Friday, May 10, 2013

Writing from Personal Experience

In 1969, my sister was hit by a car. She was only five-years-old when it happened. I was playing in the sandbox and witnessed the accident, but my memories of it are foggy. What I remember most is seeing a body hit the passenger side door. At first, I thought someone was falling out of the car. My mind didn't connect the dots. I had no idea it was Robin.

Somehow I ran to the scene of the accident, but I don't remember doing so, only that I was there. Recently I asked my mom what she remembered. Her memories are cloudy too, but she told me that Robin took a couple of steps afterward and then collapsed. I experienced the accident emotionally and not logically. It was too horrific for my mind to process the details. All I'm left with is feelings.

The overwhelming emotion that I remember from that time in my life is guilt. Robin had a collapsed lung, a concussion, and a broken femur bone. She spent weeks in the hospital and then came home in a body cast. I felt guilty because I could run and jump and play, while Robin had to lay flat on her back and use a bedpan. She was as helpless as a newborn baby.

I decided to write a middle grade novel about the accident. Though I was actually eight at the time it happened, I made my protagonist twelve. I decided to really give her something to be guilty about. In the fictionalized account, Sarah is supposed to be babysitting and is reading when the accident happens.

Much of the story is true: the injuries, the details about living with someone in a body cast, the fact that my dad actually bought a pony and brought it home in the back of a car, but as with my first novel, most of the plot is made up. What's true are the emotions.

Have you ever tried writing fiction based on a personal experience? If so, what challenges did you encounter?


  1. This really speaks to me. In a way all my stories have *something* to do with my experience, but rarely a direct connection easily discerned by another. It so happened that my published MG is more directly connected to my biography, though it is still fictional.
    I believe all writers try to digest and process their lives when they tell stories.
    I found your account here^ of your sister's accident both a poignant and apropos dissection of the process.

  2. Hi Mirka, It only makes sense that all of our life experiences find their way into our writing, but when I try explaining to people who know my real life story that I write to show emotional truth and don't much care what really happened, they often shake their heads. :)