We’ve all heard it: Write what you know. Famous authors have made their careers writing novels and ongoing series about the worlds they work in, especially in the crime and thriller department. But you don’t have to be Kathy Reichs or Robert Ludlum to use your own life experience to enhance your writing.
- Scenery and Set Dressing. Searching for the perfect spot to set your masterpiece? Why not your own hometown? We assume things have to be set in either big cities or picturesque small towns, but a gritty thriller in Excelsior Springs or a sweet romance in St. Joseph might just be original enough to stand out from the crowd—especially with all the truth you can bring through your own collected knowledge of the area.
- Center Stage. The Holy Grail of using your own experiences is to make your world their world —immersing your characters in veterinary training, classical music, or Amish quilt-making. Whatever you feel deeply passionate and/or knowledgeable about, make your characters the same. This semi-autobiographical technique can be used to great effect, often with very little effort or research on your part.
- Sidebars and Subplots. Halfway between background and foreground is the novelistic middle ground of the subplot. Everyone needs a hobby, especially if that hobby is going to help them solve a murder later. Give your heroine your obsession with comics or recycling, transfer your love of cooking with quinoa to the staid old police chief. If you had a terrifying math teacher in middle grade, put those memories to humorous use in your children’s book. It doesn’t have to be big to contribute verisimilitude—often the small details are what makes a narrative ring true.
Anything and everything that has happened to you, been witnessed by you, or even been dreamed up by you after a Red Bull-fueled binge-watch of The Blacklist is fair game for your writing. Mine your life for the details, people, and scenarios that will make your writing extra-ordinary. After all, as the great Nora Ephron taught us, everything is copy.
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Leah Merrill is a Kansas City native and author of more than six impossible things. She often draws on her past experiences as a musician and performer and her ongoing love of nature and all things weird when creating new stories. Follow her on Twitter @la_mer92.