Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Writing What You Know.

Writing What You Know.
Nora Raleigh Baskin, author of 10 books for young readers.

Nora Raleigh Baskin's latest YA novel, Subway Love, will be published by Candlewick Press in May.

Writing Workshop: Writers on Writing | 60second RecapFlannery O’Connor said, “Anyone who has survived childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Well, I sure hope so, because all of my novels are based on my authentic childhood and young adult experiences.

I began writing about my life when I was still a teenager, using memories of my earlier life and actual events that were unfolding as I lived them. Along the way I’ve learned a few things, although much remains the same: Be real. Be brave.

When I am trying to write well, I dare myself to go deeply into that place in my brain where feelings of loss, of fear, of joy, of hope, still reside. It is from that place that my best language emerges. It is when I try to “fake it” that I fall short.

However, there is a difference between the truth of the facts as you remember them and writing a good story. In order to use your true life, you need to be able to let it go. Story (with a capital S) comes first, which means that what really happened might not belong in this particular story.

Here are some of the "rules" that have helped me boil down my life into story—fact into fiction. Fiction can often be more powerful than non-fiction precisely because it is a distilled, finely-tuned point of light. Look for that light.

1. Find the single sentence.

What is this story about? Get rid of every character and every scene that does not answer to that one thread.

2. Write in the specific, not the universal.

It will be the experience of this one character and the salient, distinct, unique details of his or her life, which, if done well, will speak to a larger human experience. It doesn’t work the other way around.

3. Self-pity does not make for a good story.

You need a certain amount of distance in order to see a story clearly, to be insightful. At the same time, drama comes from deeply-felt emotional experiences. Find the balance. (Giving your characters new, fictional names can help you distance yourself from fact.)

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4. Write a beginning, middle, end.

Climax and resolution. Cause and effect. There is a difference between anecdote and Story. True life might not have a clear story arc, but your story needs to—if you want anyone to read it, that is.

5. “Yeah? So what?”

Just because something happened to you doesn’t make it interesting. What did you learn from the experience? What was lost? What was gained? How did you grow or change?

6. Emotional truth before literal truth.

You will most likely need to alter the exact events in order to tell this “one” story. Don’t worry: What you don’t use you can save for another story. That’s the good part.

7. Don’t preach.

Don’t teach a lesson. Don’t try to make someone believe what you believe. Be true to “Story” and let the truth of it be revealed.

8. The writer is supposed to raise questions, make people think and feel.

It is not your job to answer all those questions. (This relates to number seven.)

9. And lastly, but maybe most importantly: Take risks.

Expose yourself. Don’t be afraid to show your character (or yourself, cleverly disguised as a fictional character) as flawed, naked, struggling. You’ll know when you’ve achieved this if you are crying, laughing, or squirming as you type. And the payoff comes when your reader cries, laughs, and squirms.

Good luck. Be real. Be brave.

Nora Raleigh Baskin is the author of ten novels for young readers. She has also published short stories and personal narrative essays which have appeared in The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and The Writer. Ms. Baskin has won both critical acclaim and awards for her fiction: In 2001, Publishers Weekly named her one of its "Flying Start" emerging stars. In 2010, she received the ALA Schneider Family award for her novel, Anything But Typical. Ms. Baskin teaches creative writing at the Gotham Writers' Workshop, the Writers' Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and at schools and libraries across the country. Her website is www.norabaskin.com.

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  • milica

    i love this book some people should read this book


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