This is first in a series of blog posts about how to turn your life into fiction. Today I’m going to be talking about research.
I’ve talked extensively about how to turn your life into fiction in blog posts and seminars. I’ve even written a book about it! This coming Tuesday, I’m going to be a guest on a Twitter chat with Alliance of Independent Authors on the subject. (Find it using the hashtag, #IndieAuthorChat)
My fiction series, The Nordic Heart, is largely based on my life story. Well, certainly the first two books in the series are. I began writing the first book, The English Heart, as a series of blog posts. I described how I met and fell head over heels in love with a Navy Officer at the British Embassy in Helsinki. Eventually, that story became my first published book.
The main inspiration for the second novel in the series, The Faithful Heart, was my diary from when I first moved to the UK.
In addition to these books, the novel I wrote during an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, Coffee and Vodka, is also based on my experiences as a young girl moving with my family from Finland to Sweden.
As you can see, I’ve used my life as an inspiration for many of my books. To me, it’s good to “write out” the most important “scenes” in your life. Writing something that you know intimately about also gives your work authenticity. Of course, you can sometimes be too close to the events and emotions. This is why it’s important to treat writing about your life as you would any creative writing project.
You are writing a story, but it just happens to be your story.
Why Research Your Own Life?
I know it sounds crazy to research your own life. You know the details right? But in order to write a story, you need to get those creative juices going. You need to get inspired. You need to dig deep into your emotions and your and the other characters’ mindset at that time.
And sometimes, you might have forgotten some vital details. Or you might ignore some interesting snipped from your life that explains the way you and the other characters in your book are feeling.
In order to make your story interesting to your readers, you need it to sound like an engaging story. And any good story needs to be researched.
Photos, letters and emails
Use photos, letters, and emails for inspiration. I was lucky that we’d kept all the letters from our long-distance relationship. They were very useful when I wrote The Nordic Heart Series. I also used old photographs to remind myself of how I felt at the time. I stuck a few chosen ones on the wall in my study for inspiration.
But don’t worry if you haven’t got personal items. Just looking at old photos in newspaper archives may jog your memory and give you inspiration. Or seeing an item in a jumble sale may bring old emotions to the surface. Anything from the relevant time will be useful to you.
Music, films and other arts
As well as images and items, music and other arts can be very evocative too. To get inspired, listen to the bands and artists of the era. Remind yourself of what films, plays, art exhibitions you saw. Or books you read at the time and how those informed your decisions and beliefs. Seeing an old film or a painting can evoke important, strong, memories.
What was it like back then?
Research the era thoroughly; you’ll be surprised how much you will have forgotten. What was everyday life like then? How does it differ from today? Did you know, for example, that Google only started its search engine in 2006? Or that only ten years ago, it was unusual to surf the net with your phone? Make sure that you become an expert in the era you are describing. Adding a few pointers about the lack of the internet, for example, if your story is set in the 80s or 90s, is a good idea.
Go professional with your research
Use sites like Wikipedia to research the year (or years) in question. This way you can use any political developments, current affairs, sports events or significant artistic happenings as a backdrop to your story. Or you can use libraries to read old newspapers and magazines.
Make sure that if there were some large weather events, such as floods, or a particularly hot summer, you include that in your story. It’s also good to have a look at what TV and other popular culture was at the forefront in people’s minds at the time. Who were the famous people newspapers wrote about? For example, if in years to come, I’d write about the year 2016, my characters would need to refer to the Brexit vote in the UK, or the election of Donald Trump as US president. These are large world events, which the majority of people know about. They will make your story authentic.
Over to you
I hope this first post in the series has helped you to start the process of writing your life story. Look out for Part 2, What’s The Story You Want to Tell? out next week!
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