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Writing Your Own Stories

When you first start writing speculative fiction, I think there’s a natural tendency to churn out imperfect copies of the stories you always loved reading. That’s a fine way to improve your craft, but it also passes over your biggest source of interesting, unique material—your own life. This happens for a variety of reasons. You might be afraid of committing things you think of as personal to paper. You might mistakenly think your life is boring.

“Bidding War” did not feel like a personal story when I wrote it, but re-reading it a few years later is like looking at a snapshot of my life in December 2014.

I was still in La Puebla de Cazalla, Spain, but about to head back home to Grande Prairie, Canada, for Christmas break. The end of the calendar year usually triggers a frantic writing rush for me, and that year I chose to dump all my unused ideas into a single story. The Aztec flute, the dreamspace advertising, the autofac and the cartoon soldiers: they all show up on pretty much the first page.

But what keeps the story ticking isn’t the concepts, none of which are much explored. Rather I suspect it’s the voice, the crash-course in andaluz profanity, and the universal experience (which always seems personal at the time) of pining after someone who doesn’t want you anymore. All three of those things I took from my life, not from masters of the genre.

  1. The voice, foul-mouthed and slightly frantic, is probably the closest I’ve ever hewn to how I think in my own head, which made the writing flow fast and easy.
  2. The Esp2Eng back-and-forth, meanwhile, was the direct product of my rapidly-expanding Spanish vocabulary. A couple of my friends in La Puebla had recently written me up a whole list of Andalusian slang, including plenty of wildly creative profanity. Que te folle una pez polla is a real thing.
  3. And the basic plotline—trying to win someone back over after fucking things up entirely—was an easy pull from my own life. There are no real heroics to be had here. It’s just someone a bit delusional and a bit sad slowly and ungracefully moving on.

None of those three things scream “science fiction,” but they gave the story its own particular flavor—without which I suspect it wouldn’t have had much success. The protagonist bumming around in Grande Prairie, chatting with someone in Spain, and trying, in a misguided way, to get their shit together, is now eerily familiar.

But the neat thing about injecting the personal into your writing is that other people might recognize themselves, too. So don’t shy away from using your life as material. Write the stories that nobody else would be able to write in quite the same way. Even if they make you look like a bit of an idiot.


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