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  • writing about myself vs writing about other people
    by jawad at 16:18 on 10 November 2013
    I have two novels on the go. Two different ideas and about four chapters into each. One is a fictionalised version of various events I experienced taking place during the phone hacking scandal as well as my own involvement in it. The other is the fictionalised story of someone else's life through the war in Syria, which they have given me permission to write.

    The second one (the story of some else's life through the war) is the easiest to write. Firstly, that's because the events are chronological and I just have to make them sound good, but secondly, it's because I find it a lot easier to write about other people. I understand other people better than I understand myself - I can read characters well and I'm able to encapsulate them in a description and a set of behaviours, so the reader knows where they are with the character and knows how they are likely to respond to situations presented later in the novel. I am one of life's voyeurs (in a previous incarnation I was a private detective, so I am used to submitting profiles of other people and understanding human "types.")

    However, the first book (the one about events in my own life) is actually the most commercial, and the one I would get the most personal validation from writing. But I struggle terribly with defining my lead character (which is a disguised version of me) and the events that are relevant to her. I find that I have no clue which events are relevant or not, nor which emotions or characteristics to show my lead character as having in order to aid the flow of the story. As a result, she (the lead) becomes very conflicting. It is not clear why she is doing what she is doing, whether she is old or young. When I read my writing back I don't find her at all sympathetic. Is it that the events I am trying to portray are so emotionally charged for me that I am incapable of being objective? Has anyone had this before? It's like some kind of identity crisis!
  • Re: writing about myself vs writing about other people
    by EmmaD at 22:34 on 10 November 2013
    Jawad, it sounds to me as if you perhaps haven't, yet, got enough distance from the events of your own story. Real life is such a muddle, when you're in it, and turning it into a story is all about what you put in and what you leave out, but also about how you see things and what voice and tone you work with.

    While the experience is still very alive in you, it can be incredibly difficult to hold onto your sense of what makes a good story in a general way, and let that be the thing that makes all these judgements for you. A crude example could be that someone who was important to you is part of an episode which just messes up the shape and pace of the story. A novelist could cheerfully cut such an episode with no more than a passing pang for the lost of a good character. But when you still have an emotional connection to the events, you're still, in a way, being driven by the need to bear witness, not just tell a good story, and it's much harder to make those decisions.

    Similarly, if you don't like how your not-really-yourself MC is coming over, it could be all sorts of complexities about what you do and don't and can and can't write. Or it could be that you're the only person who sees them like this, and no one else would - beta readers can be good for this kind of thing.

    But, overall, maybe it's too soon? If you focus for now on the other novel, where you feel more sure-footed in deciding what stuff to use, and what to ignore, and how to shape it, you'll learn an awful lot about the overall business of writing a novel.

    And with that clearer idea of what makes a great story, and a bit more distance of time from the real-life material of your own story, you may find it easier to make the right judgements.
  • Re: writing about myself vs writing about other people
    by jawad at 19:53 on 11 November 2013
    Thank you so much, that is exactly what I mean. What you said about needing to feature other characters who may not be relevant to the story or the flow is very true. When I am writing about events that occurred I feel an awful lot of pressure to include every detail, everyone who was there, how they all reacted... But I can see now that including everything does not make a good story...

    But to decide who and what to cut out? Yes, maybe I am too close to it still and need to take some time away from it...

    Thank you
  • Re: writing about myself vs writing about other people
    by EmmaD at 16:14 on 12 November 2013
    You're welcome, jawad. Best of luck with it.