Mine Your Life to Write Authentic Fiction

by Theresa Pierce and Carol Baldwin

Have you ever heard the advice, “Write what you know?” What does that mean? Today I share a way I have used my thoughts, feelings, and experiences to inform my middle grade novel, “Up Dunn’s Mountain;” and some tips on mining your life.


My story, “Up Dunn’s Mountain” came from a sincere desire to teach local history; not just the pretty parts but the parts that help us make a personal connection. I got the idea for my story while giving tours of our local national cemetery. Every time I walked up the hill to the mass grave where thousands of soldiers died in captivity, I was silent and somber. The tales begged to be told in a story. 

At the Salisbury National Cemetery, I asked visitors to imagine if their home was suddenly filled at ten times the capacity. I asked, “What would you run out of?” Answers like toilet paper, technology, and beds obviously came from a twenty-first century viewpoint. I always pointed out other shortages such as food, medicine and clean water. 

This thought process led me to imagining what it would be like to be a young person living in Salisbury in the 1860’s.  As I did, a story began to emerge. I visualized trying to live as normally as possible during trying times. I imagined missing school and family get togethers as well as playing safely. The stress of war time would have impacted everyone from rich to poor, much like it has for everyone during the Covid pandemic. Voila! Suddenly I realized that the beauty of fiction writing is you can borrow from real life.

The story of Up’s Dunn Mountain chronicles a young girl’s journey from one part of the state to another. My personal move from the eastern part of North Carolina to the Piedmont –and how I felt displaced–is now reflected in my manuscript.

When I first moved, I learned new phrases. One might think that everyone talked the same in North Carolina, but I quickly learned that my language was based predominately on the Queen’s English while my new friends spoke a language based on Scotch-Irish and German. This made me feel like an outsider. Over time, I began to understand and adjust. 

Like my character, I was lonely for friends and family. I was amazed at how long it took for me to feel at home. I adapted and now cannot imagine living anywhere else.  Bea’s life is reflection of my own. We both learned to adapt to new ways of thinking and living. 

Need help mining your life? Pick a few of these questions. What need/experience/fear or value could you give to a character in your story?


  1. What motivates you?
  2. What handicaps you? How do you feel about that handicap? (Think physical, emotional, or something from your personal history.)
  3. What do you want more than anything else in the world? How do you feel about obtaining it? Not obtaining it?
  4. What do you need? What do you fear?
  5. What was the worse time you ever spent with a friend? Why?
  6. Who has let you down in your life?
  7. What rocks your world?
  8. What is your core value?
  9. What has devastated you and why? 
  10. What are your core boundaries of right and wrong? How do you feel when they are challenged?


Have you mined your own life experiences to write a story? We’d love to hear your experience. 

And then, let’s all get digging!

2 thoughts on “Mine Your Life to Write Authentic Fiction

  1. Theresa, I love your list. I’m printing it out so I can muse the ideas I need for my mid grade novel.

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