Writers are often asked if they use parts of their real life in their stories. I don’t know if other people do, but for me the answer to that question is both yes and no. I don’t use events or observations verbatim, but I often do base a character’s reaction to a set of circumstances off of how I have reacted (or observed someone react) to a similar situation.
For example, I once had a work situation which was inundated with office politicking, cliques, backbiting, and quite probably a gang mentality that could be described as bullying under our new sensitivity to it. I am using their ability to isolate people they disliked, and how I felt being at the receiving end of it, as a jumping off point for how Society treats my scandalous heroine and how she in turn deals with that treatment. So that situation I went through has become part of the fabric of a story–but I guarantee any of those people would not recognize their behaviors in my story, even if they knew I had written it, because what I am taking is the feeling that situation created, not the actual situation.
Another angle to my current story that is drawing from real life is the unreliability of memory. There have been several articles on reason.com lately about the fallibilty of eyewitness testimony in a criminal justice situation, but why wouldn’t the same apply to the circumstances of normal life? Especially in a historical period where photography did not exist to remind people what their lost loved ones looked like. So articles like this (if you don’t want to read the whole thing, the pertinent point is that “memory degrades up to 50% after 1 month”) are at the back of my mind when I have my heroine mistake a stranger for a man she has not seen for several years.
Those are just two examples of the synthesis of experience and creativity that I use to ground what happens in the story in the real world without directly recreating an event from my life. For every character and every story there are probably a hundred different moments of my real life being bent through a prism to become part of my written landscape. And that is as it should be. I am trying to tell a story that never actually happened, not a story that isn’t true.