Saturday, October 01, 2011

Lines in the Sand: How Much of Your Life is in Your Work? Or, isn't?

When I write, I try to make my characters their own people. Unless I'm writing for myself and for cathartic purposes, I don't make myself the "star" of a novel. I enjoy the role of creator and not that of character.

There's a big difference in writing a novel and thinking, "What would I do here?" and "What would my character do here."

But it's no surprise to me that I see parts of myself scattered throughout the characters in my stories. I draw on life experiences to color the world I'm trying to create. To an extent.

No-Fly Zones

I have certain no-fly zones; topics I won't include in my novels. For example, I won't base my fiction on my kids or the experiences I've had with my husband. I don't want anyone to read my stories and "find" the people I care about in my stories. I don't want them to be dissected or "figured out"--people already make assumptions about who I am because of how I portray my characters, but that's my burden as a writer.

Public Domain

Although I don't tend to use my own experiences in my writing in a specific sense, broad experiences like a day at the beach or how it feels to hold a helpless, trembling kitten are part of the public domain. I do pull from those feelings and look at them through the filter of my characters' lives. There are also personal experiences of my own that, with the passage of time, have dulled in significance; they don't seem to belong to me anymore. What once might have been too private and personal to include even symbolically becomes part of the public domain of my life experiences.


Not everyone believes that I don't base my characters on myself, and that my secondary characters aren't based on people I know. When a non-writer friend of mine read my novel, Sinister Charms, she remarked that the love story was so sweet, it must have been based on the experiences I had when my husband and I were dating. I laughed; Derek couldn't be more different than my husband, and Gwyn's feelings toward him were completely unique to her. Nevertheless, I couldn't convince my friend that Gwyn and Derek's love story was their own.

More Perception

I used to let my mother read my work. This turned out to be a big mistake. In one of my first novels, a medieval romance, the mother of the heroine was depressed and suicidal. She was also bitter and vindictive and basically a wreck of a human being. My mother called me, upset that I'd portrayed her in such a negative way. I was baffled. I told her that I hadn't based the character on her at all! My mother is a cheerful and often silly person. I've only seen her cry at sad movies, and she's the least vindictive person I know. Although my mother believed me, she was still upset and wanted me to change the character. She was sure that whoever read the book would think I had based the mother of the story on her. It didn't matter that it wasn't true.

And to Contradict Myself Completely...

Now that I'm between novels, ideas rise to the surface and evaporate as quickly. I search for the balance between truth and fiction that makes a novel real. Maybe that girl who ate lunch alone, reading over sheet music for her violin solo later that week, maybe she used to be me, but she isn't anymore. Maybe I can draw on some of those experiences and create an entirely new character. If I write her story, my biggest challenge will be erasing my imprint from the tips of her fingers and letting her be a real person in her own right.

How much of yourself do you put into your characters? Is everything fair game, or do you have lines in the sand you just won't cross? Do friends and family who read your work ever "look" for themselves, you or others in your fiction?

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Diana Paz is a web content writer and aspiring YA author. She was born in Costa Rica, grew up on Miami Beach, moved to Los Angeles in high school, and went to college in San Diego. Basically, she's a beach bum, but she did graduate from California State University, San Marcos with a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts. She loves old movies, epic fantasy, all kinds of music, and heading to the beach with a good book. Preferably sipping a caramel frappuccino. Find her at her blog: or on Twitter @dianapazwrites


  1. everything is fair game. i can disguise something later if i want, and am often disappointed if i do. writing is self exploration for me. people who have found themselves in my work have loved it, luckily:)

  2. That's brave, Ed. Although I prefer my characters to have their own identities separate from mine, I do write private pieces of self-exploration based on my life. When I do this, I nearly never share those with the world. I imagine your writing is powerful; no wonder your readers are pleased. :)

  3. Cool, Di! I think a decent amount of me are in my characters, but it's spread out... I use general things from my life, nothing specific.

    Great post!

  4. Thanks, Erica! I'm the same about using general things from my life. Specifics feel a little too personal.

  5. HI, Diana,

    I do put a part of me in my characters usually in the form of sensitivity. I want my characters to feel all emotions and since I am a passionate person it flows into my writing of characters and description.

  6. I think that I do have bits and parts of the people around me in my characters, and there's some of me in there too. Your subconscious definitely pulls from things you know or have learned while living your life, so it's hard not to have that stuff in there. I definitely have lines drawn in the sand - experiences I just don't want to revisit or things about people I know I wouldn't want to expose. Great post, Di! <3