Writers Inspired by Their Own Lives or Others

By Pen Cooper

Clipping of an engraving based on daguerreotype of American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).

(Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Edgar Allan Poe is a good example of someone who got his inspirations from actual events that he came across. As a magazine editor, he kept up with all the latest murder trials, events and scandals and used them as a basis for his fiction. Here are just a few examples. In his tale of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Roderick Usher entombs his twin sister Madeline in the cellar of their home, in comparison with real life Usher twins, James Campbell Usher and Agnes Pye Usher, who went insane just like his characters did. After reading about some workmen who found a skeleton in the wall of a church, he writes “The Cask of Amontillado” portraying Fortunato, who ends up being bricked up alive in a catacomb wall for insulting Montressor. Another example is “The Pit and the Pendulum” in 1842 about a torture chamber, in which he probably got his inspiration from the “Inquisition,” where instruments of torture were used to cause a lingering death.

Charles Dickens

A lot of Charles Dickens’ characters in his books can be traced back to his own life as a teenager in London. Bill Sikes in “Oliver Twist” and Jacob Marley in “Scrooge,” are reminiscent of people he knew that lived and/or worked close by to where he lived. It turns out that a trader named William Sykes had a shop on Marylebone Street, where Dickens lived when he was between 17 and 20 years old. A lot of other similarities have been found between the story of Oliver Twist and Dickens home life in London. Then there were two tradesmen by the names of Goodge and Marney that were misers. Those names are highly suspect to be Scrooge and Marley. He also used his own father as one of his characters, Micawber.

Stephen King writing in his study

In his book, The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah, Stephen King wrote himself into the storyline. The story is part of a fantasy series. Stephen King starts out this story as himself writing about characters, Roland the Gunslinger and the Crimson King, who tries to kill Stephen King, the author, to prevent him from finishing the Dark Tower series, because he doesn’t want it to continue. What makes it really eerie is that, in the book, Crimson King tries to kill him in 1999 in an automobile accident; and Stephen King, the real writer, was in a serious accident, also in 1999, when a van hit him and he was seriously injured. Be careful when you write yourself into in a story.  

Bret Easton Ellis

The book that Bret chose to write himself into was Lunar Park, which is a mock memoir of himself. Parts of the book are based on reality and parts of it are totally fictional. In the book, he has an affair and they get married and have a child. Then they move into a haunted house - at least he claims it is haunted but his wife, kids and housekeeper are skeptical because he has a history of drug and alcohol use. Towards the end of the book, it comes out that Robby, his son, may be behind the events making it appear that the house is haunted.

Philip Roth

The novel, “Operation Shylock: A Confession,” was written by Philip Roth about himself on a trip to Israel to attend a murder trial of a war criminal, and then gets caught up in an intelligence mission. While he is there, he searches for an imposter who has taken his identity, having the same facial features as he does, and is like his evil twin, attempting a counter-Zionist attempt to send the Jews back to their nations of exile. Even though this book was declared as a work of fiction by Roth himself, he mentions that it was in his best interests to say so. Interestingly, not only did his fictional character suffer a nervous breakdown, after a bad reaction to a sedative after an operation, but he himself did as well.

These writers, whether they are well-known writers from when we were young or more modern writers of today, they use the same techniques in their writings. Ideas for their stories can come from anyone or anywhere and then they take those ideas and mold them into great stories that we can enjoy for years to come!

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