Friday, December 16, 2011

Real-Life Fiction

by Scott Rhoades

If you've ever been in a writing group or taken a creative writing class, you've no doubt listened to a writer fight against suggestions for change to a fact-based piece of fiction on the grounds that "That's what really happened." This is one of the drawbacks to turning real life into fiction. Fiction has certain requirements, and real life often does not fit. There's story structure, characters, conflict, all those things we know about.

If you want to base a story on a real event, you need to be ready to invent new characters for the sake of the story, combine others, change events, play loose with facts, make up dialogue, and cut out real events and characters who do not move the story forward, no matter how important they were to the actual real-life story. There could also be legal implications when you put real people into your stories, exactly as they really are.

There can also be problems when you write about something you are very close to. The way you and your spouse got together (or split up) means a lot to you and your spouse. Keep things exactly as they were if you're writing for yourself. But people who are not so close to the real-life story will not love reading a fictionalized account unless it meets the requirements of a good story, no matter how touching and poignant the real thing was.

I highly recommend Robin Hemley's book, Turning Life Into Fiction, for anybody who wants to write a story based on real life, whether it's your own life, somebody's you know, or somebody who lived long ago.

By all means, go ahead and base a story on real life. We all do it to some degree. Just make sure you put the reader and the story first, not the events that inspired the story, if you want it to be an enjoyable read for people who aren't as close to the things that really happened as you are.

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