The Component of Personal Experience as Necessary to Writing Good Fiction


Fiction writing is universally defined as that which describes imaginary events and people, but often what makes a work of fiction so powerful is the way that it is rooted in our own understandings of reality. Therefore, the question must be asked as to whether there is always some underlying truth to storytelling, no matter how fabricated it may appear to be. This is not to say that all good writing must arise from actual lived experience, evident in the numerous literary works which are not based on anything of the sort; but is it true that one must first comprehend the world as it really is before trying to translate this into something else entirely?

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, for example, is a semi-autobiographical novel following the fictional character of Esther Greenwood, whose characteristics and experiences often parallel that of Plath’s own life. In the novel, Esther is trying to write a book, but adopts the mentality of: ‘How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or seen anybody die?’ This is ironic both in the embedded narrative of having a character writing a novel within the authors own fictional world, but also in how it may reflect Plath’s own feelings about literature- that good writing is rooted in experience.

            It would be ignorant to claim that all good fiction comes from a place of personal experience, but equally impossible to denounce the significance of empathy and perception when it comes to constructing character and plot. Often, when I read literature, I am struck by how perfectly the author manages to encapsulate my own feelings, when really all they are doing is reflecting the universal human experience one often assumes is witnessed exclusively by them. Perhaps this is where the true talent of writing lies- the ability to portray a person or event in such a way that it feels deliberately derived for a specific audience’s comprehension.

What makes literature so important is its ability to amplify and reflect different perspectives; each individual writer is able to bring something unique and important to a story. Whether this be something they know about because they have experienced it themselves or are interested in because of the content that it is considering, there is always an underlying motive behind fiction writing. It is this motivation which allows us as a society to explore the varying standpoints on the issues in our world today.

In a time where we are constantly receiving information from numerous sources, and never quite knowing which thoughts and feelings are our own and which come from things that we have read, one could argue that all fiction is based on some kind of reality. The power of this phenomenon comes in how we are able to use literature as a reflection of our society, just as we ourselves turn to the literature written before our time to better understand our history.