Is this novel autobiographical?

Tangled - Cally Jackson's life storyNine times out of ten, when I tell someone the basic premise of my novel-in-progress, Tangled (country-raised teenagers trying to survive their first semester at an inner-city university), they ask whether the book is based on my personal experiences. I answer that there are some similarities, but it’s predominantly fictional. But for some reason, at that point, people often give this wink-and-smirk combo, as if they know that Tangled is really my life story but I’m too embarrassed to admit it.

I’ll be honest with you. This frustrates me for a couple of reasons. Namely:

  1. If it was my life story, I’d just come out and say it. 
  2.  It implies I’m not creative enough to conjure a plot purely from my imagination.

So, here’s some proof that this book really is fictional:

Jeez she was a good kisser. Slow and sexy. I could taste the guava cruisers she’d been drinking on her lips, real sickly sweet. Then her tongue touched mine, and my heart started beating real fast. I could tell where all my blood was pumping to. Hopefully it wasn’t as obvious to her as it was to me. But then she laid back on the grass and pulled me down on top of her, so there was no way I could hide it. I mean, it was pretty much poking her in the thigh and saying, ‘Hi, wanna play?’ 

I definitely haven’t experienced that personally! Hopefully that will convince those with doubts that I have an imagination. 🙂

To my writer-readers, do you have this same problem? Do people assume your fiction is based on real life? (I’m assuming this is only relevant to contemporary writers, but if you have any stories about people asking if your fantasy fiction is based on reality, I’d love to hear them!)



Filed under Creativity, Tangled, Writing, Writing style

28 responses to “Is this novel autobiographical?

  1. alberta ross

    Um – I keep getting asked -or told quite often that a character is obviously me – not but they won’t believe.

  2. Oh yes. My WIP is the first realistic story I’ve written, usually I write paranormal or sci fi. My story is completely fictional but I’ve used my own experiences to fill it out. It is only my story in the same way everything I’ve ever written is — without everything I’ve done or experienced in my life, I wouldn’t have anything to draw on.

    • Absolutely, Wen. All of our stories are part of us and tell a little bit of our own story, whether that’s a conscious choice on our part or not. There are certainly little snippets and scenes here and there that have been plucked directly from my life in Tangled, but the vast majority is pure fiction. 🙂

      • Exactly. After all, WE are the human beings writing the story, there has to be something of us in there. How could there not be? Of course, that doesn’t make it non-fiction or autobiographical, but it makes it legitimately our own voice and our own stories. If our own lives didn’t impact on our stories at least a bit, then we’d only need one storyteller to satisfy the world.

  3. I mostly write fantasy/sci-fi, but I’ve written two contemporary books and no one has ever accused me of writing my life story. I think everyone who knows me even the tiniest bit will realize that I’m not writing me. One of my best friends did tell me that she could see a lot of me in one of them–I think she meant a lot of my heart, not my personality, because goodness knows that the MC was my complete opposite.

    Obviously, all writers draw from personal experiences in some way, shape, or form when we write. (Not talking about “this happened to me” but we know what it is to feel happy or pain, and that can come out in a character, even if it’s a completely different situation.) I think it would be very frustrating if people didn’t seem to believe you weren’t writing your story.

    • I think you’ve identified part of the reason people do assume Tangled is my life story – because it’s not markedly different to my own life. There are enough similarities for them to assume that it must all be mine. But considering the hell I put my poor characters through, I’m glad that the majority of it isn’t based on my experiences! 🙂

  4. Yes, I have gotten that as well…my WIP is all fiction, but a real-life situation inspired me to write it. I let a classmate from high school take a look at the first few pages and she assumed that my MC was me…I can only gather until friends and family read the WHOLE story, they’re gonna think what they want. if I wanted to write my memoir, I would’ve just done it, not hidden it under a fiction label.

  5. I worried about this before I started on my current WIP (contemporary YA) since I borrowed from my parental situation for my MCs estranged father and single parent home but her parents are most definitely not mine and likewise she isn’t me. Luckily (or not) I’m not positive this is the novel that’s going to get me published so I don’t have to worry just yet about making explanations!
    – Sophia.

    • Family relationships are one (of many) areas where Ceara, my main female character, differs from me. I’m confident that once people dig past the surface level, it will be quite obvious that she is an individual in her own right, and not a carbon copy of yours truly. Hopefully that will be the same in your case – and I’ve got my fingers for you that your publishing prediction is wrong! 🙂

  6. Vicki Tremper

    I love your example – really made me laugh at a moment when I needed that, so thanks! As another woman, I have never experienced what you described either. Kudos for setting them all straight!

  7. laradunning

    I have just the oppostie problem. I have been working on a fantasy novel for the past couple of years. When people ask what I am writing I tell them a mythic fantasy and vampire series. Quite a few of them say you should write stories about your time in Alaska. This is where I have to smile and nod, not show me grinding my teeth and say, I plan to one of these days, but one thing at a time in between my day job.

    • Hehehe, yes that is almost the opposite of my issue, isn’t it Laura?

      Those wretched day jobs, they get in the way of everything! In that instance, our issue is one and the same. 🙂

  8. Oh great voice in that snippet, Cally! I’ve gotten that too, from some of my betas. One of my stories was about an awkward teen who’d been bullied and no self-esteem, and anyone who knows me knows that’s not me at all. I guess it’s hard for some to know where the story comes from if we haven’t experienced it ourselves. As writers we know we can assume the character without it being about us as the writer.

    • Thanks, PK. Glad you liked it! And yes, you’re right. It makes sense for people to assume fiction is based on reality, especially if it’s written in a heartfelt manner. 🙂

  9. I can understand how frustrating it must be for you. And (*chortles*) given what you said before your snippet, I was starting to think there was some lesbian action going on (before the obvious guy bit!) – guess I just assumed that the MC was a girl because people thought it was based on you 😉

    I haven’t had anyone suggest that my book is about me or based on my life, which I’m glad, because it’s Horror and contains quite a few killing scenes 🙂



    • Tee-hee-hee. Yes, an understandable misunderstanding. Perhaps I should mention that I have two POV characters – one of whom is female. She’s the character that people assume is based on me. But that snippet opportunity was too much fun to pass up! 🙂

  10. Hahahahahahaaar! “Hi, wanna play?” I’m sorry, I found that quite funny 😉

  11. It must be frustrating to have people do that!

    I’ve never had someone think I was telling a story about myself–but I usually say “It’s Science Fiction” when people ask me about my writing.

  12. It is annoying when people think our fiction is thinly disguised nonfiction. If that were true, we wouldn’t have many novels in us. Pieces of me, places, scenes make their way into my stories. But they’re not THE story. They’re not the heart of my story.

  13. Yup. People ask.
    Loved your snippet. Made me smile.
    Just keep writing!

  14. I know it is frustrating, but try to remain positive. Your imagination and creativity will flow and you will make yourself proud no matter what any ones opinions are. I try not to take people too seriously when I talk about my writing. Just keep doing what you are doing and things will turn out fine. At least you talk about yours. I don’t. I just think it is simpler not too. And if someday I am published then they can pick up my book to see what it is about. lol Best wishes.

  15. Pingback: Location: truth or fiction? | Cally Jackson Writes

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