Everybody has experiences to share.
Sometimes, the best descriptions come from our personal experiences – the ‘been there and done it’ viewpoint. There is truth in the adage ‘write what you know’.
The reader may not know you’ve survived a car crash, and used it in your writing, or that you flew over the Grand Canyon in a hot air balloon, and therefore were able to relay the rich descriptions in a story – the only thing that concerns the reader is that the descriptions are so vivid that they feel real. They are there, in the action and the story.
Personal experiences add depth, perspective and so many layers to description. That’s because we remember the happiness, the laughter, the sadness or the pain that accompanies those experiences.
We remember specific events or moments – be them tragic or exhilarating – and store them away for when they could be used in our writing.
Most of our ideas for stories and novels stem from our past experiences, the kind of things we remember and observe, or things we hear, people we’ve met, our work situations; the kind of things we can weave a story around.
Our experiences, together with a healthy dose of creativity and imagination, create a sense of realism for the reader, and that is usually down to emotional impact. Nothing heightens a reader’s senses more than emotion – it helps connect your reader to the story and characters, and it creates a sense of immediacy.
Memories and emotions are inexorably linked.
Opening Yourself Up
This is, in effect, what you have to do if you want to add those personal experiences to your writing. You have to open up and let out the emotions and figuratively pour your heart out, especially if those experiences are particularly sad or tragic or eventful.
Writing from the heart produces a rawness in our writing that evokes the emotions of the reader. It makes it all the more real for them, and the story is all the more fascinating to read in return. Our characters might not be real, but some of their situations could well be.
It’s up to the writer to make the story believable.
It’s also up to the writer if they want to open themselves up and share their experiences because there are advantages and disadvantages in equal measure.
There is one discernible advantage – it’s cathartic. Reliving painful events from the past might hurt at first, but using them and moulding them into a story might help.
It’s true that the more you revisit sad or painful memories, the less sad and painful they become.
One disadvantage is that you will inadvertently open the lid on emotions and memories you wouldn’t ordinarily share. Not many people like raking up the past. But it is entirely up to the writer whether they want to share and style such experiences into their writing.
Happy or funny events, on the other hand, tend to become even more of a fixture in our minds the more we revisit them, and of course they are much easier and pleasurable to share in our writing.
Of course, it has to be said that most of our descriptions in our stories come from our imaginations – that’s what writers do, since we don’t always have experiences to fall back on. We have to imagine the scenes and events in a story most of the time, and we embellish the narrative to make scenes and characters more believable and realistic.
The point of using our experiences and memories in our writing is that we can take a huge dollop of imagination and creativity, add a pinch of reality, and create something that leaps from the page. It is something the reader will enjoy reading.
Writing from experience is not about being an expert; it’s about offering the reader awareness and a deeper understanding of a story, especially through the characters.
Next week, in part 2, we’ll take a closer look at the advantages of using personal experiences in our writing.