This week I thought I would leave you with a guest post from a wonderful (and far more successful than me) author to tide you over until I hurry up and get on with uploading chapter two. Jessica Dall has just published her new novel The Copper Witch and is here to give advice about writing with personal experiences.
Adela Tilden has always been more ambitious than her station in life might allow. A minor nobleman’s daughter on a failing barony, Adela’s prospects seem dire outside of marrying well-off. When Adela catches the eye of the crown prince, Edward, however, well-off doesn’t seem to be a problem. Thrown into a world of politics and intrigue, Adela might have found all the excitement she ever wanted—if she can manage to leave her past behind.
I think it is nearly impossible for writers to keep themselves out of their writing entirely. Personality, life experiences, even friends work their ways into stories—purposefully or not.
That said, I have done my very best to keep much of my own life out of my writing. I fully admit my first novel—now safely hidden away in the depths of my computer—included an author insert. Worse, a Mary Sue (an idealized author insert). Only being fifteen at the time, I do my best to be too ashamed of it, but it did teach me that it can be dangerous putting too much of yourself in a character. As much as it can be fun to put yourself into a world where you can control everything around you (or “your character”) that doesn’t make for especially good story.
Of course, just because I do my best to keep “me” characters out of my books, that doesn’t mean parts of me don’t make it in now and again. There are just a few rules I try to stick to:
1. Don’t change your world for a character
One of the major problems with Mary Sues is that the character is wish fulfillment, and thus the character is able to do things that wouldn’t happen for anybody else in the world you have built. Whether it’s an author insert, a character based around a friend, or anything else you are taking from real life. Make sure reality affects your characters, not the other way around
2. Don’t forget the flaws
Speaking about reality. No one is perfect—you or likely anyone else in your life. Don’t break reality to make a character perfect. Allow them to be flawed human beings.
3. Allow you characters to be themselves
Sometimes well-developed characters start to seem to make their own decisions about things. Perhaps you were planning to use a scene from your real life in the story and now all of a sudden the characters don’t seem to want to follow real life. If your characters are real enough to start directing your action, don’t fight it. Be glad they’re that well developed.
4. Be willing to cut catharsis on the editing floor
Sometimes, if you’re writing using real life, you end up just writing to deal with something you haven’t gotten over. While it can be helpful emotionally, it doesn’t always help the overall story. If it does, awesome, you can write some very powerful scenes that way. But if it doesn’t, be willing to cut those scenes for the good of the story (you can always keep them squirreled away somewhere in another document if you really like how they turned out).
Jessica Dall finished her first novel at age 15 and been writing ever since. She is the author of such novels as Grey Areas and The Bleeding Crowd, the Broken Line Series, and a number of short stories which have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she works as a freelance editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC. Her new book, The Copper Witch, is available from 5 Prince Publishing March 13th, 2014.