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Combining Personal Experience And Imagination For Writing Novels, by Kashmira Sheth

Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth

Often, the first book many authors write is semi-autobiographical. This is not as strange as it sounds. Writing from something we have experienced, physically as well as emotionally, is a good place to begin. When we know the internal and external landscape well it is easy to fictionalize it and make it deeply touching.

The emphasis here is on fictionalizing. It is difficult to take all of our experiences (for example, of our sophomore year of high school) and put them in our story. What is needed is to trim all the extraneous, unrelated events, then add scenes from our imagination to make the plot more exciting and gripping and to give our story an arc.

It is also important to have characters that are unique and interesting to the readers. In high school one may have many friends and even more acquaintances but in the novel one must replace them with a few unique characters that move the plot forward, the ones that matter to the story. It is also important to make sure that none of the people that you actually knew twenty years ago can identify themselves when they read the story, and that they cannot be identified when other people read it. Instead, take different attributes from people, add your own imagination to give them unique personalities and traits, and flesh them out in the story. At once they become your own, and yet they are truly believable, multi-dimensional characters to whom readers can relate.

The physical space where the story takes place can also be constructed from your experience as well as from your imagination. Again, if you add a small, secluded courtyard to the red brick building of your high school it might make the space more vivid and interesting. Whatever you add can be used in setting scenes that are unique to that space, further enriching your story.

The emotional growth of your characters is one place where you can use your own experiences much more deeply. If you are writing about the summer between sophomore and junior year, then you can go back to your emotional state of that summer. Was it the summer of heartbreak, angst, rebellion, disappointment, or sorrow?  How did you survive and persist? How did your emotions manifest themselves in your interactions with others?  What did you learn? How did that one pivotal summer make you grow and change? These emotional nuggets can be taken from your own personal journey. While writing a story you may be surprised to discover you gain a deeper understanding of the emotions you felt during that time.  This will help create characters that are not only believable, but also with whom your readers will empathize.

I believe this emotional dimension is why many authors’ first book is semi-autobiographical. When you write from your emotional core it feels solid and real. As a writer we may be capable of writing an intriguing story, imagining many scenes and settings, and inventing colorful and unique characters. Still, the emotional integrity of the story is sometimes hard to get right. Writing a story from our own emotional experience creates resonance and depth that make readers fall in love with our characters, and with our story.


Kashmira Sheth’s author website:

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     Saraswati's WayPrison Ship: Adventures of a Young SailorThe Traitor's KissThe Night She DisappearedA Coalition of Lions

Writing Teen Novels

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