Please welcome guest writer Sam Russell with a post about writing fiction based on fact.
Let’s dispel a myth: you don’t have to write what you know. However, you need to know what you write. Fiction is neither real nor unreal; it exists between places of factual certainty and the avenues of an author’s imagination.
The first thing you need to know about writing fiction, whatever the genre, is that you must get your facts right. Those tidbits of information lend fiction its authenticity, so it’s essential that you do them justice. A reader will only believe a lie for as long as it holds some truth, and those truths have to be accurate.
But how do you do it? How do you take the everyday and draw a new existence from it? How do you write fiction based on facts?
You need two tools at your command before you begin: experience (personal, professional, or both) and the ability to research.
Armed with these, you can then pick any number of methods from the following list to make your fiction come alive in a reader’s hands.
- Become aware of the world around you. Stop right now and keep still. What do you hear, see, smell, and feel? What do you taste? Take note of what jumps out at you. This will help you build believable scenery to act as a backdrop for your story.
- Eavesdrop. Every writer does it, so don’t feel bad.
- Watch people. Writers do that too, so you are once again released from guilt.
- Watch yourself. Indulge in your own private senses and thoughts. Why not build a character based on your own personal traits or the person you’d like to be?
- Keep observational records of the above. These can be kept in physical notebooks, on scraps of paper or sticky notes, in digital files – wherever. Just write them down.
- Become obsessed with something you know nothing about. If your character loves drinking posh tea, learn all you can about tea. Your character would have that knowledge, so you need to know it too!
- Read as much as you can on everything that interests you and also some subjects that bore you.
- While reading, whether it be fiction or non-fiction (especially non-fiction), take the occasional note about something that catches your interest. Research further and find out how much is true – you’ll soon find that a lot of fiction is based on factual evidence.
- When conducting research, use books more than the Internet, but don’t be frightened to get a leg-up from Wikipedia first. It’s a great place to start but a terrible and limited place to remain.
- Gather facts, information, and experiences and link them together into a loose version of the story you want to write.
- Fictionalize the personal stuff, encoding and encrypting it until only you know the secrets held within. This means making the experience universal – that is, relatable for everyone – and removing any actual names, places, and sensitive details.
- Be specific. If you’re going to write about a spider’s blood, write about how it’s not red like mammal blood because of the presence of hemocyanin, which, when oxidized, turns blue. It’s these small but true facts that, when littered through your fiction, make the reader sit up and think, this is real.
- Don’t let facts and research get in the way of the story. They are not the story. They are conduits of information that give the story realism, lungs that breathe life on the page. You’re writing fiction, so it’s okay to include the odd non-factual detail if it makes the story flow better.
Every writer has a different way of using personal experiences and research to their advantage. Sometimes it seems like there’s no right or wrong way to do it. But there is a wrong way and that’s being dishonest in your writing, with your reader, and yourself. It’s changing the name Hannah to Anna. Frankly, it is being lazy with the material you have at your disposal.
With so much out there and in yourself, you need not fear being dull. The most ordinary fact, that bumblebees fly, can be made extraordinary if you observe their flight and learn more about it.
Look around and tell me: what real-life event or fact can you take and write into fiction? Share in the comments.
About the Author: Sam Russell is the genuine fictitious article and knows his way around turning reality into fiction and fiction into reality. He writes short stories, is working on his first novel, and blogs for the GKBC Writer Academy.