Creative Writing Tips #1: Substitution

There are a lot of differences between an autobiography and a work of fiction. That being said, one of the creative writing tips I can share is the substitution of your own life into your own fictional work can be invaluable. By including details, emotions, locations, skills and characters based on your own life, you can elevate your boring story or script to both interesting and believable levels.

People are generally pretty self-conscious. Writers are often a little less so but they are often under so much scrutiny that it is hard to be revealing of themselves. I took a few fiction writing classes in college and it was always interesting to see the autobiographical denials.

“Well, that character isn’t me!"

At first, it seems silly that you would feel a need to defend your own persona from the potential barbs of your readers. But think about it for a second. We live in a very accusatory society. There are tabloids and gossip websites; we can track people’s every move with the Facebook news feed and Twitter. Hell, you can immediately comment on someone’s change in relationship status on Facebook. The information you put out is being judged constantly.

And to all of that I say…who cares?

Seriously, who cares? I know that you may have reason to be self-conscious, but in my opinion it really doesn’t matter. All great writers have made sacrifices. If you have material you can draw from or even risqué material that does not involve you, then one of your sacrifices will have to be your self-consciousness.

When it comes to being motivated, your friends can potentially be a poison to getting your creative work done. It is no different with the peer pressure or self-consciousness of your work.

“Dude, did that really happen to you? That’s gross! Nobody wants to read that!"

It would feel awful to hear that phrase after pouring your heart into one of your works. And here is why you should ignore it.

Your friend is not a publisher. Your friend is not a world-renowned author. Your friend is probably not in your target audience. (In fact, he sounds kind of like a douchebag.)

If you can sacrifice your self-consciousness and not worry about what your “friends" think, you will open yourself up to so much potential material.

But then, what to do with that material?

Let’s take a look at one of my favorite shows: Six Feet Under.

Alan Ball, the creator was asked to come up with a concept behind a family and their funeral home shortly after winning an Academy Award for American Beauty. He said that something just clicked when he heard the idea.

CAUTION: Spoilers below if you plan to watch "Six Feet Under." I will let you know when the spoilers are completed.

Alan Ball’s life was extremely shaped by the death of his sister in a car accident. He used a death in a car accident as the inciting incident for the entire series. Mr. Ball is both a gay male and an activist for the gay community. He used this knowledge and perspective to create aspects of the two characters David and Keith and the other homosexual people with whom they interact. In several DVD commentaries, Alan Ball refers to the character of Claire as having a lot of his personal qualities. In the pilot episode alone he uses a personal story of a childhood toy and a habit of peeling glue off of his hands to add depth and action to Claire’s character.

END of spoilers – Go watch “Six Feet Under" already :) !

How you decide to apply your substitution is up to you. Whether it be a story for a character monologue or a way a bad guy likes to dress, you can add a new dimension to the pieces you write.

Your life and your experiences are your own and you can choose to use them however you see fit. Happy substituting!

Related Articles to Creative Writing Tips #1: Substitution
Free Creative Writing Prompts #2: Love
Free Creative Writing Prompts from the Heart, Part 1
Creative Writing Exercises #2: Relaxation

Done with "Creative Writing Tips #1: Substitution"?Go back to "Creative Writing Tips"

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Written by Bryan Cohen

Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on and Facebook.
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