Life is NOT fiction, but. . .
Use emotions, not necessarily events. I know that life doesn’t equal fiction; yet the emotions of life can and should affect my fiction as i write. So one approach to using life events might be this: the mingled disappointment and anger of finding our house trashed by intruders can find expression in the disappointment and anger of a teenage character who finds a parent has gone through her drawers.
Life is stranger than fiction. When my son took parenting class, he was required to do a final project that included a display board (think science fair displays), a five-page paper and a three minute oral presentation. The teacher passed around a paper bag with topics and my son drew one of the absolute worst for a fifteen-year old male: breast v. bottle feeding. He objected, “This is a topic for a girl.” The teacher said, “Too bad.”
Let’s all pause here for a visualization: a 15 yo male bringing to class a display board with graphic illustrations of breast feeding. Or this one: a 15 yo male giving a three minute oral presentation, complete with visual aids of a set of baby bottles and, to make it exciting, perhaps, a breast pump. Okay. Not the best choice of topics.
They went to the computer lab to do research and the computer teacher shut my son’s computer down for looking at pornography. Okay.
We finally got the assignment changed to “Age appropriate toys, ages 1-6.”
Could fiction be any stranger or have more possibilities for humor? No.
In this case, I could almost lift the experience event by event.
Change Names to Protect
If and when I do find places for events from my life, I will change names. Not just to protect the innocent, but also to protect myself! Without getting into any legal discussions, I know that I just want to be sure not to hurt any one in any way. So, I will always change something about a story.
Change Anything and Everything to Fit the Story
The biggest danger is sticking too close to life. “But it really happened” is not a good excuse for a bad story. You must be willing to change anything/everything to meet the needs of your story. In the end, you may only have a tiny piece of reality and that’s OK, if the story works. Steal from life, but only the tiniest amount possible to make your story work!
Coming in August: 30 Days to a Stronger Picture book