Basing stories on real lives? Who knew that could be done?

fictionAs snippets of creative wisdom go, “write what you know” has decided merit. In fact, its veracity has become a bit of a source of fascination for me. Fascination because it actually works.

As I have mentioned before I am a very inept hand when it comes to writing fiction. Earlier attempts in the genre have come across, after a very few pages, as, what is the critical word here? Oh, right, ‘dorky’.

My people never seem real, to me at least. Indeed, not only do they seem unreal, but I find them uninteresting. Now, if the writer finds his characters lacking in interest it’s difficult to consider that a reader might be enchanted. And not only are they uninteresting (to me) but they are remarkably awkward and facile (even the name I choose are rarely interesting – not a Holden Caulfield in the lot, for example – and they also come to chillingly resemble ‘me’, even if a roman-a-clef is not only unintended but to be avoided at all costs.

And my females (and it is so difficult for a male to convey a realistic female, despite how much I adore females) invariably become sort of warped sexual fantasy figures of my own devising. Might have worked for Hemingway but doesn’t for me. Pretty tits do not translate into a three-dimensional individual with wants and needs of her own. My girls, quite simply, do not come alive.

Consequently, I have for years relegated myself to non-fiction writing. Studies of social issues, sociological spoofs, whimsical histories as pertain to my own story, and so forth. Yes, they all sit in my computer as manuscripts (as yet; I remain optimistic) unpublished. Maybe someday.

But a while ago I turned whatever talent I have back in the direction of fiction. And as I have confessed before that while I read voluminously, I rarely read fiction. And in so doing I asked myself, does fiction have to be genuine ‘fiction’ composed of made-up people? Of course it doesn’t. Was the aforementioned Holden Caulfield an ‘invention’ of Salinger’s? No, he was a pastiche of real people. John Cheever was notorious for using (and some say abusing) members of his own family in his brilliant short-stories. And so it goes.

I told a tale to a friend that involved something that had happened to me. It was quite simply how I had fallen in love with a photograph of a young female who, many years later, became my second wife. My friend encouraged me to write about it as a story and to write other short-stories in that sort of vein.

Well, bless my friend, not only did I make the attempt but she was also prepared to vet what I had written and offer opinion and even editing hints. What a godsend for me. It encouraged me to continue in that vein and run the story right though to completion.

I began a second story which is based loosely on the tale of my maternal grandparents and the interconnecting piece was how my grandfather had fallen for a photo of my grandmother and how he traveled from Canada to England to meet with the photo’s subject back in the early years of the 20th century.

As I say, these tales are ‘fiction’ but they are based on real people and real incidents as templates. And knowing the real stories has enabled me to put elements into place rather than pure fabrication.

Wow, fiction based on truth. Who knew?

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9 responses to “Basing stories on real lives? Who knew that could be done?

  1. Bravo! Don’t you love those aha moments? Perhaps one day you’ll share the stories with us.

  2. Makes perfect sense. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is considered to be based on real people. And it is considered by some to be a perfect novel. On the other hand, if everyone did this, we would not have been on Mars with Ray Bradbury or come to know the monsters Dracula and Frankenstein. Good luck with your writing!

  3. Darling Daughter was taking a creative writing class in university a few years ago and the assignment was to write a character study, but in the form of a short story. She wracked her brains but just couldn’t create a character with which she was happy. So she wrote a true story about an actual incident involving one of her grandmothers and one of her aunts. When she presented it in class, the most prevalent comment was that the situation was rather contrived and really wasn’t at all believable. All she could do was to smile and nod, because it was an absolutely true story!

    • Like the movie said: “Some people can’t handle the truth!” And sometimes the truth can be pretty bizarre. Thanks for the example that proves the point, dear sister.

  4. I have a feeling you’ve got your groove back, Ian. I couldn’t be happier. Keep working.

  5. Success awaits your arrival. I will be buying you a nice leather day timer to note your book tour dates. Sunshine is good nectar to get the creative juices flowing. Getter done. 🙂

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