Thursday, March 06, 2008

Is it fiction or is it Memorex?

Snark aside, this is actually a halfway decent primer on how to mine your own experiences for your writing... and what not to do. Just remember... if it's fictional, say so...
4 Find the right formula

This is trickier than it may seem as it involves more than just a checklist of misery culminating in a triumph over adversity. Take "Worthless" by Marilyn Hardy, which is being published by Virgin Books this month. On paper it would seem to tick all the right boxes. Northern working-class upbringing. Tick. Father died young. Tick. Abusive mum. Tick. Attempted suicide. Tick. Beaten up. Tick. Gruelling divorce. Tick. Single mum. Tick. Heart attack. Stroke. Eventual happiness. Tick. Yet without reading a word you can instinctively tell that this book will end up on the remainder pile within weeks. Somehow it's trying just too hard to pull the heartstrings.

5 Play to your strengths

Rather than aiming for catch-all, generalised misery, you are much better off concentrating on a unique selling point and mining it for all its worth. But you have to choose carefully. Drink, drugs, eating disorders and child abuse are all very passe and nothing you say could possibly raise a reader's heartbeat. A terminal disease might work but as, by definition, you will still be alive at the time of writing there isn't the tension of an unhappy ending. Depression is this year's model with offerings from Sally Brampton and others, but it's hard to predict what will be in vogue next year. There could be a market for something on obsessive compulsive disorder but you would be better off not trying out attention deficit disorder. No one would believe you if you finished it.

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