Writing Up My Past: Novel vs Autobiography?

Sarah Bowman
Sarah Bowman, attended workshops, writing groups, read & write constantly, novel-in-progress

Think about interesting events in your life that you can string together to show how you changed over the course of time. Or that tell the story of your rise to success. Use other interesting information such as school teachers, friends, and events that hold great nostalgic value for you—but probably not for the reader—for building character and atmosphere and setting, as background material for the real story.

This might feel a bit ingenius since we all know how important that first date was regardless of the fact that it happened in eighth grade and you lost track of each other ages ago. Then again, maybe you did not lose track. Maybe your paths crossed again forty years later, at a time in your life when both of you were single and truly in love again. If so, definitely weave that story into the whole, right along with the other very important highlights. The most important thing is not to bore your reader but to let us feel like we’re experiencing an interesting life right along with you.

Yet it somehow is not terribly interesting, unless you have a gift for making it so, to read about a picnic with your family some pleasant summer Sunday. Unless, of course, it served to renew an important relationship in your life, or led to cementing an important decision. But the reader must know the relationship or decision was in the making and why it was critical to the story before the picnic. The picnic will simply be the time and place to bring it to fruition.

I think you get the idea. A recent autobiography of sorts that I read was Stephen King’s On Writing. I took it as his true life experience. I can recommend it as an example of what I am trying to describe. I think it is possible to stay true to memory while also dramatizing it. The easiest, in my opinion, is to change names of people and places and call it fiction. That way you can keep parts that are true but use what they call poetic license to make it interesting.

Good luck whatever method you decide to use.

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