Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Does Real Life Inspire Your Writing?

"A Writer Trimming His Pen" - Jan Ekels
First, check out the amazing guest post by my friend Daniel José Older over at the Rejectionist's blog as he talks about how his job as an EMS medic in New York City inspires his writing. Not because of the stories he witnesses, but because of what he does and feels.

How does real life inspire your writing? What emotions do you channel into what you write? Even if you don't write memoir I'm guessing real life manages to find a way into your writing.

For me personally, real life couldn't seem farther away from a children's book novel about kids who blast off into space and have crazy adventures, but I still channel my doubts and frustrations into my novels. The kids obviously don't sit around wondering about what life is like for a children's book author, but I try and take what I'm feeling on a daily basis and it inevitably will seep into the cracks.

By the time it's passed through the plot of the Wonderbar novels it's almost imperceptible, but I think those layers add to the experience of the novel, even if the reader isn't aware of them.

What about you?






68 comments:

Darian said...

In my 3 WIP's, my life filters through into all of them. Like you, once they go through the lens of Sci-Fi, UF, etc it is barely distinguishable, but it is there for certain. Great blog, sir!

BP said...

I do think Wonderbar has a lot of Bransford flair to it; a lot of times, the characters would say something, or do something, and I'd laugh to myself and think Isn't that just like Nathan? We often write what we feel into our books because that is the beauty of the craft of writing; it is a living art, words transferring thoughts and feelings from one human heart to the next.

Becky Mahoney said...

I can definitely relate to that guest post. I started the novel I'm currently querying a couple months before I graduated from college. Naturally, I'd never experienced the fantastical/creepy plot twists I was writing about, but my protagonist was a girl who knew exactly what she loved and wanted to do for the rest of her life - but she wasn't sure if she COULD do those things. Those kinds of worries were weighing heavily on my mind at the time. They still do sometimes.

Kristi said...

Last night I was talking to a woman who had this strange quirk when she was speaking and all I could think about was how I would make one of my characters do that too.
Also, my protag is a female newspaper crime reporter like I used to be -- but she's way cooler than I ever was.

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm not going to admit to any specifics in this kind of format, but I will say that my entire life has heavily influenced everything I write. Obviously.

Are you sure you've never made a corndog trade?

Italy to Los Angeles and Back said...

Real life is the breath of writing. I've always been an observer and when I moved overseas I found so much that was new and different; so much to discover and understand. Learning a second language has forced me to listen more, and in doing so I've witnessed countless situations that have touched my heart, made me laugh or cry and taught me that Shakespeare was right when he wrote "all the world's a stage"...and I might add "great material for a writer".

GKJeyasingham said...

I think that as writers, what we write is influenced by our daily experiences and our personal viewpoints, whether we realize it or not. Even for people who write with the end goal of realism, it's not what actually is real that ends up on the pages, it's the writer's perception of reality. The trick is, then, as we edit, to identify what we have subconsciously included in our draft, and to pinpoint which things help the story and which things don't.

Carrie Filetti said...

You write what you know. If you want to write something you haven't learned yet, you better get crackin'! Homework is very important if you want to make it in this business.

Rick Daley said...

I am but the sum of my experiences, which all coalesce into the characters and stories I write.

WORD VERIFICATION: Herth. An object in the possession of a female, to someone with a lisp.

Loree Huebner said...

I'm a people watcher. I can be in a crowd anywhere and come up with five interesting characters.

Always keep a notebook handy.

Ashelyn said...

I believe that while life inherently sneaks into my writing, I don't think that writers should mirror their lives exactly. What's the fun in that, anyway? I know the whole saying, "Write what you know" but if all you know is what you experience, that's where imagination comes in, no?

So I think real life should healthily inspire writing, but I don't think it should command it. I've seen a lot of young writers try to mirror their own lives in their writing, sort of like self-insertion fics. And.... I don't know... they make me slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps I'm just biased?

Scribbling Scarlet said...

I did not enjoy my "school" yrs. From 1st grade through 12th I went to 5 different schools. Never becoming too attached to anyone.

In my current YA ms I've created those school yrs as I would have preferred them to be.

Also my protagonist starts out timid and shy and I am nothing near that so it's hard not to let my strong personality seep through. But by then end, with everything she goes through, I'll be able to flow right through.

Ann Best said...

Any good story in my opinion is good only if it does incorporate the author's emotions. SciFi is not my favorite genre, but in the hands of an Orson Scott Card I'm spellbound--precisely because of the emotional undercurrents. Certainly in memoir "real life" and its attendant emotions are paramount. Memoir is the only thing that at age 71 I now write. I connect with my readers on that emotional level that's so important even in, as you say, children's literature. From the comments here, it seems that you've succeeded in writing a story that's filled with human feelings. Wonderbar is on my TBR list!!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir

Jasmine Walt said...

Well, for me it's not so much anything tangible that inspires my writing. I'm fairly young by just about anyone's standards and so lacking in experience have to rely purely on research and imagination for most of what I write about. But the emotions and thought processes the characters run through are inspired by my own, if that makes any sense. :)

Cathy Yardley said...

I may not have the experiences that my characters have (never have or would base jump off the Eiffel tower, for example) but I try to think of times when I experience emotions that are similar, and try to write those with as much authenticity, and emotion, as I can. The weird thing is, I find my writing tells me things that I need to know about my own life, like a theme of being unhappy in a job, or trying to choose between creativity and stability. :)

Heidi said...

Where I am physically has a lot to do with the way I feel at any given point. I can be very sentimental about certain places I've been, and when I'm writing, I imagine my characters in those places, and watch the story unfold in my head.

Janet, said...

I just posted about this today. I live a boring life, but you can put in tidbits from your life and your ancestor's lives into your stories. Use quirks, physical traits, unusual names and mannerisms to make your stories interesting.

The English Teacher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shaista said...

Real life for example, is me sitting here curled on a comfy hospital chair, having a chemotherapy infusion. Conversation and life stories eddy around me, and I write, poetry and prose.
Lately though, I have begun to wonder if I will ever be able to write fiction. My writing has become defined by my autobiographical voice... and the brevity of moments and meetings.
Do you think it is possible to start writing fiction after years of writing memoirs???

The English Teacher said...

Ugh. I put in a typo and had to delete.
Here it is again:


I don't think anyone can complete dissolve the connections between herself/himself and the writing. It may be very filtered or very obvious, but it's going to be there.
I once heard Eoin Colfer touch on this topic for a bit at the Edinburgh Book Festival a few years ago. He eagerly admitted that he puts all kinds of people in as characters in his books. He named off two goblins who were actually his brothers, and, as most of us had just seen and heard author Ian Rankin interview the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, Colfer declared he planned to work those two into his next book.
This is probably the most dramatic example I can think of, but authors cannot help but put something of themselves, their lives, and their opinions into their works. JRR Tolkien was a devout Catholic. Can we see it in LOTR? Oh, indeed. Whole books have been written about the Christian themes in his book. Bram Stoker was intrigued by technology -- and Dracula is filled with cutting edge stuff of the day (typewriters, stenography, wax recording cylinders). Shannon Hale is a Mormon who's big on marriage and babies. Guess what? Her books hit home on girls getting married and having babies time after time. Robert L. Stevenson admittedly based Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde on the infamous Deacon Brodie and the dual nature and image of the city in which he was born.
Obvious or obscure, ties to the author's life are going to be there. My guess is that any author who thinks s/he's not doing this is merely not doing it consciously.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I keep track of odd scenes that I see out and about, then try and find a way to use them where they can be fit into a story.

It's impossible not to think there's a story behind a long-haired Hell's angel with a tiny little girl in a pink dress and furry animal backpack on the back of his bike, wearing his helmet.

Likewise, not using the scene I saw at DisneyWorld with a group of Catholic nuns riding rides with a group of Buddhist monks would be practically criminal.

Sara said...

I agree that it's important to be out in the world, engaging with all kinds of people, refusing to make safe and lazy assumptions.

I'm an introvert, but I do a lot of volunteering, and try to take an active sympathetic interest in everything and everyone around me.

I also have children, and a lot of very long term relationships (friends for 30 years, marriage). I think living through such relationships, making them work well for so long, seeing how those well-known people go through their own lives, is a vital source of insight. You learn so much that you can't infer if you just see them casually, or if you lose track of them after a couple of years. I think that may be why a lot of the greatest novels were written by people over 40.

Stephanie said...

The other day, my card got declined in Panera. Someone had jacked my account, so the bank shut it down. After praying to die for five minutes, I got my food and sat down to write a scene in which a woman gets declined at a restaurant. The red cheek shame was fresh, and it rolled out onto the page. Thanks, guy who stole my card number!

DearHelenHartman said...

The disclaimer I make for my fiction goes like this - "Everything I am writing about is absolutely true. I just can't promise you that any of it ever happened."

So the events might not always be real life inspired but they are real to the writer inspired. Even if you think your 'real' life doesn't show up in your writing, you're probably fooling yourself. You are all there, baby, naked in
a thousand different ways.

Jimmy Fort said...

I was all set to write about my real life adventures on a great expedition on an ocean liner to a fabulous lost city and our battles with sea monsters and Fascist U-boats and airships and aliens along the way. But then that J. T. Shea guy stole my life!

D.G. Hudson said...

At least we don't have to sharpen our quills anymore. Great photo again, Nathan.

The post by Daniel José Older was very engaging, since he comes at the process of writing with a passion for life itself. (and he shows it by the extra things he does in his off time)

My writing comes from my observations which usually twig my brain into extrapolating possibilities. I posted on my blog a while back about observing what's going on around you.

http://dghudson-rainwriting.blogspot.com/2010/11/curiosity-as-research-or-just-plain.html

Two of my novel WIPs were started based on what I had seen or read about. I get short story ideas based on things that happen to me, or what I've read about in the news that evokes a strong feeling.

Maybe writers channel life through our veins better, since we're attuned to the vibrations.

Mr. D said...

I think writers use their real life experiences as a resource in their writing. I know I sure do. We've all heard the saying: Truth is stranger than fiction. And often it is.

Jen said...

Real life seeps into every part of my writing - plots, settings, and especially characters. I don't "copy" people from real life into my books, but I love pulling personality traits from people I know and inserting them into my characters.

Munk said...

I turned into a ladybug once, but I got better.

Robena Grant said...

I agree that we write from real life but more so from our own world view. We all have one: life is a bitch, life is a joy, life is one long laugh, life is awesome, life is a fast paced ride, life is painful.
That personal world view has to show up in your characters because you're creating them, thereby giving them (subconsciously)little bits of your personality...even if you are creating them to be vastly different, or evil. : )

abc said...

I work in mental health and deal a lot with the emotions of others, but I can't deny that those ups and downs, tragedies, feelings of despair and hopelessness as well as victories, breakthroughs, and moments of growth don't affect me. The best and worst part of being me is my sensitivity to others. I hope that this characteristic helps me be a better writer. Not only in being able to flesh out characters but also inserting the universal truths that show up in books and speak to us. Yes, I know that truth. Yes, I know that feeling. Yes, I've been there. Yes, that is me--the lonely, the forgotten, the lost, the ashamed, the hurt, the hopeful, the loving, the strong, the brave, the human.

v.n.rieker said...

Real life inspires me to escape into make-believe. Hehe.

And, more on topic, if I couldn't draw from my own experience, I'd have a hard time breathing life into characters at all. They might seem like sociopaths--acting out the superficial affects of emotion rather than acting as a result of feeling real emotion.

Guilie said...

I'm not sure about other writers; sure looks like this bunch agrees with me, though, when I say that reality is the big ocean where my inspiration is spawned. Real-life desires, experience, frustrations (you name it), fertilized by imagination and wishful thinking, and brought to life by skill and craft (and unique voice).

tamarapaulin said...

I put in so much stuff from real life that the finished work could serve partly as a journal.

Sometimes when I'm stuck, I'll write the song currently playing wherever I am, into the story. It keeps the pen moving!

Summer Ross said...

The emotional side really transfers into my stories. If I am feeling overwhelmed I find a character to feel over whelmed by different kinds of things. If I feel sad I create a sadness in my character. I can also admit that some of the things I have experienced in my life I have suggested my characters experience them as well in either a lighter or darker way.

M.P. McDonald said...

Like your friend, I also work in healthcare. There is a lot I see and do that can be really emotional but showing emotion at that time isn't appropriate. For example, the phrase 'pull the plug' is something everyone has heard, but it's my job to be the one to actually, *pull* the plug. (actually, we remove the endotracheal tube, or disconnect the ventilator). Often family is gathered around the bed as I go into the room. Talk about feeling like the Grim Reaper. I'm always wondering what they are thinking and feeling, and try to capture some of that emotion and infuse my characters with it.

Laila Knight said...

I hear all the time that we should draw from our own experiences to write. I write Fantasy. When I write I try to bring accross to my readers the goodness in men's hearts, that basic spark we all possess that gives us the ability to change the world, to defy evil, to wonder what we could be if we only tried. Does that make sense? I hope so, would hate to just be rambling.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Some of my real-life feelings and frustrations come through in my writing in my characters, but as you said, by that time there are so many filters and layers that it is (I hope) not so transparent. It doesn't matter if my novel is set 1000 years in the future on a different continent, some human emotions and experiences are universal, and being able to convey those emotions makes the story richer and more believable. My frustrations with the graduate school system and some past experiences with rejection showed up in my main character in my last manuscript, for example, even though otherwise we are not very similar.

Rebecca Burke said...

For my YA novel When I Am Singing to You I drew on my experience of working in the cornfields of Iowa for 5-6 years to make money for school expenses.

I know what it's like to travel to a field at dawn in a cattle truck with no windows, then go up and down the stifling rows of corn, sizzling with tangy chemicals, to detassel it. Covered in sweat, eaten up by bugs, bored to death. The edges of the corn leaves slapping my bare legs and arms and sometimes slashing my eyeballs.

I also know what it's like to husk baby corn and slice deep into the ball of my thumb the first hour I arrive at work, outside a food processing plant that smells like (no good way to put this, sorry) puke. And I know what it's like to be sprayed by a crop dusting plane--twice--and have a headache so bad it feels like someone took an axe to my skull. Etc.

This experience cried out for me to use it in a novel. And having such a distinct memory of these setting details helped motivate me to write such a story in the first place. I don't believe there are many stories that depict this grueling work or the people who do it (now mostly Mexican Americans, even in Iowa; when I did it was mostly kids from small towns or working class neighborhoods like my own). And yet there are many people who live this story.

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

What you see and absorb in 'real life' becomes part of your writer's tool box. In most cases the experiences whirl thorough the vortex of my imagination and come out looking quite different.

Alvarado Frazier said...

The language, walk, food, smell, glare of a correctional facility and the stories within its wall inspire me and allow me to play both sides of the fence (or wall).

Craig Allen said...

We all write from our own experiences. We write about people we know, either by design or accident. We include characteristics we admit or hate, but we base those upon having seen them close up. We write about emotions, but only as we feel them...or as we perceive them in others. There are a million ways to cry, but we include those we have seen in real life. We can mentally create bodies, but we populate them with our own reality.

Mira said...

Interesting questions and comments.

For me, since I primarily write non-fiction and memoir, my work is definitely a reflection of my experiences. But even in my small fiction pieces, I can see who I am behind the words.

Actually, that's one thing about eventually being published that sort of scares me. It's so vulnerable! Anyone could take a magnifying glass to what I write and know so much about me. I don't know if other authors feel this way - that their writing exposes who they are - but it's something that I'm nervous about...

Won't stop me from publishing, but especially when I think about writing my memoir - I wonder how people handle being so vulnerable to unknown readers. Just something I'm thinking about....

Mira said...

Oh, and that was a really good article by Daniel Jose Older.

Becky said...

My life is horrifically dull, so I write things I would never do, and things I would never say. Living vicariously through my characters being mean, obnoxious, silly, ridiculous. It makes me feel good to know even if I can't do it, I can think it!

C.Smith said...

The answer I abuse most often when asked 'why do you write?' is 'writing is cheaper than therapy'.
My characters feel what I feel, they know what I know, they experience what I have. That's why I've always thought of writing as laying your soul bare for the world to read.

Anyway, I love BP's comment and agree with it 100%.

Marcia Richards said...

Writing what you feel during your life's experiences may be a better way of explaining "write what you know." Real life is what my trilogy is based on...my mother's real life. She grew up in the 30s and danced in a chorus line til she met my father and fell in love. My story is somewhat different in plot but the feelings she had as an orphan, a foster child and then traveling and finally meeting her man, is all incorporated in the story.

Trish said...

In most of my books, I us my memories of the mischievous child I was, and the mischievous adult I have become, but I also add my experiences with animals and turn them into fictitious children's books. Though one of my books was total fantasy.

Tim Warnes said...

My online comic strip http://chalkandcheesecomics.blogspot.com/ is pretty much based on conversations with my kids (eg who would win in a fight between a Yeti and giant sloth?), and situations we find ourselves in (anyone for ice cream?).I'm forever jotting down snippets of conversation which help add an authentic and unique voice to my characters, and certainly give me a wealth of ideas to run with. Drop by and judge for yourself...

Julie Achterhoff said...

Since I'm a thriller/paranormal writer, what gets my juices flowing are my nightmares! And I have some doozies. I've had them since I was a kid, which used to bother me a lot until I decided to share them with the world. Therefore, I see my writing as a kind of therapy, if you will. :) What a great way to get those buggers out of your system!

Kathy Collier said...

I believe characters emotions definitely play a role in real life experiences even if the story is far from anything you have ever experienced. Certainly personalities come from yourself, family members, friends, people you know, or have had experiences with. Whatever the case, we write basically what we know and add a certain twist to the tale. Even the way the rain falls in the South compared to the Northwest, or the the difference in the color of the sky in your area or the sunsets. We write what we feel.

Nan said...

My blog is my real life, so it totally inspires that. My romance novels are somewhat inspired by own emotions and fantasies, but not so much my real life.

Vicky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vicky said...

One of the speakers at last year's RWA conference said that YA writers write not just for the young readers of today, for the teen they were. Maybe it's just a case of finding my voice, but I'm finding it a lot easier to dig into the emotions in my YA WIP than it ever was in my adult historical. Plus my home town is proving to be a rich background that's so easy to tap!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

When I first started writing chick lit, I tried writing stories about young women who went out to bars and parties on a regular basis. But it was hard because my twenties were defined by work; even on the rare occasions when I did go to bars or parties I found myself thinking about all the work I had to do. So the stories I write now are inspired by my work experiences, because I think that real women in their twenties and thirties don't get to hang out with their friends as much as they spend time with their work colleagues.

Christina said...

I write science fiction and fantasy and I know real life has a lot to do with my writing. Without my personal experiences and emotions I couldn't write what I do. Spec Fic isn't just about strange places and peoples (though it is that). It is about the people in these worlds and how they experience the life around them. In the end, all literature is about the human experience. People connect to my characters because they understand their emotions and reactions (whether they always like the choices my characters make or not is a different story altogether).

Marilyn Peake said...

I especially love taking news stories and weaving science fiction and fantasy stories that are based on them.

Meghan Ward said...

Well, since I do write memoir and personal essays, my life very much infiltrates my writing. My most recent essay is about trying to explain death to my three-year-old. I know, though, that if I wrote fiction, my life would influence my writing as well because all the ideas I have for fiction stories stem from events in my life.

Lisa said...

My life is my writing.

If an unhappy childhood is a writer's gold mine, then my absurdly blissful adult life is my diamond mine.

Anonymous said...

I am finding more and more that I am letting what I am going through slip into my writing. But i never recreate things exactly; I take layers from people I know, and paste them onto characters, sometimes getting aspects for three or four characters off the one person. I also weave in elements of my life, emotions and small anecdotes, lines of dialogue etc. But I deliberately just use this as a starting block, firstly as real life people and events are so impossible to know completely, and I need to know thoroughly what's happening when I am writing, and secondly so in years time I do not have any embarrassing incidents if i ever run into someone who has identified themselves in my novel.

pattiewelekhall said...

My life experiences have inspired me to write, dictating the genre of my work. Losing my first son at the ripe age of 22, emotionally distraught, drove me to write my first book, BELIEVE- a story about the loss of a child… a heart’s healing journey… and the bond of a Mother’s love. My upcoming memoir/narrative nonfiction (title TBA)centers on my second son’s traumatic brain injury, set against the backdrop of his insurmountable challenges, inspired by a mother’s unwavering faith, impacted by the intercession of heavenly beings, yet gripped by an unexpected twist of fate. Guess you would say, "Real life has inspired my writing."

Robert Michael said...

Art doesn't just imitate life, it is often life embodied, personified. We cannot create life (art) from a vacuum. Its genesis is in our souls, our imagination, our experiences. The art and craft of telling the stories of life (a fictional life, or a memoir)that resonate with others is directly correlative with the distillation of talent, experience, imagination, craft, timing, and soul we possess. If we do not experience life--engage in it--we rely too heavily, then, on imagination. Although imagination is the germination of story, experience is the backbone.

Lori Howell said...

In the creation of my children's books, An Adventure with Joshua and Hoppy Frog was born. I was inspired by the birth of my grandson. Joshua's delivery was negligent and caused life-threatening disabilities. At that time, we were told that Joshua wouldn't be a normal little boy. So, as new grandmother I wrote my book as if Joshua was discovering life and adventures that most little boys would do. Along the way he met Hoppy the Frog his best friend. Together they learn about self-worth. The inspiration has also created An Adventure with Joshua and Rocky the Otter and they learn courage. Write from your heart.

John Waverly said...

I think it goes the other way, too. The other night I wrote a scene from the antagonist's POV. It's a scene near the end of the book where everything is unraveling for him, and he was wildly angry. About this time, my 4yo daughter woke up and asked for something. It was all I could do, to stay calm and help her (even though I'm not an angry person). Does anyone else have this happen? The emotions of your story spill over into real life?

AE. Roud said...

Real life events guide some of the drama in the lives of my characters.

Laura Molina said...

Real life mistakes make great fiction-

Jacqueline Howett said...

I like what GK Jeyasingham said:
"Even for people who write with the end goal of realism, it's not what actually is real that ends up on the pages, it's the writer's perception of reality."

I can quite easily hit the replay button in my mind writing what he said and she said from my own reality into notes, but give it time and space, there's lot's of hidden meanings one finds out about the self that's naturing or brewing in the eventual re-writes.

Usually I'm still growing or learning to let go, or just coming to understand some of the meaning of my own journey in various situations. So with certain Mss half finished and left in a drawer for several years, there's actually a glory to it not being finished as early as one had hoped. Usually your find you're suddenly faced with the new developed realization of self- whatever that may be.

I also think that real need to mirror ones life also reaches a point. As for myself, maturity will bring a lot of cuts. It's also nice to write about anything with a lighter air from the imagination.


Wonderful blog. Hope to check out your book soon!

Jacqueline Howett said...

Sorry guys, I noticed my spelling mistake your to mean you'll...

Usually you'll find you're suddenly faced with the new developed realization of self- whatever that may be.

Related Posts with Thumbnails