May 2, 2011

How to Write Fiction from Life

Some of my real life inspirations

Most of my stories have grown from an experience in my life. Not specifically, I haven't seen dragons, uncovered a murder mystery or owned a zombie dog (wait, I have done the last one), but I've heard a conversation, watched a behaviour or been in a situation I've found laughable enough to write about.

When my eldest daughter started getting interested in dog showing, we'd attend the shows and I started to think it would be a great micro-culture for a murder mystery. The Pirate Girl included a character based on the tenacity and passion of my youngest daughter. And of course, there's our zombie dog.

Fossil has never been right in the head. She's one of those typical tiny dogs that feels the need to prove themselves against every other dog, visitor, postman or vacuum cleaner. We have three dogs, but have to keep the little one away from our Border Collie, Zoe. Fossil starts many fights with her, but Zoe's able to finish them. I can't tell you how many times I've been convinced Fossil was done for. I always tell the rest of the family the dog's been dead (she certainly looks it) for years, and is just waiting for someone to dig the hole. This fluffy psychopath has been the inspiration for my new WIP - My Zombie Dog.

Chapter one of My Zombie Dog begins with a dog burial after Zane's mum brings home a mutt that instantly dies. I remembered having to bury my last dog, Scruffy, after 17years of friendship. Matilda was only about four and was caught shortly afterwards dragging a shovel towards the grave. When asked what she was doing, she informed us she wanted to play with Scruffy. Funny, creepy, but funny. A little sister does a similar thing in My Zombie Dog, except with a plastic spade (just a little less creepy).

You have to be careful not to stick too closely to real life for fiction for several reasons:
  • It's usually not quite as funny as your imagination can make it.
  • Just because it really happened, doesn't make it believable for the reader.
  • You could offend someone if you depict them in a way that is obvious (this could also be a legal issue).
Where do you get your ideas? I've blogged about other ways to find inspiration in:


  1. This is too funny!!! Zombie dog :))

    Great advice.

    I get ideas from comments, movies, songs....just as long as I'm paying attention.

    Have a great week!

  2. Cool idea. You'll have to walk a fine line, but if you can do that i think it will have instant appeal for agents and publishers.

  3. Hehehe interesting that small dogs all have that attitude. I have a Jack Russel that keeps attacking a lab/rotti/bloodhound cross. I fear for the day that the big puppy realized that he can bit back.

    My stories tend to come from characters walking into my head and demanding that I write their story. So me stories tend to be as realistic as the character.

  4. With regards to ideas. Yes, a lot I get from my own personal experience. I either embellish them or under embellish.

    There's a scene in my finished work where the one sister's been told the other sister tore up an invitation. My sister read it, and stated she did no such thing.

    Like the Zombie Dog.

  5. all my stories have been inspired from my own experiences. I used to write non-fiction articles for outdoor adventure magazines. Great advice. And great zombie dog!

  6. I think when I first started writing all my inspiration came from personal experience (I was a teenager, maybe that's why). But I tend to avoid writing anything remotely related to my life these day (which isn't to say things don't sneak in there without my consciously realising it ;) )

    I do take inspiration from people and situations surrounding me, though. One of the lesser characters in one of my WIPs comes from an elderly man I saw sitting on a bench in the middle of an otherwise-empty town early one morning, while I was waiting for a bus. He was eating a packet of crisps, wearing a smart black suit jacket, grey jogging bottoms and navy blue slippers. One of the most memorable characters I've ever seen.

  7. YES! This is exactly how I get my ideas. There is no better outlet than life:)

    Oh, and can I tell you how much I LOVE the zombie dog idea for your book. I so hope you get it published so I can read it:)

  8. That sounds like a really cute book! And awesome advice on top of it!

  9. You have a zombie dog??? I have a sun dog. Though I think the sun might change him into a zombie sometimes. Hmmm...

  10. I love that title! good tips. Blessings, Joanne

  11. Picturing your daughter dragging a spade to dig up her dog so they can play. Kids are funny. Great inspiration for your writing. I eavesdrop and use bits of conversation. The setting is where I live and spend time.

  12. Wonderful inspiration for a wonderful-sounding book. Reminds me of Shirley Jackson, who moved effortlessly between writing slice-of-life funny about her kids and creepy-creepy!

    I awarded you a Stylish Blogger award! The rules and badge are here:


  13. Your book sounds wonderful. I love how you get your ideas.