If the fiction books we read are just fiction, what compels us to read them? What connects the reader to a made up story?
I have always considered books to be a complete work of fiction. But I’m beginning to see that perhaps that is what my stories have been missing–a touch of truth. A touch of reality to make my readers connect. Even though a book may be fiction as a whole, what makes people connect to it are the pieces of truth which typically stem from the author’s experiences in life.
In the movie Little Women, Jo March is set on writing the stories she believes people want to hear. They sell, but they aren’t the bestsellers. The advice she got: write from what you know. Write about Jo. And so she wrote an amazing book about the lives of her and her sisters. That doesn’t mean you have to write a biography of your life. Just use what you know about. Use your heartbreaks and joys and adventures and implement them into your story to make those scenes come alive and feel believable to the reader.
After having watched a couple movies recently about writers, In the Heart of the Sea and Becoming Jane, I have come to notice that the authors use their life experiences in their stories. Melville chose to write from a true story. Jane Austen chose to write several books based on her own love life.
Jane Austen has always been one of my favorite authors. I’ve read each of her books at least twice and have watched every good movie version of her stories a dozen times. Why? Probably because I could connect with her characters and their quest for love. When I watched the movie Becoming Jane, a fictional telling of Austen’s life, I was surprised to see similarities between her life and her stories. Although the ending was unsatisfying in the romance realm (in order to stay true to facts), I loved the movie and immediately felt inspired to write following the movie.
Books provide writers the opportunity to share their life with others in ways readers can learn from while also allowing both the author and reader the opportunity to experience a new life they could never really have. Assuming the events of Becoming Jane are even relatively close to fact, similarities between her books and Austen’s life include her relationship with Mr. Lefroy being the same as Elizabeth Bennet’s with Mr. Darcy and their relationship’s ending the same as Marianne and Willoughby’s in Sense and Sensibility. Also, like her wealthy character Emma, Austen desired to marry for passion and love rather than money while having the ability to choose to do so.
These similarities between Austen’s own life and her books allow the reader to connect to the stories emotionally. They feel real. Rather than writing about what she thought having one’s heart broken might feel like, Austen knew and wrote from experience. Obviously a writer can’t write only from real experiences. That’s what the imagination is for. Otherwise the only good books would likely only come from some very adventurous people, and we’d have a lot fewer books in the world.
A writer has the responsibility to live life to gain some experiences while also accepting that some experiences are better left imagined such as fighting a dragon or committing a murder. However, since the typical person won’t know what those experiences really look like, they will be content to read a writer’s imagined version of the scene.
Whether you’re writing a story about an everyday person in the modern world or about a medieval character, remember to stick to things you know. Those parts will be your strongest.