In my last post, I briefly skidded over the statement your story shouldn’t mirror your life, and I thought I’d elaborate a bit on this theory.
Let me back-up. Tucked away in the dredges of my hard drive sits a manuscript that went unsold. True, I did receive agent representation from it, so it wasn’t a total bomb, but at the most critical juncture – namely, the sale – the book didn’t pass muster. And here’s at least part of the reason why: parts of the book too closely mirrored my own experiences.
“What?” You’re saying. “How can that be an impediment?” I’ll tell you why.
I was so focused in pouring out my own issues on the page that I lost track of telling a good story. Sections of that book were like therapy for me, and thus, all of those sections have waaaaay too much inner-monologue and waaaaaay too little action. I think this is a critical mistake that newbie writers make: they somehow think that the reader needs and wants to hear every last introspective thought that’s clanging around a character’s brain, and thus, the writer gets caught in the deadly trap of telling, not showing. Telling the reader about her broken heart or how she felt betrayed or how pissed off she is. And you know what? This lends to really shoddy writing. But when you’re mirroring your own life experience and using your book to vent said feelings about your life experience, this often comes out as exposition.
The second problem, at least in my case, is that I got too tied into recreating my personal entanglements and then had a hard time letting my imagination take flight. Because I envisioned myself as the protagonist, I felt constricted – if I wouldn’t do something in real life, I couldn’t imagine that the character would do it. And thus, I got stuck. Wrote the first half of the novel, then tucked it away for two years because I really had no idea where to take it. Why? Because I’d already purged all of my own experiences on the page, and from there, I had to create fictitious ones, and I couldn’t make that leap. (This isn’t to say that the first half of the novel is a mirror image of my life. It’s not. But enough parts of it echoed my life that the whole thing became tangled in my mind.)
All of this leads back to my original post, which stated, take a small germ from your own life, twist it, play around with it, explore the infinite possibilities of where it can go. But after you start with that germ, remove yourself from it. So your husband cheated on you. Fabulous. Start with the small idea that you want to write a story about infidelity. Now bunker down and create something new…not a thinly veiled work about the ho-bag he left you for and how they’ll spend their lives in misery. Vent your emotional baggage by creating a new existence via your characters, and in doing so, you might shed some of this baggage and entertain readers simultaneously.