Facts: They’re sharp and pesky. Probably every author has snagged her story on one. Sadly, exclaiming, “But it really happened!” doesn’t help make your story more believable.
To quote Mark Twain:
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't.
There’s always a danger basing any fiction on your own experiences, especially if those experiences happened more than a few decades ago.
But … that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. After all, the premise for The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading did come from my own experience in high school. When anyone asks, I tell them that the events in the novel are far more exciting than my actual season on the squad. That’s because I (and my writing partner Darcy Vance) made a lot of them up.
And for good reason. Not only had cheerleading changed since I held a pair of pom-poms, high school, extracurricular activities, even the style of the cheer skirts had changed as well. If I recorded every high kick and straddle jump the way it happened, the book would’ve ended up a memoir, not a young adult novel.
Another pesky fact: Our world changes around us constantly. The one thing that doesn’t?
Chances are that first kiss, first love, first time doing the splits in front of a packed gymnasium will feel the same no matter when you were born.
Last year, I agreed to write a short story for an anthology (The First Time, edited by Jessica Verday and Rhonda Stapleton). I signed the contract before even having a glimmer of an idea, never mind a story.
The only thing I did have was overwhelming panic and a sense of dread that I wouldn’t have a draft completed by the deadline. So I made of list of every “first time” I could possibly think of. Then I did what any sensible writer would do:
I got up from my desk, went into the kitchen, and loaded the dishwasher.
That’s when it hit me: first dates, first proms, and the first time I asked a boy out--and suddenly I was sixteen again and utterly humiliated. The blush heated my cheeks while I stood there, clutching the Corelle.
I tapped into that humiliation and walked away with a story that, while based on some true events, certainly isn’t factual.
When you mine your experiences for emotion, you can open up a world of possibilities within your fiction. Forget reaching for the stars. If you want to write fiction (especially for young adults), reach for the sadness, excitement, and of course, humiliation.
About the Author:
In THE FIRST TIME, 25 young adult authors contribute 25 stories all about firsts: first loves, first kisses, first zombie slayings, and more. Featuring New York Times bestselling authors Carrie Ryan and Jessica Verday, plus a host of others. From humor to horror, and everything in between, these stories will make you laugh, cry, cheer, (and maybe even scream) as you experience something brand new from the authors that you love.