Jonathan Meres: 5 Tips for Writing from Experience
They say, ‘write what you know.’ (Whoever they are. But that’s a different story. And, quite possibly, a different blog.)
It doesn’t matter how ordinary, or seemingly mundane a memory is, you can still write about it
Well, I don’t know what it’s like to live with a dragon. Or a unicorn, or a wizard, or a vampire, for that matter. But I do know what it’s like to live with three boys, because I have three sons. Which is precisely why there are three brothers in my World of Norm series. Norm likes mountain biking; my boys and I like mountain biking. Norm and his brothers say stuff and do stuff. My sons say stuff and do stuff.
But in my latest book, Mint Choc Chip at the Market Café, I do something I’ve not really done before. I go way back, to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. OK, maybe not quite that far back. But the inspiration for this particular story comes from my own childhood. Back then, my dad had a market stall, selling fabric for people to make their own clothes. In fact, he had the stall for over 50 years! I know. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? But I can clearly remember accompanying him at weekends and during school holidays. It was quite a drive, to get there from where we lived. I used to help unload the car and set up. And when I wasn’t helping him (and, more than likely, making an absolute nuisance of myself) I’d go off, exploring the rest of the market. Just like my central character, nine-year-old Priya, does…
So, here are my top tips to help you use your own experience when you're writing stories:
Embrace the small stuff
It doesn’t matter how ordinary or seemingly mundane a memory or experience is, you can still write about it. In fact, the more ordinary and mundane, the better, I’d say. Even the tiniest little incident can snowball and escalate into something completely unexpected. So, don’t always go for the obvious. It’s not all about exciting escapades and swashbuckling adventures. Although, having said that, if your mum and dad happen to be pirates, go for it. And bearing that in mind...
Look at things from a different point of view from your own
Take a real-life incident. Something that has actually happened to you. No matter how normal, or boring, or uninteresting you might think it is. Happy or sad. Good or bad. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. (As they say.) Now write about it. Not from your own point of view, but from someone else’s. In other words, write in the 3rd person, not in the 1st person. This will help you to be more objective about it. In other words, you’ll be able to view it from the outside, looking in. You could even describe the incident in the style of a newspaper article, or blog.
Write the way you want
If you’re stuck for ideas and can’t think what to write, why not talk to someone?
Don’t worry what other people are going to think when they read it. Write for yourself. The whole point is that this is your story, not theirs. Your experience, not theirs. No one is going to argue or take issue with you about it. They can’t just Google it to see if you got the facts right because there’s no right or wrong way of doing this. If you say it happened that way, it happened that way.
You don't need to be 100% faithful to what happened
It’s fine to use a little bit of artistic license here and there. In other words: don’t be afraid to occasionally embellish and exaggerate, for dramatic purposes. Traditional storytellers do that all the time. Stories evolve and change over the years. They’re like recipes. A recipe doesn’t just have one ingredient. If it did, it wouldn’t be a recipe. So, take a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Mix it all up. Have a little taste. Not quite right? Have another go. Still not right? Start again. Who cares?
Talk to someone else
In Mint Choc Chip at The Market Café, Priya loves talking to Nana-ji and hearing her stories about growing up in Mumbai. So, if you’re stuck for ideas and can’t think what to write, why not talk to someone? It doesn’t have to be a family member. It could be a friend. Or your friend’s mum or dad. It doesn’t matter. It might just trigger a memory of your own and set you on your way. What you actually choose to do with that memory? Well, that’s entirely up to you.
We have 3 signed copies of Mint Choc Chip at the Market Cafe to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer the question below. The competition closes on Friday December 1st 2017 at 5pm. All entrants must reside in the UK.
Question: what is the name of Jonathan's famous book series featuring Norm and his brothers?
Email your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mint Choc Chip at the Market Cafe by Jonathan Meres is out now, published by Barrington Stoke (£6.99).
Keen young scribblers can check out other tips from established authors in our Young Writers blog series. If you're looking for inspiring resources and case studies to help you plan creative writing projects in the classroom, why not have a browse through our resources section?
We have resource for various books by Jonathan - check them out here.