Can personal experience ruin a book?

Right now I’m gonna be talking about…

feelings nothing more than feelings.png

…you have been warned.

So obviously it’s coming up to Valentine’s Day and I’m thinking about *feelings* more, but really what inspired this post was that recently I read a book that I didn’t relate to. Now that’s hardly noteworthy… except that, without going into detail, I had personal experience of the subject matter and really should have related to it.

It got me wondering if personal experience can actually ruin a book. Not in that it might have “too much” of an effect– I will give a story credit for affecting me emotionally and even for taking me to dark places- but when it fails to hit that (sometimes excruciating) mark I will frankly be a bit peeved. When a book holds back on the painful punches, when it simplifies things, when it moralises- I feel a million miles away from it. It’s no good if difficult stories are prettied up for the sake of the audience. And it’s only more noticeable if I can say “no no no, it’s not like that at all”.

That’s not to say every experience is the same- but sometimes the way a character or story is constructed just doesn’t add up. Take Thirteen Reasons Why– a story written to reflect on the motivations of a friend who committed suicide. For me, and others, it missed the mark, because not only did it trivialise the reasons for suicide, it felt like it was ramming a message down my throat and the character’s emotions were way off (to name a few of the thirteen issues I had with it). In short, I just did not find it relatable.

Now none of this is to say that you have to have personal experience to write these difficult or traumatic stories. As someone that likes fantasy I don’t think it should always be “write what you know”- heck if that were the case Harry Potter wouldn’t exist (unless JK Rowling is secretly a boy wizard abused by his relatives). But- and here’s a big BUT- the author *really* needs to have empathy and go to all of the dark places inside the head of someone in a horrible situation- otherwise, what’s the point? If an author can’t write about someone’s struggles, then they should give their protagonist an easy life and be done with it. Don’t ride on the coattails of something difficult for the sake of being *deep and meaningful*- it will only do the issue the author is trying to bring to light a disservice.

Ok, that got a little bit more ranty than I meant it to. But what do you think? Am I the only one that has this problem? Let me know in the comments!