sit down with yourself and answer...
Do you really want this story to get out?
Because once it's out, it's out. I do admit, though, that writing is the best form of catharsis available. Talk therapy number two. Throwing a temper tantrum where you get to break something number three. So if you are ready and you don't mind others knowing and you want to write a book about it...go for it. Just make certain you are ready.
Are you okay with EVERYONE knowing? Grandmas included?
When you start writing your book about your own true life experiences, you might have all these lofty ideas that you're going to be fine once it all comes out. Because let's be honest, you're not going to show everyone the book until it gets published. And if it gets published? Who cares! You'll be so excited to even notice anyone's curious glances... HOWEVER, let's shed that daydream for just a second. Everyone you know will want to get a copy of your book...and read it. Are you okay with that? Really? Be honest with yourself... Are you?
Alright...What are you okay with them knowing?
Most fiction work is born directly from the author's life experiences. We write what we know. Otherwise there's no authenticity to it and that's when we loose readers. So it's obvious that we all already write 'based on a true story' to some degree. But what parts of what really happened need to be in your book? Remember, you can always leave out bits and pieces and still make it work for your story. Not everything has to be in there. Especially people's names. In the words of Stephen King (paraphrasing, of course) "Unless you want to be sued, use fake ones."
And lastly...What is your comfort level?
Most importantly, keep in mind that you're comfort level TODAY might not be equal to your comfort level a year from today. So when you're sitting down with yourself - minus your pride, inner sensors, and anything else that gets in the way of you being totally open with yourself - really ask yourself about your level of comfort. Think about what you'll feel like a year from now. Five years. Ten. And so on.
Above all, be honest with yourself. And if you're not sure, test the waters. Give a sample to a close friend and hone in on what you feel the moment those pages leave your hands. Do you want to snatch them back and say, "Forget it! Never mind!" Or are you freely giving over your real life thoughts and feelings to others to read, dwell on, talk about, and share with others, so on and so on...
Writing a novel based on true life events can be fun, therapeutic, and useful, in the sense that you already have some of your story outlined for you. Whether or not you should really do it, and whether it will work in your story is up to you.
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