I often come across some variation of the following words at the beginning of a novel:
“This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”
I understand the motive behind such a statement: it reduces the possibility of a legal attack. It’s also B.S. From my limited experience creating characters and worlds, and from what I’ve read about other people’s work that involves the same, works of fiction are sometimes directly, and always indirectly, derived from personal or vicarious experience. How can it be any other way? Robert Greene has a wonderful way of looking at it: “It’s all material.” He means that life and everything that happens within it can be used. Had a teacher with a limp and skewed smile? Save it for later. Can’t forget the cruelty or the generosity of a member of your family? No problem, work it in. Learnt about the intellectual courage or cowardice of a historical figure? Perfect. More raw material.
We can create characters, worlds, institutions, technologies, stories. But none of what we create, none of what we think, is one hundred percent, bona-fide original. And when it comes to novels, the content is only ever part-fiction.