Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Should You Base Your Book on a True Story?

From Writerslife.org:

When it comes to writing a book, many authors wonder how much of ‘themselves’ they should put into it. We’ve all been told that ‘writing what you know’ can be helpful, and that by drawing on our own experiences, history, emotions and way of viewing the world we will end up writing a much more authentic, believable and relatable piece of writing.
However getting too bogged down in the ‘truth’ of our story can also lead to difficulties. For a start, much of what happens to us in our everyday lives is fairly mundane, and as we go about our day to day business, we are hardly inspired to write down everything that we see and do. If we only allow ourselves to write what we know, we could end up with a very dull book indeed.
However, everyone has stories to tell, and often our greatest ideas flow from the meaningful events in our lives and how they have affected and changed us.
There is sometimes a fine line between a novel and a memoir, and you should be clear about what kind of story you want to tell before you begin. If you are actually writing your life’s story, a memoir, you should stick to the truth. You can be creative about the way you allow the events to unfold but making up things that didn’t happen is not a good idea. A fictionalised story, however, is a different matter altogether, and this is where things can get interesting!
There are many advantages to basing your book, at least in part on a true story, and these are the things to remember:

You have the freedom to rewrite history. 
The wonderful thing about basing your book on a true story is that it doesn’t have to have the same outcome. You can keep it as close to the truth as you like, or you can change the details to tell it in another way - it’s completely up to you. 
You can be as creative and imaginative as you like
As with any piece of writing you do, creativity is your friend. 
You don’t have to make all parts of your story realistic, let your imagination run wild and mix up real-life elements with fantastical ones to make your story really exciting!
Writing down your most life-changing and powerful moments can be cathartic and enlightening.
Re-living past events, particularly those that had a profound effect on you can help you work through things that perhaps you had kept buried for a long time. Doing so and being in control of how you tell these stories can be very therapeutic indeed. 
By including true stories in your novel, you are connecting with your reader on a deeper and more personal level. 
Telling a story that holds an element of truth makes it even more exciting and special. If your story is in some way truthful, it can be a way of inviting your readers in and offering a deeper more meaningful piece of writing that could truly touch and change them too.
Remember - the truth is subjective anyway!
Writing your book based on a true story can be an exciting and freeing experience for any writer. So next time you are thinking about ideas for your next book, delve into your memories and see if there isn’t a great story in there just waiting for the opportunity to be told!

It has been more than two year now since I got the idea to write about my depression and Prozac experience upon reading Prozac Nation. I mentioned this in this blogpost in 2016.  I had not been sure at first if I did indeed want to write a memoir or attempt a fictional novel based on my story. At one point was going to give into the idea of a novel, and write this brief story that I considered using as the basis of a novel (This was originally posted on my blog in February 2016):

The young girl who looked like a princess sat in the psychiatrist's office, expressing why she was there.
"I've been treated like a servant," she said, looking very depressed. "After my real mother died, my father remarried, then he died, leaving me with that awful new wife of his and her two mean daughters." Tears fell from her eyes.
"They made me do all the work," she continued. "They wouldn't let me go to the ball. But then my fairy godmother appeared and granted my wish and when I got there, the prince was madly in love with me.
"But I had to leave before midnight before the spell wore off, and I lost my glass slipper." She paused.
"Did all this really happen?" the psychiatrist asked.
"No, it turned out to be an awful dream. When I awoke, I wanted to harm myself by cutting or making myself fall down."
"I can see you are very depressed," the doctor observed.
"Yes," she agreed.  "What can I do?"
"Well, it seems you may need  some medication.  We'll start you off on 10 mg of Prozac." He entered her information into his computer.
Later that afternoon, she picked up her prescription, to be begun the following morning. She read over the papers she and her doctor had signed and the notes from the pharmacy.  It was just the beginning of her Prozac journey. 
(It should be obvious what this a retelling of ;) There have been many such stories.  I've read all but the last one in the image below):

Cinderella Retellings

But once I began writing down ideas for my story, it got to sounding like a memoir, like many of this I had read up until that point. I have either exaggerated some details in my memoir or jumbled some up, but they are true for the most part.  And some time ago, some girls I went to high school with who had gone to the Catholic school in my town, recalled on Facebook (commenting on their eighth-grade class photo that had been posted) how some of once them fantasized about marrying the members of Duran Duran. I included this, even though it did not happen at my junior-high school. It was a perfect '80s reference, and I can bet it happened somewhere else in the country.  This was a more recent addition to my manuscript. 

In some ways, the truth can be exaggerated, even in a memoir.

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