Friday, 8 September 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 10 - How To Turn Your Life Into Fiction

By Helena Halme
Images courtesy of JD Lewis
During my MA in Creative writing some 10 years ago, writing the story of your life was somewhat frowned upon. Yet, one of the most often uttered pieces of advice was to ‘write what you know’. So how can we use our own life as inspiration for a novel?


Get Inspired


Your first task is to do some research into your own life. Yes I know this sounds crazy, but you need to get those creative juices going. Use old photographs or letters to remind yourself of how you felt, and write a short paragraph on the girl/boy in the picture or letter. What was going through his or her mind, what was she or he looking forward to or fearing?

What is the Story You Want to Tell?


It may be obvious what the story you want to tell is. However, a fiction book needs a start and a finish, and a plot. Think of the most significant event in your life, and start thinking about how this event shaped your life. In Doris Lessing’s semi-autobiographical novel, A Proper Marriage, the significant moment is Martha’s realisation that her marriage is a terrible mistake. You could also think how an event could have changed the path you’ve taken if you’d acted differently. Start plotting a scene based on the significant event, changing (if you wish) the conclusion for better or worse, and then write a short scene about it focussing on how you or someone close to you felt. This most significant event is the main plot point of your novel.

Have an Exciting Start

Now you’ve got a plot, make sure you start your novel at an exciting place. What was the most central, critical point of the story? Start there.
In the ‘A Proper Marriage’ we meet Martha when she is at her unhappiest, just as she is deciding to leave her life in colonial Africa behind.
Write a paragraph or two, charting the scene, making sure you get the raw emotion of the characters onto the page. If the central character is you, don’t hold back, just write how you felt, explaining your emotions as if talking to a friendly stranger about your life.

Combine Characters


Do make your characters complicated and interesting. I’m not saying that your life is filled with boring people, but in order to make a story fly, it needs strong characters. Don’t include every real person in the novel. Too many characters are confusing to the reader. They make the story unnecessarily complicated and jarring. Combine a few characters to make them stand out and to increase the pace of the novel. As an exercise think of two people that could be combined into one, complicated character, and include them in a scene.


Write with Confidence


Don’t worry about letting your pen fly when you start writing. Since you know the plot – and the characters – already, writing the novel based on your own life can be very quick. If you decide later to change scenes, subplots or characters, that’s easy. If you don’t worry too much about how truthful – or not – the story is, your writing will become much more fluid and confident.

Helena Halme is a Finnish-born author of six novels. Her best-selling title, The Englishman is based on her own life story of how she met and fell head over heels in love with a Royal Navy Officer at the British Embassy in Helsinki.

Now based in London, Helena is winner of the John Nurmi prize for best thesis on British politics, and a former BBC journalist. Helena currently works as a Writing and Marketing Mentor, is Fellow of CreateThinkDo and Nordic Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors.

Helena writes a regular blog on and can be found on Twitter (@helenahalme), Facebook ( and Instagram (helenahalme). 

Helena’s  book, Write Your Story: How to Turn Your Life into Fiction will be out on 29th November. It is now on a special pre-order price of £1.99 on Amazon.

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