How Much of Themselves Do Authors Put in Their Fiction?


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While studying literature in college, I had to take two courses in literary theory, which involved endless debates about how much the author’s life should affect one’s reading of a text. One of the most predominant schools of thought (at least in the halls of academia) is that one should not look at the goals of the author or autobiographical issues when interpreting a work.

But if you go to an author event, or read just about any author interview, inevitably questions arise as to both the author’s intentions and how much of their own life events inspired the work.

Fiction writer Nellie Hermann (@NellieGHerman) reflects on the curious border between fiction and nonfiction in her recent essay at Glimmer Train:

Many people have asked me about the truth of my work—strangers as well as people I have known for years. I don’t deny the aspects of what I have written that are based on my experiences, but I wonder at our desire to know the answers to these kinds of questions, and at what level the answers matter. If I have done my job as a writer, I think, a piece of my writing can stand outside of questions of truth, for it can achieve a kind of truth that is its own.

Read Hermann’s entire essay.

Also this month at Glimmer Train:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Michael LaRoccaTop Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 08-11-2016 | The Author ChroniclesPhillipCarol BodensteinerHelena Halme Recent comment authors

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Before I started writing seriously, I assumed authors put much more of themselves into their fiction than I do now. I think sometimes we can’t conceive of the imagination, the capacity to invent, that some people have until we tap into our own a bit more.


[…] Why are we so curious about authors' own lives in relation to their books, and the ways that they do (or don't) bring their own stories into their work?  […]

J Mary Masters

In some cases more than the author might be willing to admit publicly!

Helena Halme

During my MA in Creative writing some 10 years ago, writing the story of your life was somewhat frowned upon, even though one of the most often uttered pieces of advice was, ‘Write what you know’. I could never marry the two strands of thinking. How are you supposed to write about what you know, but not be allowed to use your life as inspiration? My the third novel, ‘The Englishman’, draws heavily on my own life, and funnily enough it’s been the most popular book I’ve published. Even if you don’t go the whole way, and use your life… Read more »

Carol Bodensteiner

My life experience informs my writing. The stories I write are not about me, per se, but some of the problems my characters puzzle through may be issues I’ve struggled with myself. Not all, but some. Each person writes for their own reasons, but one of the reasons I write is to make sense of the world as I see it.


For me there is always an element of the author in any work. Its hard to imagine any character or event being written about doesn’t have a basis in the authors life. I may be wrong but if i look back over my writing i can always pick out a person or incident that will have helped shape what i’m putting down on paper. what is imagination if not a reaction to ones surroundings?


[…] Hermann delves into how much of themselves authors put into their fiction, while Melissa Donovan examines the often-uneasy intersection of creative writing, art, and […]

Michael LaRocca

I know that, when I was a teenager, I read Nietzche’s words to the effect that looking for the autobiographical in the writing is to miss the larger point that the author’s trying to make. I’ve always felt that way about it. I met my first and finest mentor back then, too. He told me to put more of myself into my work, but I didn’t believe him for at least 30 years. I’ve almost never put myself and my own life into the skeleton of my story — that’s getting dangerously close to Peggy Sue territory — but for… Read more »