4. Getting Ideas Part 3: Mining Your Life

Author: Nola Published: over 3 years ago.
Tags: humour, fiction, devotion, true stories, writing prompts, real life Category: Writing tips

Autobiographical material can be a goldmine for ideas. If you were a spy in wartime France or a fly on the wall in Elvis’s Graceland, you may have a ready-made tale to tell. However, don’t worry if you’ve led a seemingly ordinary life. Real-life stories have a way of connecting with other people just like you.

I was recently invited to contribute two pieces to a devotional book for American college students. While thinking about relevant topics, I remembered a time when I felt lonely because my closest friends had moved away. I wrote a reflection on that experience in the hope that it might help college students who were missing family and friends. You can read more here. Incidentally, our writing group contributed 11 devotions to that book and it was a great opportunity to share what God had done in our lives. I’ve also used autobiographical material for magazine articles, poetry, and true inspirational stories. There’s always something to write about.

Factual material about yourself or others can also provide interesting fuel for characters or events in fiction and poetry. When I was studying creative writing at Tabor Adelaide, one of our writing exercises involved interviewing someone we knew and then writing a fictitious character sketch based on that material. One of my work friends agreed to help and she was soon regaling me with her hilarious misadventures in trying to attract the opposite sex. Her anecdotes provided the spark for a short piece about a klutzy country girl called Jilly who tries to win the affections of the new Jackaroo. You can read it here. Most of it is the product of my imagination, but see if you can work out which bits are true.

Why not try writing about one of your life experiences? It can be as simple as an incident that occurred on a family camping trip or as complicated as your quest to become the first barista on Mars. Think snapshot rather than entire photo album. You might even want to dig out some old photos to help ignite those memories. If you write from the heart, readers will identify with you.

If you don’t want to write about yourself, you can scare your family and friends by letting real life prompt some fictitious ideas. Queensland author Inga Simpson did that to great effect in her 2013 novel Mr Wigg, which was partly inspired by her peach-growing grandfather. Your breakout novel could be next.

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