Story ideas come from real life. Even when we are inventing new worlds and new dimensions, the events we set forth in words follow recognizable logic and have their origin in lived experiences.
Many writers feel drawn to subjects that are obviously autobiographical. As a memoirist, I think that’s fine. But over time that kind of writing can create a very deep groove. Here’s a suggestion for venturing out of it.
If you feel that the character you are writing about is too familiar, stop and make a list of descriptive phrases about yourself. Then pick a feature and change it. Make that new trait central to your character.
For example, I love music, but due to a few poor decisions along the way I cannot with any honesty call myself a musician. The phrase not musical showed up in my list. So I tried my hand at writing about a violinist. As sometimes happens, this character began to take charge of his story. I was pleased to see that he had the wisdom to decide differently when faced with pressures that might have pulled his career off track.
Encouraged, I tried again, this time writing from the perspective of the opposite gender. That seemed to turn out even better than the first try.
These exercises were my first step in returning to the craft of fiction, which I had set aside for many years while doing another kind of writing. And I believe in their own way they contain as much truth as anything else.
Stephen Gallup is the author of a memoir, What About the Boy? A Father's Pledge to His Disabled Son (2011). He blogs at fatherspledge.com.