This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, March 16, 2009

Using Personal Experiences in Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Most authors write from personal experiences, even if the story isn’t based on a true story. They may insert a scene that is similar to something else they’ve witnessed or experienced themselves. It could be a conversation or character traits from other people they know in real life.

If you decide to write personal experiences into your fiction, I advise the following:

  • Always change people’s names. Even if you only use the first name and don’t use the person’s last name, I would still change that first name or their nickname. If people you know read your book, believe me, they could possibly recognize themselves in it.

  • Change the name of common historical people. Unless the person was famous in history like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, change their name, especially if there is anything that might give a negative impression of that person. Descendants of later generations may care about how their ancestors are portrayed in a published work, even fiction. You don’t want to land yourself in a lawsuit by a group of disgruntled descendants.

  • True experiences need to sound authentic. Life can throw some strange curve balls at us sometimes and things happen that sound almost unbelievable—and that’s the problem if you use it in a story. If it sounds unrealistic, it won’t fly with an editor. If you have one of those bizarre experiences that you want to write about, tone it down a bit.
  • Places need to be accurate. Don’t use a real small town in fiction and have all the street names, businesses, and landmarks incorrect. People notice these things. The smaller the town, the more noticeable mistakes will be. Do thorough research and don’t rely on resources that are several years old unless it’s an historical. An alternative would be to create a fictional small town that is similar to one you know about or have conducted research on.

    Writing from past experiences is like bearing your heart and soul on to everyone out there. Authors want to share themselves with their readers by writing from the heart, and Christians by writing from God’s heart. Only then does the story come alive, captivating the realism that people can relate to.

    So write the book of your heart—with the wisdom and conviction God has given you.


    Jennifer, thanks so much for visiting my blog today. It's always fun to meet up with someone new in blogland -- especially another writer. Love the last sentence of your post today. Excellent advice!

    Hi Jennifer -

    Thanks for the tips on using personal experiences in fiction. My late husband and I often visited the area where my WIP is set. Maps are also an excellent resource.

    Susan :)

    Great thoughts! It's funny that real life experiences can end up sounding unbelievable, but makes sense.

    Some really good reminders. I just wrote a book about a town around here and now I am trying to remember if all of it was totally accurate with street names!

    LOL Great advice! I try not to put any real experiences in my fiction, though I try to use my feelings from an experience, if you know what I mean. I get nervous though, because subconsciously there are some patterns to my characters and I'm afraid someone's going to think I'm basing it on my life. LOL Like MIA dads...

    Points well taken! Better to be safe than sorry when it comes to accuracy. A fictional setting is a safe bet.

    Cheryl, thanks for stopping by, great to meet you in the blogosphere.

    Susan, I've been trying to find some good detailed maps of Charleston around 1810 and I finally found a site with historical insurance maps, which are more detailed than anything else I've seen.

    Janeal, some of my real life experiences actually surpass a novel--it is unbelievable.

    Terry, it's hard not to want to go back and double check things when you read a post that gets you to wondering about something you've worked on. Maybe you can check the accuracy during another edit/revision. If you're like me, you'll go through several before it's over with.

    Jessica, that I might reuse the same experience in more than one novel. I don't want them all to have too many similarities. But I'm getting ready to start my 8th novel, and it's hard to remember all thing scenarios I've used.

    T. Anne, Thanks for stopping by and for the follow. I look forward to learning more about you.

    interesting how we both kinda posted on the same thing! thanks for stopping by my blog. i sometimes think i'm the only one reading it. :) but i'm doing it for me, so i guess that's okay. anyway...nice to meet someone new who is a published author! maybe i'll see you at the ACFW conference?

    Good ideas! I enjoyed reading over your pointers on writing.

    Glad you came by my blog.