Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Guest Post By Miss Dashwood: Using Real-Life Experiences In Writing

As part of her blog tour for Only A Novel, Miss Dashwood has kindly agreed to grace my humble blog with her illustrious presence! I can't tell you how happy I am to be a part of this, and I think I have been looking forward to this post probably even more than Amy's other fans. 

But enough from me! Here, swell bloggers, I give you the words of wondrous author and beloved friend, Miss Amelia Dashwood:

Hello, folks! Kiri Liz has very kindly invited me to guest post on Lianne Taimenlore today as part of the blog tour for my book Only a Novel, and I'm delighted to be here!  Without further ado, I'll get right down to what I have to say.

"Write what you know."  It's the advice that every young writer hears at some point, the advice that many follow, the advice that many disregard. I've struggled with it, to be honest. I like the idea of writing what I know, writing from experience, writing from life. But what, exactly, is the definition of "writing what you know"? Does "writing what you know" mean that every piece of fiction has to be autobiographical, that each and every character must be based on someone of your acquaintance, that every scrap of dialogue must be at least paraphrased from something that really took place?

It does not.

If everyone wrote about nothing but what they had experienced for themselves, then there would be no such thing as fiction.  *horrified gasp from the audience*  Fiction means that the good ended happily and the bad unhappily--er, that is, fiction means things you make up.  (Sorry. I think I've had too much Importance of Being Earnest.)  Fiction, to be blunt, is a permissible way to entertain people with whopp--falsehoods. 


Um, that part about the whoppers that got cut off-- I was quoting Davy Keith from Anne of Avonlea, who likes to use the word "whopper" to describe a lie, but isn't supposed to say it because it's slang.  It was a joke.  Get it?

Never mind.  Back to fiction. However, all that doesn't mean that fiction is supposed to be something completely fabricated from the wildest corners of your imagination.  At the risk of confusing y'all even more, I'm going to try to explain how it's impossible to do anything but write from real-life experience.  *more crickets*

See, there's a fine line between writing your autobiography and drawing story material from real life.  Erica Jong once said, "I'm always waiting for things to be over so I can get home and commit them to paper."  When you stop and look around you--seriously, just try it--you'll find that there are thousands of stories right at your fingertips, just waiting to be committed to paper.  You don't need a special Place of Inspiration with absolute quiet and a cup of tea (although it sounds nice...) in order to get ideas.  You just need "eyes the better to see with, and ears the better to hear with."

So how can this be put into practice?  By doing what your teachers (or your mom, if you're homeschooled like me) have been telling you for years-- take notes.  I mean it.  If something funny or out of the ordinary happens to you, write it down.  Stow it away and who knows, it might come in handy sometime.  My grandfather loves to tell the story of how he cut himself shaving one morning when he was about twenty, and his little sister (ten years his junior) asked how he got cut.  He replied offhandedly that he had bit himself.  She pondered this, then demanded, "How did you reach?"  Unperturbed, he told her, "Oh, I stood on a chair."  I can't tell you how many times I've heard that anecdote, but one day it occurred to me to write it down in case I ever wanted to use it.

And in case you're interested as to whether I did use it or not, you can check the tenth chapter of Only a Novel.  :D

Naturally, you'll want to exercise some caution.  Don't base the villain of your piece on your little sister.  You might get sued for libel, you know.  But there's no harm in observing those around you and taking note of their personality traits and idiosyncrasies to help you in writing believable characters.   And like I said before, write down snippets of dialogue.  Keep a notebook for that express purpose if you care to.

A word of warning, though-- if you happen to have a sister who writes voraciously as well, you may end up duelling her for "who gets to use it" every single time someone says something witty. Not, of course, that I would have any experience in that regard.  None whatsoever.  The thought is unthinkable.

Yet Another Period Drama BlogMiss Amy Dashwood is a daughter of the King of Kings, a homeschooled seventeen-year-old and a lover of books, period dramas, chocolate, long bike rides, babies, teacups, historical costumes and fiddle music.  Only a Novel, her first full-length work of fiction, chronicles a year in the life of Elizabeth Markette, a young woman with a head full of books who takes on a job as a governess after the death of her grandmother.  Only a Novel is available for purchase on Amazon, and you can find Amy at either of her two blogs, Yet Another Period Drama Blog and The Quest for Stories.


  1. I can't agree with you more, Amy!!! I've been writing everything, literally EVERYTHING, down for years. I keep paper stashed around my room and the house for that express purpose. I even have a pad in my nightstand drawer because some of my best ideas have come to me at night as I'm attempting to settle down and go to sleep (keyword: attempting; my characters and I love nighttime conversations, with the result that my sleep suffers!) :) My siblings are very familiar with me exclaiming, "Oh, I have to write that down!" and, "That would make a great story!" I see inspiration everywhere I look. On a cross country vacation to the Midwest last year, I kept scribbling down descriptions of scenery, even an old burned out ravine which I though would make a perfect setting for the ravages of war or bandits in one of my fantasy tales!

    Whoppers is a far more fun and interesting word than 'tall tales', 'falsehoods' or even 'lies'. My younger brothers agree with me! :) :)

    Heehee, sister duels. I've not yet had that problem, although some of my sisters do write, they don't do it voraciously like I do. It is more of a side hobby with them, while I write because I'd die if I couldn't!

  2. The Standing On A Chair part was excessively diverting, I must say. :D I liked this post, my dear Miss Dashwood!

  3. Thank you for guest posting on my blog, Miss Dashwood! I found this post most entertaining and very helpful!! (And yes, I caught your Davy Keith reference.) :)

    I don't always write stuff down; shame on me!! I know I should, but the thought that if it's important, then I'll remember it usually overrules the urge to find a pencil and paper. Sometimes I find myself writing things I've heard, seen, experienced, etc. into my stories without even realizing that I'm doing it. Later, while rereading it, I'll recognize it and then wonder how it slipped in, even though it fits perfectly. I guess I'm just anxious for my characters to be like me, to think like me, talk like me, and have the same likes and dislikes as me.

    Of course, then you've got those special things that jump at you as perfect writing material, and then later you rack your brain for that thought, quote, etc. and it's fled from your memory. So, yes, taking notes is important. Very important. Journaling counts as notes, right? I write most of the important stuff down in my journal, even if I don't always write down quotes word for word. :)

  4. Journaling definitely counts as notes IMO. I've been journaling since a young age and it is pretty funny what bits from my journals have worked their way into my writing!