Truth or Fiction?

How much autobiography do you knowingly put in your fiction?

I recently let my old pal Mak read my WIP because I thought she might be amused by the scenes I lifted straight from our high school experience.

When I’m reading, sometimes a scene hits me as so true—or so weird—I have to wonder if it really happened. Here is one from HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford:

I turned a corner and came to a small church. There was a headstone near the path leading to the church’s wooden doors. I stepped closer to read the headstone. It said FOR THE UNICORN CHILD.

That is so cool, I thought. What a funky town this was. I imagined a neighborhood Legend of the Unicorn Child, about a one-horned little boy who’d died tragically, hit by a car or shot by a mugger or maybe poisoned by lawn pesticides. The story of the Unicorn Child was so real to these people they’d erected a stone in his memory.

Then I read it again. The stone didn’t say FOR THE UNICORN CHILD. It said FOR THE UNBORN CHILD.

I swear Ms. Standiford or someone she knows really thought there was a unicorn child buried in Baltimore. If not, I’m impressed by writers who make this stuff up.

I want to hear quotes from your favorite books that stand out as so starkly true you think it *had* to have happened to the author in real life. Either that or confess and tell me which parts in your novels are real. I want to know.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Truth or Fiction?

  1. Hi Kimberly,

    You are right! I didn’t think there was a unicorn child buried in Baltimore but I did misread a headstone in exactly this way. It was in Tivoli, NY, though, not Baltimore. I thought it was funny and jotted it down and it came in handy a year or so later.

    Nice catch!
    –Natalie

    • Kim Reid

      The first comment of the day is THE Natalie Standiford? WOW! Thanks for stopping by. I love getting the story behind the story. I need to keep a notebook handy for oddities such as these in my own writing. And in case you haven’t heard this a hundred times from fans today—I loved HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT.

  2. Jenilyn

    I had one of my characters get “kissed” by a camel and my neighbor, when I asked her advice on the novel, asked me who it had happened to. And, yes, I did know a guy on a study abroad who had a camel kiss him. Except it wasn’t so much a kiss as an open mouthed slobbery sort of thing. So there you go.

    I also used to work with Becca Fitzpatrick at an alternative high school and some of the things in Hush, Hush were straight out of our experiences there.

    • Kim Reid

      I’m behind the times—haven’t read HUSH, HUSH yet, but when I do I will try to picture you in some of those scenes. 🙂

  3. Valynne

    Everything in my book is real. My condolences to Miya.

  4. I read a scene in “13 reasons why” by Jay Asher and thought that it was so believable it had to be real! (Two guys slipping on the wet grass when going to impress some girls.) How pleasantly surprised I was when I read Jay’s “extras” in the back and realized it was based off of one of his true stories!

    • Kim Reid

      I’m glad to see that the best of “fiction” writers use the truth. Maybe writing is about observing and remembering more than anything.

  5. Hmm, the scene with the dragon in my mid-grade is true. Or not, but the bully is based on a kid from my childhood. Names have been changed to protect the guilty, and he wasn’t quite so mean.

    I also have a character based on an old neighbor who never talked or waved. He only wore gray sweat pants. Everyday for five years. Except once when he wore blue sweat pants. It was a special occasion, but since he never talked to us I just had to assume it was his birthday and this was his way to live it up.

  6. Sara Bolton

    The bit that always comes to mind is from Emily’s The Way He Lived … I had to look it up, cuz I knew I’d never get it right:

    “It was 9:10 this morning when I got to the medical center where Cathy works, and the meteorologist on the waiting room television said it was nearing 91 degrees. I wished the temperature would reach 91 before the clock reached 9:20. If it stayed in the 9:10s and the temperature made it to 91, then the temperature would be 10 percent of the time. Puzzles like that fascinate me.”

    • Kim Reid

      Thank you for looking that up! I thought of it too, but I lent my copy of Emily’s book out and didn’t want to paraphrase it.