You’ve all heard the advice to write what you know—but wait a minute. What about fiction? Isn’t that all made up stuff? Not something that actually happened. So how can you know that?
In my case, after a few unsuccessful writing years, I decided to give that age old writing advice a try and write what I know. I set my story in a small town like the little rural town where I grew up. I changed the town’s name and shifted buildings as needed, but the setting was one I knew well. That town was just hanging around in my memory, waiting for me to drop my characters down onto the streets.
I came up with characters that fit in my familiar setting, so I knew them well from meeting people like them on my hometown’s streets. I could imagine them squeezing the tomatoes at the grocery store or sitting next to me on a church pew singing “Amazing Grace.” My characters weren’t real people I’d known, but they had some of the same goals and dreams. The same problems and irritations.
I mined my memory of the sixties for my Heart of Hollyhill series. Then for another series, I went back to a time before I was born. I couldn’t claim those memories, but I could claim the stories. All my life, I had heard my mother and my aunts talk about growing up during the Great Depression. Their memories somehow fused into mine, not because I had experienced any of the actual happenings but because I had so often strolled down their memory lanes with them. So I pulled those memories out of my recollection chamber and invented a little town called Rosey Corner. Once I moved my characters into the setting I’d borrowed from Mom’s stories, it was as if they’d lived there forever.
It’s great to invent exciting new worlds or set your stories in times and places that have no relation to anything you’ve ever experienced. But it’s also good to reach back in your memory and pull out places and events so familiar it’s like going home to a place you know like the back of your hand. If you drop in characters from your heart and let life happen to them, you might just have a springboard to a great story.
Ann H. Gabhart, the author of several bestselling novels, has been called a storyteller, not a bad thing for
somebody who grew up dreaming of being a writer. She keeps her keyboard warm on a farm in Kentucky. She and her husband have three children and nine grandchildren. To find out more about Ann’s books visitwww.AnnHGabhart.com. Also check out her blog, One Writer’s Journal or join her on Facebook.