Saturday, July 2, 2011

Write What You Know

Today's post is more of a question or two. See, I've always heard the advice to "write what you know." It makes sense to me. I love a well-researched novel and hate being yanked from the realism of a book only to find factual errors in the story. (Reading a national bestseller where there is one LDS missionary going door to door selling magazine subscriptions. Really?) I suppose a number of mistakes are going to happen. I've written my share, and recently someone in my critique group helped me catch something big before it ended up in print forever. But if you write what you know, won't you make fewer mistakes?

The thing is, I've also had people hear about my projects and seem to look down on it when they pick up on a similarity between author and the main character. For example, the protagonist in Nourish & Strengthen is diabetic. "Oh, it's autobiographical then," they comment with disappointment. Parts of it, I have to admit to myself, but it is a work of fiction. I've changed things. Most things. Plot, characters and motivations, situations. Some things I haven't fabricated, though--how it feels to pass out; the day-to-day mechanics of taking care of a chronic illness; the fear, loss, and guilt of dealing with a  new diagnosis. And I think it is precisely these things that make a more believable and compelling story.

So my questions are these:

Readers--Do you look down on a novel when you know the author has personal experience with the main issues in the book?

Writers--Do you use real life in your fiction? How much?