#IWSG – Adding Personal Details to Stories?

IWSG - The Insecure Writer's Support GroupIt’s the first Wednesday of the month, and you know what that means.  Or, well, maybe you don’t.  It’s #IWSG Day! The question this month is…

Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

I sure have, but first, allow me to drop a plug for IWSG.  The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by the esteemed Alex J. Cavanaugh, is an online space where writers (insecure and otherwise) can come together to share stories, successes, struggles, and all the rest of it. The website is chock-o-block full of great stuff.  There’s a Twitter Pitch, which I haven’t checked out yet, contests, books, swag, conferences, and more.  Be sure to jump over there and check them out!

Okay, back to the question.  I often work personal information into my writing on purpose, but sometimes I do it unintentionally, too. 

Here’s an example of when personal stuff just sort of slips in there when I’m not paying attention. This past winter, during one of my critique sessions for my Lesley University Low-Residency master’s program, someone pointed out that my main character sounded like she was from the Midwest.  The story being workshopped was something I’d discovery written.  I hadn’t generated any character dossiers and hadn’t fleshed out a background for anyone. 

The comment left me agape.  You see, despite the fact that was born and raised in Massachusetts and am surrounded by Bostonians with the classically difficult to imitate accent, I’ve been told multiple times that I don’t sound like I’m from the area.  In fact, people often tell me I’ve got a midwestern accent and drop midwestern slang.  I chalk that up to the my father’s influence.  He was born and raised on a farm in Iowa, and we visited his family often when I was a kid.

Who knew my father had shaped my psyche so deeply that it was affecting my writing!  In any case, I decided to have my main character be a girl who grew up on a farm in… you guessed it, Iowa.  Why not just roll with it, right?  So now my dad is a teenage girl fighting for her life in the Canadian wilderness.  Fabulous!

More often, personal information makes its way into my stories on purpose.  I’ve written stories that take place in my hometown, at my place of work, or that involve events I’ve lived directly.  All fictionalized to varying degrees, mind you. 

My current WIP is a young adult SciFi horror story about a group of youths trying to survive the elements (and other things) in the backcountry of Canada.  As a teen, I was a wilderness backpacking enthusiast, and a couple of times I and my group members found ourselves in genuinely dangerous situations.  I’ve incorporated fictionalized versions of those events in my WIP.

So, yeah, I draw on my life experiences to add authenticity to everything I write. 

What about you?  Do you slip personal details into your writing?  How do you feel about it?

Comments

  1. J.H. Moncrieff

    Hi Kathy,

    Great to get to “meet” you this month. Thanks for your kind comments and advice on my post–they were most appreciated.

    Your book sounds like something I’d love! Are you Canadian? If so, it’s nice to meet a fellow Canuck in the IWSG. And if you’re not, it’s even cooler you’re setting a book in Canada. We’re so often overlooked up here.

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      Kathy

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I’m not from Canada, but I’ve visited Nova Scotia and PEI several times. I dream of doing a backpacking trip somewhere in Ontario, which is why I picked that region for the backdrop of my story. Also, if you’re out in that region and you make some dumb choices, that environment will not be forgiving. You’re so right that Canada is an overlooked gem.

  2. Jemima Pett

    Funny you should say that. I’ve often wondered whether I have too much of my elder brothers in both Fred & George, and Pete and the Swede (although the other way round in their case.) It is more elder brother/close sibling relationship rather than their personalities; maybe the relationship affects the bond between the characters.

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      Kathy

      What would constitute too much? Sometimes I think that modelling a character off someone I know in real life helps me to gauge authenticity of character emotions, actions, and reactions at various points in my stories. Of course, that might a be a “new writer” crutch that I’m leaning on. As I progress and develop as a writer, perhaps my skills at characterization will develop to the point that I no longer need real life models to ensure authenticity. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I look forward to sharing ideas with you moving forward. 🙂

  3. Roland Clarke

    I hide some of my personality traits in my writing, and I suspect that even my female characters pick up on my habits. Of course, that has changed as I have aged. [Thanks for visiting my blog – that helped me find you.]

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      Kathy

      I’m delighted that we’ve found each other. Isn’t the internet amazing?!

      I’ve been told I write masculine female characters, and that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I’m not a particularly feminine female myself. I’ve even been known to wear ties to work here and there (never underestimate the self-confidence inducing powers of a good tie).

  4. Anne

    That’s a great idea, to take that feeling of having an unusual accent and placing the person in a place even more different! My dad is from Boston and my mom is from another country altogether so my accents can be quirky. I guess I never thought much about how that might translate into my fiction. I’ve always found this kind of thing fascinating and maybe that’s part of why? Something interesting to think about.

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      Kathy

      I don’t attempt to reproduce auditory accents on page a-la Mark Twain, but different places have different colloquial phrases and slang terms, and that’s what (I think) snuck into my MC’s voice.

  5. Debbie Johansson

    I like the sound of your WIP, incorporating your backpacking experiences. I agree you should run with it and see where it takes you, which is what makes writing so much fun! Great to meet you Kathy! 🙂

  6. SE White

    I’ve been enjoying reading some of your old posts, in addition to this one. My gosh can I relate to being a writer, a parent, and busy. Yay for IWSG for helping me find another awesome site! I love the first Wednesday of the month just for this reason 🙂

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      Kathy

      No kidding, right? I’ve found and now follow so many great sites by like-minded writers and creative folks because of IWSG. I’m so grateful.

  7. ChemistKen

    I’ve spent my whole life in the Midwest, although I’ve always taken pains not to sound too much like it when I speak. Funnily enough, more than one person have told me I sound as if I lived in California–and these were people from California. Who knows?

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      Kathy

      It’s not always something we can be aware of. After all, we don’t have the accent. The folks down south do, or the Texans, or the Brits. You can’t be aware of what you’re not aware of, if that makes any sense. Just last night, though, while strolling along the fairway at the Topsfield Fair, my eldest progeny (who has only been to Iowa once) proclaimed that a soda-pop would be great! Pop?! Nobody in New England calls it pop! The legacy continues, I guess. Ha!

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      Kathy

      No kidding. Near drowning experiences in the backcountry? I can’t think of many higher stakes situations. Makes for some excellent dramatic tension. 😉

  8. Olga Godim

    My own stories have an amalgam of personal stuff that got in either unintentionally on my part or because I put it there. I think we all do that, whether we realize it or not.

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      Kathy

      Right or wrong, I suspect we write our make believe stories as a form of self-therapy/self-exploration, even when we have our reading audiences in mind as we write. Of course, that could be a load of bunk. What do I know? That said, I believe in the multiverse. Perhaps all my characters are versions of myself that exist in other realities. That’s a fun thought, considering some of the generally horrible things my characters have done to each other. Yikes!

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      Kathy

      Yeah… dad would probably be mortified. He’s runs on the conservative side of the spectrum and might not see the humor in it. Whatever. I’m enjoying it. Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment.

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