The most personal stories can be the most powerful
One of the most challenging questions aspiring writers have is where to look for ideas.
Well, we’ve spent plenty of time over the last few weeks exploring that question. And why, it can easily be solved.
Ideas are everywhere. And the more you think about storytelling, the more you will be bursting with ideas. When you implement a few practical tools for harvesting ideas, you will never run out of ideas for stories.
That’s, honestly, the easy part. The hard part? Crafting a story that is unique, sincere, and will resonate with a reader.
Last week, I detailed how real-life events can be jumping-off points for stories. The fact is, some of the most popular movies, books, and series were based on real life. It gives your work a kind of credibility (even if you don’t put in the line “Based on a true story”) and give a story a foundation from which you can experiment.
But how can you make a story more authentic? In an age when so many people are producing content—most of which is shallow and clickbaity—how can your stories feel real and meaningful? How can you make sure your story is going to connect with a stranger, to the point where they want to care about it?
You gotta get personal.
Most writers—who have been doing this a long time—have no problem with getting personal. In fact, many writers got started in the trade, just to explore their personal feelings (or demons) over an event in their lives.
For some, writing is a form of therapy that can help them express something they have a hard time addressing any other way.
As a new writer, though, you might not understand this powerful element in writing. Or, you might be afraid of getting personal. It’s a vulnerable act—putting yourself on the page. Anyone can read your deepest feelings and simply reject them. Or you just don’t want people to know too much about you personally.
But diving into your own emotions, fears, and questions is a powerful way you can take a shallow story and make it something worth reading.
Before we get into it, let’s discuss what getting personal is not.
A Personal Story Is Not About You
Yeah, this might sound contradicting. But writing a story is never about you. I’m not talking about a journal entry or something done for personal growth. I’m talking about a story you want other people to read.
Far too many writers use storytelling as a form of wish fulfillment. That means they craft a tale that glorifies a personal desire or dream about themselves. It might be fun envisioning yourself as a perfect hero, who never makes mistakes and knows everything—but it sucks as a story.
There have been many books recently that come off as this. Many of them were successful, but the stories were trite, forgettable, and super predictable. None of them were about telling a story that would resonate with a reader for years to come. They were shallow, self-indulgent schlock that got lucky. Don’t be like them.
Getting Personal Is Not About Exposing Yourself
Writing fiction is just that: fiction. You don’t have to write your autobiography. Nor do you have to inject specific events or experiences from your life if you don’t want to.
Getting personal is about honestly addressing what matters most to you. Drawing from your personal experiences to write a story that is real, authentic, and believable.
What if you’re writing science fiction? You’ve probably never been to space. And if you have—good for you!
Writing about fictitious worlds, creatures, and technology can be just as personal as anything else. After all, you’re going to populate that sci-fi world with people, right? Don’t make the mistake that many science fiction writers make and focus your story on minute details about space travel and quantum physics. That stuff is great—but it’s not a story.
Story is almost entirely about the characters in it. Even in a wild fantasy series or sci-fi epic, you can inject your personal experiences into it.
Does your main character have a family? Draw from your own family experiences (both good and bad) to inform theirs. Do they fall in love—or want to fall in love? Why not take lessons from your own romantic adventures (or misadventures, as the case may be) to shape their own.
Do you hate your boss? Bingo! That’s a great idea to incorporate into any story (just change their name).
Know a lot about engines? Have a passion for organic fruits? Does littering drive you crazy? Find ways of effectively incorporating these aspects of who you are into the tale—and it will be all the better.
But there is a danger in putting too much of yourself—of your beliefs—into a story. Getting preachy, when you’re supposed to be telling a story—can mean disaster.
And I’ll be getting into that next time.
Enjoy this article? Never miss another post by subscribing to my monthly newsletter. Articles will arrive straight to your inbox!