| Don’t Write Alone
Free Write Writing Autofiction
In this writing prompt from instructor Frances Badalamenti, take something from your own life and fictionalize from there.
I am often asked the question, “What is autofiction?” and it is sometimes my job to show people how to write it.
Let’s start with what autofiction is: It’s autobiographical fiction. In other words, you take something from your own life—that’s where you start—and you fictionalize from there. The next question that I often get is, “How does autofiction differ from say, memoir or creative nonfiction?” Well, it’s as close as you can get to those two styles of writing (I don’t like to use the term “genre”), and it can, at times, read like creative nonfiction. The difference is that we use fictional devices in autofiction, and memoir and creative nonfiction need to be truthful, or as close as you can get to truthful. In autofiction, we take that truth, and we turn it into fiction. A writer of autofiction often closes the aperture of what we call narrative distance; the writing is often very intimate, and you find yourself wondering if it is true or not.
If you want to try it out, see my prompt below.
If you’re not familiar with autofiction and want to get a proper sense of what it feels like, read some stories from Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women or anything from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series. You could read novels from Ben Lerner, Edouard Louis, or Sheila Heti novels. Or you can just have a go at it yourself!
Write a journal entry. Crack open a notebook or open a blank doc on your computer. Sit for a few moments before you start and see what memory or idea comes to you. You are the protagonist. Try to include at least one other person—another character—but not more than two, keeping it simple to start. If something hard or traumatizing comes up, push it away and start over. This should be a memory, a snapshot from your life, but nothing loaded with too much emotion. These will be your characters, and this will be your scene.
Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Try to get into a flow state; do not overthink and do not edit.
You will now turn your journal entry into story. If you wrote in a notebook, now you could put this material into a doc on your computer (or continue in the notebook if that feels better, no rules). Take your protagonist (you) and change the perspective to third person. Turn yourself into a character. Make some minor changes, such as: the place, the time period, the season. If you have a supporting character(s), feel free to change things about them as well.
You are now turning on your fiction brain.
Write for about thirty minutes. Have fun and try not to overthink!
Take what you wrote in part two and turn your protagonist back into first person, but keep all the other details you changed intact (the place, the time, the season). Close the gap with the narrative distance, dial down that aperture. In the end, you can decide if you want your story/excerpt to remain in first or third person—this is the writer’s creative choice in the end.
Now this is autofiction.
If you enjoyed this exercise, check out Frances’ upcoming autofiction workshop that begins this January. (Class is currently full, but you can click the “Notify Me” button to be added to the waitlist and to be informed when Fraces relists.)