I've been thinking about the process of writing fiction from real-life experiences this week. I mean the kind of writing that is rooted in you, based on the big things that have happened in your life. It's not exactly memoir, or life-writing, because you dress the events as fiction, embellish them maybe, but its emotional core comes from you.
This isn't something I do a lot of now, in fact I don't think I've written fiction about any life events for several years, but I did when I started writing back in 2005-ish. I think it's natural for new writers to do this when they're finding a way and unearthing what they want to write about, but the more stuff I wrote, and the more I read of others, the less I drew directly on my own experiences - in an obvious way, at least.
There are 2 stories from my past that I tried to create fiction around but ran into difficulties with. I've blogged about one of them before - here - and the hallelujah moment when I started re-telling that story from a different POV, creating a much better piece. I've been wondering if I could have the same success with the other story.
I started it in 2005, and reworked, edited, added to, and took words away from it endlessly over the next few years, certain there was something in it. It just never quite worked, and it ended in a flat way. I was hesitant about how to finish it, and also, if it was a story I should let people see.
It's about a girl meeting her Dad for the first time, as I did, when I was 10. I'd had some contact with my Dad until I was 3 or 4, but then nothing until he sent me a birthday card on my tenth birthday. I replied, and that began our getting to know each other, until his untimely death when I was 16.
The story focused on that first meeting, the weirdness of it, the power struggle, the way the girl didn't want to make the moment easy for her Dad. The fact that she didn't know him, but he felt he knew her. It was heightened, but rooted in how I felt, not just that day, but in the early days of having a Dad when I was pretty sure I'd never have one, or need one.
I got to know my Dad over the next 6 years and we found ways of getting on and ways of arguing, which is pretty normal I'd say. I always felt like he died just when we were accepting each other as adults, and we would have had our hey-day, I thought, in the years that should have followed.
But the story I told was the one of that first afternoon. The feelings are mine. The perspective is that of a 10 year old girl trying to be an adult. It's easy to see why I revisited that event when I began writing. It was a pivotal time. But as I said, it didn't get published, it didn't ever work properly. Then when I was a little more skilled a few years later, and I might have been able to rework it, there were other concerns about trying to get it published.
One was that my Dad's Mum, my Grandma, was still alive, as were his sisters. In 2005 or 2006 I didn't have a blog, and I didn't try to get stuff published online. If it had been accepted back then, the story most likely would have gone into a small press anthology, and would have only been accessed by strangers, or the people I showed it to.
But over the years with the increase in online publishing, and my own online 'presence', I knew that publishing it might mean there was a chance my Dad's family might read it. I knew the story was a heightened reality, and that after the first testy few years of getting to know my Dad things evened out, but others may not see that, and I was concerned it might have been seen as a disrespectful move, even though the feelings were mine. So it stayed where it was.
Until this week when I opened it up for a look (I do that every so often - then think 'no, leave it' and close it again) and I found my hands hovering over the keys to change a line or 2, and I realised I had some impetus to rewrite it, not just tinker with it, but cut a lot of the lines and change the tone completely.
I still wasn't sure that it'd be a story to have published (if someone wanted it), but I liked that I was changing it in a bigger way than usual, and I felt a little bit of excitement similar to when I rewrote that other big true event - and I could see more clearly the things that were wrong with it, as a piece of writing.
So the point of all this (is there one?) is that I'm still not sure I have a story that deserves to be read. Sadly my Grandma and one of my Aunts have passed away in recent years, so there is less of a feeling that I would need to explain to anyone that this is just a snapshot of a relationship rather than the definition of it.
I just don't know that the piece holds up as a story - and I guess this is the point - just because something happened to you doesn't mean it's a story. It will feel like one, because it's yours, but if you're thinking about other people reading it, possibly editors saying 'yes' to it, it is something else separate to you and must hold up and earn its place.
I will most likely let it rest a while now, and come back to it with fresher eyes in a week or 2. If it still feels not-right, I'll let it go again. Maybe not forever. It might find its way into a bigger story, or my autobiography (eyes widen slightly at thoughts of best seller autobiography and poster of self in Waterstones…)
It's been a good experience revisiting it, and it got me thinking and reflecting on this writing journey, and the things I write, or don't write about now.
What about you? I'd love to hear your experiences of writing from true events.