Using Your Real Life in Fiction
Today my newest novel, The Knowledge, goes on sale. (Yeah, that’s me in the photo, taken in the same era in which The Knowledge is set.)
You can order The Knowledge right here in a premium “French flap” trade paperback edition not available anywhere else. Also in eBook or an eBook-plus-paperback bundle. There’s a special Holiday Bonus available too.
The Knowledge is my (real-life) writer’s coming-of-age story. I’m the protagonist. The internal story is all true.
The Knowledge takes place in New York City in 1974, when I was driving a cab and struggling to get my first novel published. The story is also, metaphorically, the origin tale of The War of Art. It’s my real-life passage from getting my ass kicked by Resistance to beginning to come to grips with my own demons of self-destruction and self-sabotage.
Which brings us back to my real-life All Is Lost Moment.
What is an All Is Lost moment anyway?
Watch any Hollywood movie. The All Is Lost moment will come around Minute 75, somewhere near the start of Act Three.
In the All Is Lost Moment, the hero is as far away from his or her objective as it is possible to be.
In the first Rocky, for example, Rocky’s moment comes when he leaves Adrian at home and travels by himself, the night before the Big Fight, to the arena in which he will face the heavyweight champ. Standing there, seeing the boxing ring, the huge posters of him and Apollo Creed … the full gravity of the event hits him. Rocky realizes he has no chance to win.
In Silver Linings Playbook, the All Is Lost Moment comes for Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) immediately after the climactic dance contest, when the man she loves, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), walks away from her and crosses the dance arena to whisper some secret communication to his ex-wife Nikki, whom he’s been trying to get back together with for the whole movie.
You and I have All Is Lost Moments in our real lives too.
The Knowledge is about mine.
In fiction and in real life, an All Is Lost Moment is hopefully followed by an Epiphanal Moment.
In the Epiphanal Moment, the protagonist makes a decision or takes a stand, often driven my desperation, that propels him or her into the climax of the story.
The Knowledge is about my real All Is Lost Moment and my real Epiphanal Moment. I can still name them both and date them down to the hour.
It was those moments (fictionalized of course) that turned me from a wannabe writer to a real one.
I say “fictionalized” because one of the lessons that writing The Knowledge taught me is you gotta make the internal external.
You, the writer, have to make the real bigger than real.
Real as real doesn’t work.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to do a series of posts on the subject of using your real life in fiction.
I’ll use examples from The Knowledge.
I’ll tell you what was true and what was made up. And why I made up what I made up.
We’ll get into why a writer uses his or her own life as material. Is this a good idea? What could possibly go wrong?
And we’ll explore the counterintuitive link between the real and the fictional. How can it be that the fictional is realer than the real?
One last note:
As a Holiday bonus for the first 500 who order The Knowledge paperback-and-eBook bundle, we’re throwing in The War of Art eBook for free.
Why? Because in some crazy way each book is the alternative version of the other. The War of Art came directly out of the events of The Knowledge, and The Knowledge is the fictionalized real-life story of the origin of The War of Art.
Monthly Live Q&A
Join the 2020 Mastermind with Steven Pressfield and get access to his monthly live Q&A along with 12 new titles.