Guest post: Fiction Writing: Finding Inspiration within Real Events by Barbara Jolie

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of taking inspiration from our surroundings, is brought to you by Barbara Jolie.

Fiction Writing: Finding Inspiration within Real Events

For many, one of the most difficult aspects of writing fiction is finding inspiration. Fiction writing requires a careful balance between writing stories and ideas that are fantastic and magical, while also being believable and approachable. Finding ways to create stories, plots, and characters that demonstrate your creativity, but are also relatable to the average reader can be a challenge. That being said, almost all authors will agree that some aspects of their fictional writing consist of aspects from their actual lives. Whether it is merely a character or an aspect of a character that is inspired by someone you know or it’s an entire plotline that feels very familiar, we pull inspiration from events that actually happen a lot of the time. This doesn’t make our writing any less fictional. It is these real events and real people that help inspire our writing and enable us to write pieces that feel familiar even among the fantastic.

At one point or another in every author’s career inspiration becomes a challenge. Struggling with finding a writing subject, moving a plot forward, or developing a character can be one of the most difficult aspects of writing. It’s easy to feel defeated when inspiration fails us. Don’t give up hope. Of course, there will be times of struggle and times of success in any pursuit. If you find yourself struggling to find a writing topic or you just don’t feel inspired by what you’ve already started working on, take these thoughts into consideration.

The best way to write something that you really believe in is to write about what you know. To some degree this means that you are writing from your own experience. Now, this is not to say that you have to write a memoir or a non-fiction piece; it just means that you need to draw from your own personal experiences and stories. Some of the most engaging pieces draw from real life events. Creating characters that truly feel familiar to readers usually involves writing off of someone you actually know. The character does not have to resemble that person exactly by any means, but you can draw things from that person to place in your character. Even just taking a situation that you or someone you know has dealt with and building your characters responses to that situation from a true event can help to inspire a truly meaningful reading (and writing) experience.

Many writers draw from their own experiences to perpetuate their craft. Take, for example, one of the most prolific and celebrated authors of our modern age Joan Didion. Didion has written within the fiction genre, non-fiction genre, plays, screenplays, and essays. Her work is critically acclaimed and draws inspiration from numerous events and characters within her real life. Her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking and her most recent piece Blue Nights examine elements of her family life and the circumstances of her husband and daughter’s deaths. These books (though not fiction) demonstrate how unfamiliar scenes can be made accessible through familiar feelings and character responses. Both novels spend much of their immediate plots sitting in hospital rooms, exploring doctor’s discussions, and examining medical terms. Didion draws on her experience with illness, hospitals, and eventually death to illuminate the very human feeling of grief, helplessness, and loss.

Think about your own personal experiences and what you can draw from them. Of course, many times we insert aspects of our actual lives into our fictional writing without even really realizing it. This is what writing is all about. But, if you find yourself struggling to really make a character or scene feel real and accessible to the reader, consider your own life. Think about college roommates, important life events, walking the line at graduation, studying the first subject in college that really inspired you—these aspects of your own life can help you create scenes and characters that come alive. To some degree or another, you have to place yourself in your craft. Think of how you or the people around you would react when they are placed in the situation that your characters are placed in. Even if your characters aren’t college students or lying in a hospital bed, those feelings, emotions, and responses you have in those situations may translate well to your character’s situation.

As fiction writers, we can gain from these moments of self-exploration the significance of human emotion in our writing. Even if the setting or plotline is completely unfamiliar (as a college dorm room scene may be for some of us or a fairy kingdom is for all of us), it is the underlying human emotion evoked within our writing that makes a story successful.

That was great, thank you, Barbara!

Barbara Jolie is a full time freelance writer and blogger for onlineclasses.org. She writes about advantages of online classes and is particularly interested in writing and language education. If you have any questions email Barbara at barbara.jolie876@gmail.com.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with memoirist Candy Marie Bridges – the five hundred and fifty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Post-weekend Poetry 004: ‘The Lady on the Train’ by Ruth Holroyd

Welcome to Post-weekend Poetry and the fourth poem in this new series. This week’s piece is entitled ‘The Lady on the Train’ by Ruth Holroyd.

Dear ‘Lady on the train’
I do hope we meet again
I have read your little letter
Did it make you feel better?

Why didn’t you stop and chat?
Now what do you say to that?
I bet your cunning little plan
Hinged on me NOT getting off at Amersham!

When writing such a missive
Thrust over so dismissive
Did you carefully consider
As you reached over to deliver?

How easy it would be to just
Get up, and on passing, thrust
Your carefully folded advice
Then dash off in a trice

So brave then you to carry on
To follow through and when you’d gone
To think of how your words sunk home
As I read your little tome

Now really I should thank you
Because if it wasn’t for you who
Flipped her lid and rashly wrote
A quite hilariously misguided quote

I would never have had so much fun
Scanning your note and when I’m done
Posting it on Facebook and Twitter
I hope you’re not at all bitter

You seem to be quite sad
Lonely and a little bit mad
All my friends found it amusing
Is it marbles you are losing?

Next time you catch the four thirty
Claim a good seat – then I arrive!
I do have some cunning little tips
To avoid writing more vicious quips…

Shall I tell you what I would have done
If such a wino had staggered on
Stinking like a brewery in the afternoon
Simply excused myself and gone!

To a different carriage, another seat
No weirdos there to meet
With an altogether better clientele
A nicer view, a sweeter smell

So here’s to you!
I’ll raise a glass (or two)
To the ‘Lady on the train’
<slurs>I think I might be drunk again…

I asked Ruth what prompted this piece and she said…

The inspiration behind this poem came from a real event. A woman actually gave me the letter here when we got off the train.

I could tell she was annoyed that I was speaking to a friend, you know you can sense these things, but I never imagined anyone could be driven to such lengths by anger!

Initially it upset me, I couldn’t get it out of my head.  What an odd thing to do.  Happily I managed to see the funny side and the poem sprung up from there.

I’m really interested in the consequences of actions, things said and done in the heat of the moment. We might not fully understand what is going in someone else’s life and what awful things  our thoughtless actions or comments might lead to.

Thank you so much Ruth, I loved that, especially having commuted to (secondary) school from Amersham to Chalfont & Latimer (and back, obviously) for years. 🙂

Ruth works as a freelance copywriter and marketing communications professional in Buckinghamshire.  She writes company case studies and copy edits brochures and websites.  She also writes regular articles and features about living with allergies and food intolerances. Her allergy blog, www.whatallergy.com, was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs in the UK in 2011 and she is one of the guest judges at the Free From Food Awards 2012.  You can read some more of her writing here.

If you’d like to submit your poem (c.40 lines max) for consideration for Post-weekend Poetry take a look here.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with novelist Carole Eglash Kosoff – the two hundred and forty-fouth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.