The Drawbacks of Experience

*Trigger Warning: Brief mentions of suicide and slight exploration of a depressive mindset.*

This week I have been taking writing classes in order to give myself space from my work, so I have fresh eyes when I return to it. During the week, I came across a video about writing from personal experience, the crux of the video being: “no matter how similar you and your character may be, you are not your character, and your character is going to react differently than you would, even if put in the exact same situation.” This reminded me of something that happened while writing the climax of my book.

The climax of the novel is Charlie’s suicide attempt, told through Sam’s eyes as she tries to help the situation. While writing this scene, I didn’t just draw from my own experiences; I transposed them into the book. I went through conversations I’d had with my friends, the helpline operator, and the authorities and I copied it into my book almost word for word. To me, replicating my reactions seemed like the most natural way to express the emotions i felt in those moments, and Sam’s personality is similar enough to mine, that her perspective worked. The problem came when I realized that Charlie wasn’t reacting how really would.

arrows box business chalk
Photo by Pixabay on

Charlie is a very complicated character.  She is both similar and different from my friend. They both like being with people and making them happy but Charlie, being on a sports team, is more social and team-oriented. Charlie develops depression, and she begins to isolate and focus on the more negative aspects of life. She concludes that life is meaningless and purposeless. I based her transformation on the one I observed in my friend’s life and, Charlie’s decline is evenly paced throughout the book as she steadily loses hope.

Because Charlie’s personality becomes very cynical and somewhat self-absorbed during her depression, the events that take place during and after her suicide attempt don’t make sense in the story. She comes off as too optimistic and positive so soon after a very dark episode. She is too hopeful. The reason for that lies in the setup of the real-life events.

In my own life, for various reasons, I had not been in direct contact with my depressed friend for an extended period of time before the event my climax is based on. I was kept up-to-date by mutual friends, and I knew what was happening, but I had no influence. The night of the attempt, a group of our friends was involved in trying to help; I called the helpline, another friend called the police, and we all worked together to obtain the best possible outcome. After the authorities became involved, the people who had direct contact stepped back. Our friend was in the care of professionals, and there was little more we could do. It was suggested for at least one person stay in contact with our friend, and I took the opportunity to break the silence and talk with them. Because of our previous distance, our conversation was a reunion that offered mutual joy and solace as well as giving both members things to talk about outside of the situation. We were able to reconnect, and I was able to show my support even though I was far away. That reassurance was comforting to my friend, and it helped me to accept the situation for what it was. It kept us both open-minded and positive.

yellow plush toy
Photo by Pixabay on

In the novel, I took steps to keep Sam absent from Charlie’s side on that night, but because of the differences between my situation and theirs, it doesn’t make sense for Charlie to react as my friend did. Charlie is a very relational person. She connects with people deeply, quickly and separation can come across as a betrayal to her. Given her situation and her fear at the time, it makes sense for her to accept Sam’s presence, but she would not have the same feelings about it as my friend did; thus she wouldn’t react in the same way. Because Charlie’s reactions would be different, so would Sam’s, thereby making the scene different.

Writing from experience is very personal and difficult. It is vulnerable to talk about things that happened to you, and it is emotionally draining to spend days and weeks reliving things that were hard to go through the first time. It is a rewarding experience and can help the writer process what happened and learn more about themselves and the situation, all while offering the reader insight and understanding into what can happen and how to deal with it, but it is important to remember: “you are not your character.” When I wrote the climax scene, I was my character, and as a result, the scene doesn’t make sense in the progression of the book. The scene takes things in a different direction than Sam and Charlie would have, thus breaking their characters. I will need to rewrite that scene. I will always have that experience in the way I lived it, and now I will need to write it in the way that my characters will live it. The idea is daunting but not impossible. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the basics.

Thank you for listening to my story, and I hope all can learn from the things that I am learning along the way.

activity adventure backlit backpack
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on

Recently, I have been toying with the idea of posting my playlist on my blog to show you all what songs I listened to while writing my book. It is an edited version of the one I created while I was living through the situation and I have tailored it so that different songs emphasize a character’s perspective or characterization at different points in the book.
Are you interested in reading about my playlist?
Please let me know in the comments below or via other communication methods.

Thank you for your support.

Project Status: Pre-editing phase. My focus is on taking classes and removing my mindset from the novel before I dive into the editing stage.

Author: katiefortinwrites

A writer for 8 years now, I'm here to continue my endeavors and to share my journey and experiences as I work through my latest project: a book about depression, hope and overcoming. I hope you stay and laugh and cry with me as we go down this road together. Who knows what beauty we'll find there?

4 thoughts on “The Drawbacks of Experience”

  1. Katie, I understand how emotionally hard it is to write about your personal feelings in a book for everyone to read, think about, and perhaps gossip about. This is why I am such an avid believer in all 12 step programs. In these recovery rooms anonymity is sacred. Even more so is what is said by individuals in the room, no gossip. This creates a safe environment to express all your emotions, where no one judges or gives advice. I am able to choose with whom I share my life. I can see that when writing a book for all to see, this is a dangerous place to put yourself. I admire your courage.


  2. I imagine writing that scene at first, the way you experienced it, may have helped you process your memories further for yourself. Then you had them arrayed in front of you to look straight at and make conscious choices to override. I suspect that’s what I would have wanted to do. I wonder if that’s the standard preferred way (if there is such a thing) to draw on personal experience and still create compelling fiction. It sure sounds better to me than repressing your memories as you write about your fictional character and letting them hijack you unexpectedly.

    And yes, I would love to hear about your playlist! You have this knack of finding inspiring music. It would be lovely someday to see how the various songs fit with stages of your story.


  3. So much has been written on this topic: the overlapping of the personal into the universal…. think it is a fact of writing authentically, to raise your personal take onto a higher level. The composition can be difficult to realize but also rewarding.
    luvya girl….


  4. You know your characters so well and see the direction they would take. Your own experiences give you a deeper understanding of the situation. Both are powerful tools to help you create this novel. This is always a learning process and you are on an amazing journey of discovery.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: