Inspiration for writers – balancing real life and the imaginary

Inspiration can come from many places.

Many writers draw from life experience to bring life to their characters and stories. When I was writing my first novel, Second Chances, I borrowed bits and pieces from my real life. There is a scene in my book where Rachel is driving in a storm and her car spins out, hitting a gutter. This is something I can relate to, as it has happened to me on two separate occasions (one involving rain, the other involving a gutter).

It’s not only experiences that can be borrowed from real life, but also feelings and emotions. Like Rachel, I also went through a stage where I felt like I’d never find the right man to marry (it was pretty silly seeing as I was only 21 at the time!).

I like catching the train to work as it gives me an opportunity to study people (they probably think I’m creepy). I like to imagine them as characters in my books and create their back story in my head. I went into a comic store with my husband late last year and, rather than standing around looking bored, I took the opportunity to study some of the guys for the character of Steven in my book.

I also seek inspiration from the web. The following photo shows how I pictured the full moon over Sydney Harbour in the final scene of my book with Rachel and Steven. Note: this photo is not my own and I have included a link so you can see the source.

I use these kinds of images to put together a virtual writing journal (which I’ll talk about in another post), and I refer to them frequently as I am writing a scene.

The tricky part in writing a story is getting the right balance between real life and the imaginary. For example, if everything is made up, your story could lack substance. However, if you include too much from real life, you run the risk of your story becoming a weird autobiography. In Second Chances, I think about 10% of the content came from real experiences, feelings and emotions and 90% was based on other forms of inspiration.

It would be great to hear what inspires you in your writing. What do you think is a good balance of real life vs imaginary content?


4 thoughts on “Inspiration for writers – balancing real life and the imaginary

  1. I think it really depends on what you’re writing. Or rather, it becomes more obvious how much you’re drawing from your own life depending on what you’re writing. My first novel is a sci-fi romp through space, so while nothing is overtly taken from my life, people who know me sit down to read it and say “I remember that!” or “Did you base this character off so-and-so?” By contrast, my current literary baby is set in modern day, so I draw more on actual things I’ve done when I write. Even when we write completely from the imagination, our imaginations are still shaped by what has happened to us, so real life still creeps in despite our best efforts to lock it out.

    • I agree with Michelle… real life always manages to creep into the imaginary, to maybe the two aren’t really as distinct as we think.

      On personal experience, how close my story is to my current setting (21st century, female, Australia etc) does have an impact on how easily I let my interests flow into my story though.

      • Thanks ladies for your comments. I agree that it is probably hard to draw a line between real and imaginary, as even our imagination is shaped by things we’ve seen or experienced. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. ‘Write what you know’ as they say, I find when doing just that you write honestly. You don’t have to have the exact experience just an understanding of what it may be like. Imagination helps!!!

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