A few days ago, I tweeted some quotes, and one particularly left me in awe: “We are surrounded by stories, find yours and write them.” That was just it. It seemed easier with the eye, but the heart wouldn’t find it easy particularly, for writers who are not familiar with the aesthetics, and nuances of the prose-fiction genre.
In response, an excellent friend and budding writer, Oluchi sent a DM: “I have so many happenings around me, but I don’t know how to pen them down.” From her words, I realized that for many fiction writers; the problem wasn’t with writing: to pen the first draft of their story but, turning many chunks of personal experiences into fiction.
Fiction, they say is similar to reality through the tool of verisimilitude. Like realism, in resembling reality is where reality is birthed. It is the reality of reality. The former ‘reality’ is the writing-proper and commitment to the technicalities of the novel genre while the latter is the ‘experience(s)’ which serve as a body of knowledge and conduit for fictive experiments, improvisations, and manifestations.
Turning reality into fiction poses a few choices to writers: [on truism] how true should it be? How much of my personal life should I incorporate? How do I build dialogue, develop plots and create those off-the-shelf characters which most times come like magic for the prominent writers? More so, you are often faced with many other incongruent decisions. Sometimes, you feel like leaving your characters to decide for themselves and walk into their Waterloo — if that is their reward — but there you are; you feel too pathetic, pathos consuming you like wildfire and allow your own decision to prevail. Well, rightly, the writer is the agency through which characterization and narration manifest.
You can turn your personal experience into fiction by your decision. We all have that hunting past; tempting present and terrifying future we want to put into words, no matter how little: like a flash-fiction. There are experiences with family, sexual priorities, job-hunt, family values, travel significances, rituals, and rhetoric. In this metallic transformation of the cross sub-genre into the well-established genre, certain choices would have to be made on the altar of decisions — How do you negotiate the self and the other? How do you handle the dangling edge of ‘memory’ and ‘loss’? How do you integrate, expunge and melt ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’ and vice versa? How do you draw from autobiographical sources? With all these materials, what do you utilize or leave out? [Like Chimamanda had to decide while writing Half of a Yellow Sun]. How do you imagine popular culture, identity, gender misrepresentations, and performances, etc.? These decisions must be made and provided with an answer even as the writer journeys through the creative writing process. I’d say in most cases; you need to draw from personal experiences. Not all fiction is fiction. It would be good to tell you that behind its lens are other shades of colours.
Every writer, one way or the other draws from personal experiences painted with the canvas and brush of imagination. Let me add that Colleen Grima may not have been able to write Bittersweet without having gone through the tragedy of her brother’s death. Similarly, most writers in the diaspora with their ‘here’ and ‘there,’ ‘return’ and ‘rootedness’ nuances may not have been able to create many of the fine fiction you have read on trans-migration, diaspora and multiculturalism if not for their personal experiences of and with it. The list is endless — Diana Evans, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Buchi Emecheta, Okey Ndibe, Helon Habila, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and many others. I have also written some of my short stories mainly from personal experiences.
It suffices to say that self-realization comes through reasoning and such reasoning is in exploring one's creative juice. Through self-realization and awareness, your next big story can be (re) created. The biggest stories come unexpectedly when your hands are hungry to type in just one more word. It becomes two, three, a hundred, thousand and hey presto, you have a full story length or a novel.
To this end, Melissa Broder, Author of The Pisces — one of the NY Times Bestseller psychological fiction in May 2018 — wrote,
“If everything on the surface stops making sense, all you need to do is to dive deeper.”
So dive deeper, write that fiction now, even if it would cost you to go on a date with your personal experience.