A friend of mine is writing a middle grade novel based on something that happened when she was in school. Another friend is writing a picture book based on a story she told her now-adult child each night. I’ve drawn on my relationships with various people when I create relationships between my characters.
Many writers create life-based fiction and they do it for good reason. Exciting things happen. We know interesting people. The emotions we feel are the emotions that we want to bring to our readers through our characters.
That said, it isn’t easy to translate life into fiction and there has to be some translation. We don’t always know people’s motivates people and, face it, some motives are just not all that great. People also act out of character. You’ve seen it when a super sloppy kid meets the girl of his dreams and manages to show up at school one day looking picture perfect.
Reality is messy. To work well, fiction has to be much less so. Characters act in character. Plot builds, step by logical step. When your life-based writing doesn’t do one of these things, your reader notice. They don’t care if that’s how it really happened. They want a story that works.
Unfortunately, many of us hesitate to make the changes. Whine along with me — “That’s not how it really happened…”
If you’re writing memoir or other nonfiction, that matters. You have to write the facts.
If you’re writing fiction, real life has to take second place to creating a solid story. I’m not saying that if your reader says “change this right here” that you need to make that specific change. But what I am saying is that you need to listen. You need to realize that, as lived and as written, your story may not be working. You need to figure out why and you need to figure out how to fix it.
In that way its just like writing any other fiction.