Writers of fiction are advised not to take a true story, change a few details, and try to pass it off as fiction. This is something beginners often do, and the problem is that it never reads like fiction.
People who write memoirs tend to have a somewhat different set of skills and more interesting lives than the rest of us. That’s why no one reads memoirs about Joe Smith, his 9-5 job in accounting, his 2.4 kids, picket fence, and friendly dog. Unless a meteor crashes down in the middle of his bedroom at 2:41 a.m. That, we’d read.
But writers often will pluck a detail from real life and build a story around that. Sometimes we hear conversations that spark something or see someone who makes us think, “What if that person…?” or sometimes there was an event from our lives that made us feel something, and those feelings end up in the story.
That’s what it means when they say, “Write what you know,” by the way. It doesn’t mean that you should only write about suburbia, or that one job you had at Wal-mart. It means that you draw from an emotional experience to create a story that feels rich and alive. Readers can tell if something’s too made up, and those are often the stories that go splat.
Emilie is inspired by something true, even though the events in the story are complete fiction. When I was 12, I ended up with this scarf. I’m not sure how. My grandparents sold antiques, so I’m sure I got the scarf out of a box lot or something; I collected anything with butterflies back then. For some reason, I started taking this scarf to school, named her Emilie, and it became a thing. Boys tried to steal her and tie her to the flagpole because I was (am) short, and it was probably hilarious to watch me struggle to get my scarf back.
That same year, I wrote my first novel. It was about a mad scientist who shared my name, and her assistant, who shared my best friend’s name. The best friend was the nice one but ended up luring unsuspecting boys (who happened to share names with the scarf/flagpole boys) to their untimely demise. The mad scientist was ruthless and mean with a secret soft spot, and she had a sidekick who was just as awful as she was: a scarf named Emilie.
If you read the story, you’ll see where I mixed the reality with fiction to make a better story than anything that actually happened to me. Either way, I hope you enjoy Emilie, published online at On The Premises. She’s been a loyal friend and deserves all the love in the world.