Everyone likes to think they’ve got a book in them (and, in many cases, that’s not where it should stay), but the practical act of writing one is another story. Often, you might have had some experience which has made you want to put pen to paper, but perhaps you don’t fancy a tell-all memoir that everyone you know will read. Enter auto-fiction, the not-so-new style of writing gaining serious traction in literary circles.
The idea here is that you take some inspiration from your own experiences, but don’t document them verbatim – using them instead as the basis for a fictional story. Fiction is invading fact on a daily basis; we’re increasingly fed curated versions of people’s lives on social media or delivered distorted versions of the news by questionable outlets. Conversely, fact is increasingly leaving its mark on fiction, as fiction becomes a way to find “truths” when traditionally trusted sources no longer have the credibility they once did.
Author Natalie Hart’s debut novel, Pieces of Me – recently nominated in the First Novel category in the 2018 Costa Book Awards – fits neatly into the auto-fiction category. Below, she gives her advice for writing your own.
1. Don’t worry about the ‘auto-fiction’ label
Are you even writing ‘auto-fiction’? It’s hard to say, when the definition itself can be blurry. Some parts of my novel Pieces of Me are very much based on my personal experience, whereas others are not at all. Some writers embrace the term while others reject it completely. The only important distinction while writing is whether something is fact or fiction. Discussions about what labels to give it can come later.
2. Emotional truth can be more powerful than factual reality
When you are writing auto-fiction, getting to the emotional truth of the story does not mean representing the facts of an experience accurately. It is fiction. Focus on the core message you are trying to convey and find the best way to tell your story to get to that point. The power and beauty of auto-fiction comes from allowing you to shift a story to make it even more true to that core. As the adage goes, people do not remember what you said, but how you made them feel.
3. Set your protagonist free
It is important to able to separate yourself from your characters for the purpose of writing fiction, regardless of how much is based on reality. This can be a hard mental shift to make, particularly when you are writing in first person and on an issue you have experienced first-hand. Try to make your character distinctly different from you in your mind. Perhaps your protagonist’s favourite food is something that you would never eat, for example. A writer friend of mine once suggested that I go to a café, order two coffees and have an imaginary chat with my protagonist. Do whatever it takes. Your protagonist deserves their own identity.
4. Draw from your own experience. Or don’t.
It is completely up to you how much of your own experience or story you put into your writing. You could pour in every detail or it could be that the concept alone is based on your experience and nothing more. For any kind of fiction, there is no correct balance to which you must adhere. For many writers, it has never really been clear where ideas come from anyway. There is a magic in not knowing how your writerly mind creates the things it does.
5. Accept that everyone will see themselves in your characters.
It is exciting to have a friend or family member or acquaintance who has written a book. When those you love (and those you don’t!) finally get hold of it, they will doubtlessly pore over the pages and sentences with anticipation and dread, wondering ‘Am I in here?’ People will find themselves in the strangest of places within your book and there is nothing you can do to stop this happening. Write what you need to write and just smile and tell them ‘It’s fiction’ when the questions start.
Natalie’s debut novel, ‘Pieces of Me’, is available to buy now. The 2018 Costa Book Awards category winners will be announced on 7 January, followed by the Book of the Year winner on 29 January.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK