Writing Reality Into Fiction

Someone once said, “Real life makes for bad fiction.”

Hearing that, it is curious and confusing at the same time. If you are like me, perhaps you have heard that most writers, no matter how outlandish the stories they wrote were, base their writings on their real life experiences.

Many authors base their stories on true experiences. Or, at least, base some characters on people that they knew, even themselves. That’s how most writers get inspiration from. What writer doesn’t use reality to research into their fictional work?

“Fact is stranger than fiction,” or so the saying goes. Many stories that are based on true stories become extraordinary novels that people find relatable and understandable. This is the reason it is puzzling to hear the opposite of what we thought was true.

Writing reality into fiction is a well-documented and encouraged behavior for authors, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s a skill that needs honing to the point where there are guides and lessons are the most common thing that comes up when you search “writing realty into fiction.”

The biggest problem you might face is writing everything into your story. That’s not how you should incorporate real-life into your stories. Not everything that has happened is appropriate for a story to tell others and you need to cherry-pick things to make sure it retains your audience’s attention.

If you want to learn more about writing from your experiences, here’s how I do it as an example: The Sea is Quiet is based on just the feeling of standing by the sea at five in the morning. Sitting on the bench, watching the sun rise and listening to the sea… It inspired me and I used it in my writing. You can do that easily, too. Go outside, look around, sit a while. Take inspiration from that, no matter how minor, and use it as a backdrop to your writing.

On the other side, But I Didn’t is based on a true person, a true location, but inspired by a true event. This means the actual events dictated in the story didn’t actually happen. You can do this by thinking of a person that inspires you the most. Collect all your memories of a certain event and combine it into a piece of writing that summarizes what you feel about it.

If you want to pose a true story as a fictional one, A Cat’s Paw and I Want to Believe, may be appropriate examples for you. Although it might not be the most efficient way to incorporate real life into fiction, it is what got me into the rhythm of it. I just took a real life event that happened to me and imposed narration into it, which expanded beyond the actual situation.

Real life makes for bad fiction. It’s up to the author to make things interesting and relatable.

If you want to do something similar, I suggest you not tell things as it is. There are many things about the real life that is boring: the waiting, the pauses, the waffling… It makes for bad fiction, which is what the person meant by, “real life makes for bad fiction” because it does.

Although telling things as it is, with little to no sensationalism, may be a success to some, altering certain aspects of the inspiration will also lead to a hit story. There are also stories that are based on true events, with the main character being an actual person, but some things are fictionalized to make it more suitable for consumers.

Some real life stories are boring to just tell it as it. Movies that are supposed to be a retelling of true events change or even completely ignore said true events just to make things seem more dramatic, in order to keep the audience’s attention and interest.

Obviously, there are right and wrong things that the above examples have done. One might say that Fruitvale Station is too boring and drags on a little too long, or that the fictional aspects of the main character’s life skews the audience’s perception of him. Or that Bohemian Rhapsody is downright disrespectful to the band, Queen.

Adapting real life events and/or experiences into your fictional story is a tricky situation. It requires a delicate balance of telling it as it is or completely fabricating a certain thing.

Still, all of them have a story to tell and some of them have a message to deliver. What better way to hammer that into the audience’s mind with something that strikes them to their core? After all, art imitates life, and nothing is more relatable than every-day life.

There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?

Pam Halpert, The Office “Finale”

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