Let’s be real. No one gets through this life unscathed. Everyone experiences their share of trauma. You’ve probably said, “I should write a book,” more times than you can count. And memoir can be powerful. But fictionalizing your past may be a better option.
My upcoming debut, Worth It (Wild Ink May of 2024) is exactly that—a fictionalized retelling of my experience as an impoverished pregnant teen in an abusive relationship.
Writing it not only helped me confront my past trauma, but it also helped me turn that trauma into a tool to help others.
So keep reading for why and how to fictionalize your past trauma into a novel worth writing and ultimately worth reading.
1. It Helps You Overcome It
Even if your past trauma isn’t something you think about daily, it probably is lingering in your subconscious waiting to jump front and center when you least expect it.
I started my debut as memoir. But then I got to thinking, what if I could rewrite that period of my life? What would that look like? And not that the ugly parts needed to go away, because we often grow during our darkest times. But what if…what if…what if…
The urge to create struck hard. I couldn’t write fast enough. And the more I wrote, the more distant the trauma became. It was no longer my past, it was my character’s and I was hell-bent on saving her as quickly as possible.
2. You Get Your Happily Ever After
Once I gave myself creative liberty, happily ever after for my main character was possible. The bad guy got what he deserved and the protagonist emerged victorious.
And in my authentic past, that mostly was true. But to fictionalize it meant I could double down on those tropes. I could make the bad guy badder, and the good girl better. I could write a plot where justice prevailed, and my main character reclaimed her innocence.
3. You Don’t Have to Worry About Defamation
Your past trauma involves real human beings—people that may have learned from their past and changed. Good people make bad choices. Good people often hurt others. And even if the people in your past haven’t changed, smearing them in memoir can be risky and emotional damaging to all involved.
Fictionalizing your past and the people in it, gives you the freedom to explore your trauma, without defaming others. Readers won’t know where the lines between reality and fiction blur.
By no means am I criticizing authors who choses memoir over fiction. I applaud anyone who has been brave enough to tackle trauma head-on with their raw and real story. It just may not be for everyone. Fiction is simply another option.
4. You Can Capitalize on the Elements of Good Story Telling
Your past told as memoir may not follow a proper story structure and the people in it may not be recognizable tropes, risking reader engagement.
When you fictionalize your past, you can incorporate the elements of a good story from structure, to pacing, to plotting, to setting to characterization, and more.
5. You Can Use Your Story to Inspire Others
Your trauma inspired you to write for a reason. That reason may be to shed light on a social injustice or other wrongdoing.
There are readers who need to hear your story. Potential readers right now experiencing what you did. They need to read your story to know how to overcome their own trauma. They need to know they are not alone. You have the power to give them that.
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