Skip to main content


February 21, 2018

Writing Yourself into the Story --- Guest Post by Kimberly Reid, Author of #PRETTYBOY MUST DIE

Posted by Jessica

Have you ever struggled with writing about your own life in one of your stories? Have no fear, because Kimberly Reid, author of #PRETTYBOY MUST DIE, a hot new spy thriller, has a lot of helpful tips and tricks for writing yourself into a story successfully and as tastefully as you can. With advice spanning from telling it straight to fictionalizing the truth, she shares tons of great information about weaving your own experiences into your next novel --- including some details about how she wrote #PRETTYBOY MUST DIE! Interested in learning more? Read this post!

Some of your best writing can happen when you’re the story. Words come easily because you know the subject matter so well. Characters are multidimensional because you’ve lived aspects of their lives. Dialogue rings true because you’ve heard the words spoken. Your setting is vivid because you’ve drawn it with details that could only be written from experience.

If you’re aiming for publication, there are some drawbacks to writing yourself into the story. Your experiences may be limited if you’re a young writer at the start of your career, which may show in your character development and world-building. Unless you’re a former Disney star or a 13-year-old chess prodigy, you may not have a big enough story to sell. And if you put too much of yourself on the page, you risk feeling exposed.

There are a few ways you can add yourself to the story, and I’ve used them all. Decide which degree of truth works for your story and your life.

Tell It Straight. This is writing all truth, all the time. The manuscript that landed my agent and book deal was NO PLACE SAFE, a memoir.  When I was thirteen, my police detective mom worked on a serial murder investigation. The victims were children so it was a scary two years for kids in my city, a time made even more difficult by a mutual distrust between the community and the police, and even within the community itself. My memoir was a coming-of-age story framed by that famous case and the social unrest it brought to light. Last year, it was optioned for television by ABC. I go back-and-forth between being sooo excited (I hung out with one of my favorite actresses, Regina King, who will play my mom) to being sooo anxious because, if the TV show does happen, I’ll probably feel even more exposed than when the book came out.

The Takeaway: If you write memoir and aren’t famous, it helps to frame your own story within a larger one, whether it’s a well-known event or a social issue in which you have first-hand experience. But before you try getting published, know your comfort level with exposing your life, and that of your loved ones.

Fictionalize the Truth. When I made the shift to YA fiction, again I mined my life for a story. In high school, I thought I’d make an excellent detective if I didn’t have to deal with English papers, basketball practice and my part-time job. In the LANGDON PREP mystery series, I used my experience to create the teen sleuth I’d always wanted to be. My lead character is the fifteen-year-old daughter of a police detective who is forever snooping into her mother’s case files, offering her two cents and solving crimes herself. That was me in tenth grade. Except for the last part, which is complete fiction.

The Takeaway: Start from what you know, but don’t limit yourself to that. Fictionalizing the truth allows you to be more creative while also limiting your exposure. No one will know which scenes were pulled from real life.

Use Personal Experience to Inform Your Story. This happens in nearly every story a writer creates. Even when writing fantasy, your world-building will be informed by your real world and how you move through it. In my latest book, a YA spy thriller called #PRETTYBOY MUST DIE, I stretched beyond my real world more than in previous books. It’s my first story told from a male point of view. That was a challenge because I didn’t want to simply write a boy from my female perspective. I wanted to be the boy, handle conflict the way I think a man would, deal with insecurities the way he might. Also, I have never been a spy. But I still brought some personal experience to the story. I’ve interacted with men my whole life, so I just flipped the script on those interactions. In college, I studied national security policy, learning to analyze the data spies collect (oh, if only I’d gone to actual spy school!). My main character is a hacker, and I used my experience in telecom as a starting place for my hacking research. And of course, I used what I’ve learned from my mom about criminal investigation.

The Takeaway: Even if “what you know” ends up being just a fraction of what goes into your manuscript, let it guide you in researching and building a story that goes far beyond your world and hopefully, take your reader along for the ride.