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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

How Personal Experience Drives Bestselling Fiction

So you've decided to go ahead and take the plunge into writing your first novel. At the onset for first-time novelists, the process of writing can be overwhelming. How do you create realistic characters? How do you determine their motivation? How do you know the best setting to use? How do you develop the plot? How do you outline it?

You can read any one (or two or twelve) of the thousands of "how to write bestselling fiction" books available on the market, and it is likely that each one will give you advice that varies as much as the individual authors themselves. Some will suggest involved worksheets to delineate place and character, while others will focus more on plot development than the elements of plot.

The truth is, there really is no "right way" to write a novel. Sure, you can get some useful tips from authors who have found success in their writing and the agents who have represented those authors, but at the end of the day, there isn't an easy formula to follow to make sure your book is picked up by a publisher. Even when you self-publish, there is no guarantee that your book will sell beyond the basic obligatory purchases made by friends, family and acquaintances. If the story is great and the characters are well developed, you have a fighting chance at securing a publishing deal; but even then, a publisher might not be looking for that exact type of book.

Considering all of the above, let's focus on a piece of advice that is found across the board in almost every major "how to write bestselling fiction" book on the market—namely, writing what you know and from your own experience. The reason for focusing on this one is pretty straightforward: if your odds of success are already slim, at best, why would you want to toil away at writing something that requires a lot of additional research on your end?

Even if you're writing from your own knowledge base and experience, the amount of time and research required to write a bestselling fiction novel is overwhelming. Add to that a topic that is out of your range of expertise, and you're looking at double the effort and double the time. With that in mind, consider taking some of the following approaches to determining your novel's characters, setting and plotline given your unique experiences and expertise.

Base your characters off of real people

One trait that most bestselling fiction has is true-to-life characters. These characters come across as "real", allowing the reader to suspend disbelief even more when delving into the plot. The easiest way to make your characters "real" and "true to life" is to observe others closely for the sake of character building. Observe their movements, the way they interact with others, and their unique mannerisms that make them who they are. You can then build character traits based off of these observations.

Make a list of your unique abilities or knowledge base that isn't "common"

Do you ride motorcycles? Do you play football? Do you know a foreign language? Write these skillsets down and be as thorough as possible. Take an inventory of the things you know well that not everyone else knows. After doing this, look over your entries and consider all of the possible ways you can use that knowledge. Perhaps one of your characters rides a motorcycle? Or perhaps one has an old football injury that causes a limp? When you take this approach when writing, you will include details and information that most people wouldn't know unless they shared the same skillset, and this adds to the level of reality you need to keep your readers' attention and lead them into a suspension of disbelief.

Consider settings that you are familiar with

Setting is important, and depending on what genre you are writing in, the use of setting could make or break the story. That being said, if your novel's setting is based on a real location or multiple real locations, you will need to include a lot of details of these locations over the course of the story.

There are details about cities and towns that only a person who lives there would know. This type of insider information is crucial in making your novel come to life—the more "real" information you can include about setting, the more authentic the story becomes for your reader. And if you'd prefer to give your "real" town a fictional name, that's a great way to do it, as well. William Faulkner took this same approach with his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, which was a fictional county based upon and inspired by Lafayette County, Mississippi, the author's own home. His use of unique details that only an insider would know was part of the appeal to his storytelling. When you read Faulkner, you almost feel like you're in a real Mississippi town because of his use of real locations mixed into fiction.

Blend your characters' history into real history

Blending your characters' history into real history adds a layer of authenticity to their past. Since creating characters with a past is one of the steps to giving them more depth, intermingling that past with real historical events works to round out your characters and allow the reader to believe that maybe… just maybe… that character exists in real life.

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