“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily—perhaps not possibly—chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: It is the continuous thread of revelation.” —Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings (Harvard University Press, 1984)
I receive a number of queries from emerging young writers whose novels fall into the category of “semi-autobiographical fiction.” Often, the novel is based on a recent period in the writer’s life, and the narrative follows a predictable linear trajectory. While this makes the story easy for the reader to follow, it can flatten the narrative so it has the momentum of a book report. In turning a real-life event into fiction, the writer is often trapped by a notion of remaining faithful to the story as it unfolded without reflecting on the bigger picture, on the ripple effect of this period or event in the writer’s life. Enter Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, a master class in understanding how we transform what we experience—in her words, “Listening”; Learning to See”; “Finding a Voice”—into great storytelling.
Of course, many writers are subconsciously aware of Welty’s notion of “the continuous thread of revelation.” Still, it’s easy to fall into the trap of hewing to a chronological timeline, so I find it helpful to have her words of wisdom at eye level. For further inspiration on turning fact into fiction, I recommend that writers read her deeply insightful book.
—Renée Zuckerbrot of Massie & McQuilkin