Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to write about your life the sneaky way

I do a lot of appearances at local schools in my area (most often middle schools, which are my favorite group to speak to) and there are certain questions I always get at each appearance:

"Are any of your books going to be a movie?"

"Are you going to write a book about your life?"

"Do you know Stephenie Meyer?"

The answers to questions one and three are both no (although if any movie producers out there are interested, I'll be happy to consider your offer...), but the answer to question two is a little more involved. Will I ever write an autobiography? Most likely, that's a big NO. I don't think anyone really wants to read about my life unless they need something to help them fall asleep.

However, as an author, I do write about my life--in little bits and pieces hidden among my books. In Something to Blog About, when Libby daydreams about her crush Seth in class rather than pay attention to her assignment--that was me, hoping that one certain boy in my class would ever once notice me. Troy High was inspired by the rivalry between the high school I attended and one of the other local high schools. It never got as bad as it gets in Troy High, but I took it as a starting point for fun a story.

The setting of Surfacing and Mara's impressions of it came from one very early spring weekend that my husband and I spent on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The loneliness and detachment Mara feels from everyone around her came from my own struggles at seventeen to decide whether to stay with my family in Florida (where we had moved to a year earlier) or whether to go back to my hometown in North Carolina, leaving my parents behind.

When I start to explain this, I then get the question, "So does that mean you stole someone's boyfriend?" in reference to The Boyfriend Thief. I assure you that I was a good girl and stayed away from other people's boyfriends. But I can relate to Avery. Her experiences in helping to raise her younger brother came from my own as the oldest child of four. I was the caretaker after school and summers while my parents were working. A lot was expected of me, and I expected a lot from myself.

Writing is all about creating characters that have experiences and emotions other people can relate to. This doesn't mean you should turn every main character into yourself or the person you would be if you were prettier or smarter or funnier. But take pieces of your life and your friends' lives and turn them into stories or bits of character. Zac's job at the locksmith shop in The Boyfriend Thief? That was my first job right out of college. Like Zac, I had to find ways to entertain myself during the slow times (which was most of the time because business wasn't that great). Stories are about real life, even if they take place on another planet or involve mutant werewolf-zombie-unicorns. Somewhere within that werewolf-zombie-unicorn on the Planet Zorabayek are experiences and emotions that the rest of us all know and understand.

So if you hope to ever see an Official Autobiography of Shana Norris, you're probably out of luck. The truth is, I already write about my life over and over again in little pieces spread throughout multiple places. Try using your own experiences as a starting off point for stories or weave them into the lives and personalities of your characters.


  1. Great post, and good advice! It's nice to be able to put part of yourself into a book, but without readers picking the book apart to try and find you.


  2. I do the same thing. But don't tell anybody. LOL. Thanks,

  3. Good advice. I feel like you can't -not- put yourself in your writing, to some extent. It's the basis of "write what you know" in that you know your experiences, you know how they would occur and how certain people might react to why not use that to create a believable story?