Almost all of us draw on autobiographical material when writing. This leads to a lot of powerful prose, and probably saves a ton of money in psychiatric bills. But it can also cause major problems with fiction writing, because it can make it hard for the writer to make stuff up. And if you’re not making something up, you’re not making something up, you’re writing a journal entry, which can be beautiful, but it is not a story.
Say you are inspired by your Uncle Louis, a real one of a kind sort of guy who was one of the most colorful figures you ever knew. You always thought you wanted to write about him. He applied for a patent on a copying machine, and he got it. You write up the story, give it to me, and I say, “That’s great that Uncle Louis got the patent, but the story would have more tension if he didn’t get it.”
“But he did get it,” you say.
“Yes,” I say, “but the story would be better if he didn’t.”
“But he did get it. Patent number 3333.”
“Well,” I say, “what if a woman steals his patent then?”
“But he was married to Aunt Irene for 50 years.”
You see where I’m going with this? Keeping the story too tied to Uncle Louis makes it difficult for the writer to use his imagination. It’s locking him into someone else’s story. It’s taking away the author’s power.
What to do? First, think of why Uncle Louis appeals to you. Why do you want to write his story? Is it because you admire his fighting spirit? Can you create a character who has the same fighting spirit but is different than Uncle Louis? Maybe, instead of making your character a little old man, you could make him a young man with red hair. Or, make him into a woman. The key thing is to take ownership of him. He’s no longer your uncle. He’s your character. You can do with him what you want.