Fiction or Non-Fiction: Writing a Novel based on Real People

I recently read a blog post on Pamela Goodfellow‘s (don’t you just love her last name?) blog where an author, Heidi Thomas, discusses her struggle with bringing a real person/true story to life, considering she was a journalist and not a fiction writer. With every word and every sentence that I read, I kept saying to myself, “Yup, I know what she means”, “Yup, that’s so true”, and “Yup, PREACH!”.

My first novel is the prime example of her written struggle. It, too, was the product of real people turned fiction, and I initially had a difficult time putting a little “umph” to the story b/c I wanted to stick with “the truth” or with what really happened. Like Heidi, had I stuck to simply “the truth”, then my characters and storyline would have been cold, boring, and shallow. I have always written fiction; it’s what I know best. Heidi, a journalist by trade, knew she wanted more for her writing. She went as far as to take a fiction writing course where she learned how to give her characters LIFE and EMOTIONS. I love it when she says,

“I learned to show my character’s emotions through her actions and reactions, rather than telling my readers she was angry, or sad, or frustrated.”

And she’s right! This is one of the reasons why fiction novels exist; we need to know and become the characters. To do that, we must feel their emotions, and it’s up to the author to provide that tool for his/her readers.

“I found I had to give myself permission to ‘let go of the truth’ to write a better story, a stronger character.”—Heidi M. Thomas

I had to do the same thing—let go of the truth. By the time I finished my novel (and after 1,000 edits), “the truth” existed no more. My lead character’s name changed from “Aneesa” to “Adrienne”, almost all of the events have no truth to them, fictitious friendships were created, and the ending was concocted from 10 different sources. I may have even used 8 different men to create my final character. Honestly, upon completion of my novel, I felt more at ease, knowing that Adrienne was not me; she is a woman in her own fictitious world—one that I created…from “the truth”.

This is the joy of fiction. Your story can be told from any angle that your alter ego desires; but all good fictions must have imagination and a foundation. My foundation? My own experiences. (Have you even read my brainstorming on my 2nd novel?) While this is a method I have used for my first novel and will use for my second, I think I’m going to put a spin on it for my 3rd. Instead, I’m going to research NEW subjects and expound on them. Hm, I’m tasting a treat already.



One thought on “Fiction or Non-Fiction: Writing a Novel based on Real People

  1. The most important thing I have learned in my writing course is to show action rather than tell. It is so important and I know this as a reader but now I really know it as a writer.

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