Telling true stories as a fiction

There can be all sorts of reasons why you may want to tell a true story, but disguise it so no-one would recognise real characters or places. With my family history group, there maybe reasons why the story is told as fiction – or it may just be people in my group want to be creative and use the bones of reality for something creative.

When we were talking about it, these were some of the points which came out – some prompted by me, some arose from our discussion:

Decide what part of the real story you want to use

  • is it the skeleton of the plot
  • is it the characters
  • is it a real setting you want to use as scenery (the most straightforward!!)
  • is it a situation or event or series of event…

Decide on the disguise; if it’s just the bones of something real, there are all sorts of ways you can disguise what inspired you, changing characters, locations, sequence of events

  • if it’s the story of a person, change their details: name (obviously!), gender and age, character (unless the story is dependent on the character – in which case you can change other aspects of them) appearance (of course! But think about ethnicity, religion etc. as well) and their situation, class, family, background, work, fashion/clothes and so on
  • if it’s a personal story about something which happened to you, or you witnessed and were involved in, decide whether you are featuring in it (you did in reality, are you in the story?) – it might make it more difficult to change personal details of other ‘characters’; if you are you! You can, however, change yourself – as in the point above
  • change the time/date/era – bring a Victorian story into the present, change the swinging 60’s to the glam-rock 80’s, change the war in a war story, put the present back into the 90’s; summer to winter, spring and beginnings can change to autumn and endings; a CND protest can be an anti-something else demonstration
  • change the location from anywhere to anywhere – even the effects which climate and temperature might have on events can be changed; danger from flooding could change to danger from avalanches, trapped by flood water could be trapped by snow
  • decide on the tone or ‘voice’ of what you are writing; is it patently a disguised memoir, is it autobiographical, is it apparently a piece of fiction, is it a ‘maybe true/maybe not – you decide’ piece of writing?

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