Whenever I hear about how a writer "loosely" based a piece of his or her's fiction on personal experience, I'm perplexed when the author then goes on and on about how many elements from the story actually happened to him or her. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what "loosely based" really means, but when there are specific plot points straight from real life, I wonder what's "loosely based" and what's taken directly from real life.
A prime example of what I'm talking about is found on Cameron Crowe's commentary track for Almost Famous (er, Untitled, as the director's cut is called). At many, many points in the track, Crowe says where most of the story's plot points come from: his own life. From the "Don't do drugs!" line to the near plane crash, these things actually happened in some form or fashion.
Working on my own piece of fiction called When We Were the Kids, I'm now really understanding why that's the case. You definitely write about what you know the best. And I'm also starting to really agree with what a longtime family friend told me at a wedding last year: there is no fiction because all writers base stories off of some kind of real life experience or condition or emotion.
Case in point, over the weekend at a birthday get-together at a local bar, I hit it off with a friend of a friend who plays music. We both seemed to know a lot about pop-punk/post-hardcore from the mid- to late 1990s, and the topic of jamming sometime came up. The deal is, he asked a dealbreaking question: what was my opinion of the Beatles? Since they are the greatest band of all time in my opinion, the deal was apparently off. Whether or not he was actually joking didn't matter: now I had an idea for a character I've been working on in the book.
Even though my book is still in the brainstorming/throw-any-idea-against-the-wall part, I have this one character that, despite being a good overall guy, he just never gets the chance to form his own band. Portions of his story reflect my own personal experience, but so do many of the other characters.
I wondered about how I might feel and think if I never formed a band in high school. Since I've also been in conversations where I hit it off with somebody and never heard from that person again, I crafted a similar scenario for my character. Tinkering with some things, I had something I might definitely use in the final cut: character meets a guy at a party, talks at length about Archers of Loaf, Pavement, and Chavez, plans to jam, gets asked about the Beatles, realizes that the guy's phone number doesn't work, and our character never sees the guy again. Half of that actually happened, while the rest was drawn from previous experiences.
So if I'm ever asked about where the characters come from in When We Were the Kids, I'll say my own personal experience. But I'm not so sure I'll say it's "loosely based" off of my own experience.