Writing Ideas From Real Life

Where do we get our ideas for writing? We’ve all heard the advice to “write what you know,” but we don’t want to end up with a memoir either – not when we set out to write a novel.

Looking back at the five novels I’ve written, I realized that I often took a germ of an idea or an event or experience from my own life and built it into my books.

The trick is not to write the whole experience, but use it as a jumping off point.

Here is an example. In my book, Reckoning Tide (the sequel to The Wind Weeps), I needed to create an incident that had tension and danger and a resolution.

The characters, Jim and Andrea, are in a remote inlet on the coast of British Columbia. They have taken the skiff from their fishing troller and have gone partway up the river to explore.

Photo by Ken Johnston

Just as my husband (the Captain) and I did many years ago, Jim and Andrea tied the skiff to an upturned tree root and walked along the tidal flats.

I was terrified of grizzlies that might be coming to the river mouth to eat salmon. I should have worried more about getting separated from the skiff by the incoming tide.

photo by Ken Johnston

The setting in Khutz Inlet is such that all sorts of danger come with its beauty. Rather than tell my own story in the novel, I used what I knew about the place (the sights, the smells, the danger) to create the final chapters of my novel.

Have you used some of your own experiences as a jumping off point for a scene in your novel? If not, why not try it?

If you would like to find out what happened in the real life version, you can visit my blog post about it here. https://wordsfromanneli.com/2015/04/01/cut-off-2/

To see how I have used that experience in my novel, you can read Reckoning Tide. But first, you should read The Wind Weeps (which is free to download). Just click on the book cover images on the left sidebar to download.

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6 thoughts on “Writing Ideas From Real Life

    • It works great! As long as we don’t get carried away and turn it into our personal story, I think it’s a good way to get ideas for scenes. You can add the “what if” factor to raise the tension and it still sounds authentic because “we were there.”

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  1. Well, well, well, I’m letting the cat out of the bag, half of my novel is actual truth. I even used a couple of real conversations between my mother-in-law and I in the book. I wanted my first novel to be easy for me to get used to writing, because I knew the next one I embarked upon would be more than difficult. So, I took half of my life and fictionalized the other half. My WIP, so far, has very, very little of my life in it, but the characters are based on people I’ve known. The next novel I have in mind for after this WIP will have some of my life in it, because it will be a coming home story.

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    • I’ve used real conversations too, but the point is we can make the story go wherever we want, even if some of it is true. This is why I LOVE fiction. You can make up events right and left. So much fun. It’s okay to use truth. The reader never needs to know which parts, if any, are true. All we need to say is, “It’s fiction.”

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    • I hope you realize I wasn’t targetting you, Lynne. But I think it’s a great way for any writer to come up with some scenarios when we don’t have a fresh idea. We can start with something real, something we know about, and then think, “Okay, now what is the worst thing that could happen?” And off we go with our keyboards on fire.

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