Put Life in your Fiction

“I’ve had a fascinating life. One day I’m going to write a novel about it.” How often , as writers, have people said that to us? When – as a teacher of Creative Writing – students hand in assignments swearing that everything that they have written is true, my heart sinks.

Why? Life and fiction are so different that some selection and analysis are always necessary before you can turn life into art.

Life is not logical. There is no structure or pattern, whereas fiction requires a pattern. In romantic novels, the hero and heroine meet early on and end up together on the final page. The twists and turns of the relationship are the elements that keep the reader’s interest. If, in real life, the relationships disintegrate,and the couple move on, never to meet again, it would be unsatisfactory in fiction.

In fiction, we need surprises, but there also ought to be a chain of consequences. In fiction, everything that happens should have repercussions and arise out of what has gone before.

Real lives begin when we are born and end when we die. Stating the obvious, death is the only certainty in all our lives. But fictional biography should not begin with the birth of the hero and chug along remorselessly until he is in his coffin, and the reader feels half-dead too. If you want to write a fictional biography, open when the hero is facing some sort of crisis in his life.Everything in a novel ought to matter, so do not be tempted to describe picnics, weddings or funerals in enormous detail unless it’s necessary to understand the plot. Novels need viewpoint characters , who will take the reader’s hand and lead him through the story.

Endings are as important as beginnings, so know when to stop. If the whole point is that the hero has a particular problem to solve, it should end when he finds happiness or fulfilment, not after he has married, has a dozen children and finally expired.

Use plenty of direct speech. Let your characters speak for themselves.You can consider turning your own or someone else’s dramatic life story into fiction. But not everything has to be set down for the scrutiny of future generations. Novels need to entertain, so be selective. You may have to take liberties with your source material, so unless you are rich enough to be sued for libel or defamation, you need to change people’s names and circumstances, The best advice is to treat real life as a starting point, and to let your imagination go on from there. You are writing a work of fiction, after all.

My 13th book “Autumn Blessing” – an e-book from Prism – is due for release on Sept. 25th. If you have difficulty in finding my books, go to the My Books in this blog and contact me at my e-mail address. I enjoy your comments so keep them coming.


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