Naked truth

Self portrai in oil pastel, self-portrait in mirror.


Writing from truth, using a real event, can lend work real emotion, emotion difficult to conjure otherwise. Tears in a writer will bring tears to a reader, so they say. And as an artist, it is often your job to stand naked in front of the world.


Writing from fact does have its downside, however. Firstly, a straight account is reportage, not fiction so you must add extra spice and colour to the mixture to make it fiction, and interesting.


It is important to get to the naked crux of what your story is ‘saying’ and make sure your narrative never loses sight of this point and – so, even if when you were all driving to the hospital, Brad told a joke so funny you’ve just got to mention it. No, don’t mention it. Stick to the point of the story – the story is the hospital, remember, not Brad’s unrelated joke.


You may also have to leave out years of backstory if it does not serve to drive your own story on in any way. You may have been brought up by the funniest, most eccentric, most loving or most dysfunctional family in the world, but if they have no role in the story at hand, don’t mention them.


Another issue with writing from real memory is that ironically, fact is often too weird and too unbelievable to work as fiction. Your readers will say, ‘oh, come on, that would never happen.’ And you can’t phone them all up and say, ‘actually, it did. I’m not making it up. I once knew this bloke…’ Instead, you’ve often got to tone down the story to make it more credible. Real-life coincidences can be particularly problematic here.


And remember if you stick too close to the truth, you may be setting yourself up for some legal headaches, especially if you are presenting another person in an unflattering light. It’s best to change names and/or genders, and settings. Once you make those factual changes, most people will fail to recognize themselves in fiction, simply because we don’t see ourselves as we are seen by others….


About suehealy

From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022. Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer. TV Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series. Stage Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts). Radio Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. Prose Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus. View all posts by suehealy

11 responses to “Naked truth

  • Tony McFadden

    I can’t imagine writing anything of substance without including part of me in it. In some of my stories the ‘parts’ are very real and help inform the character.

    Of course, some of it is complete fabrication. I’ve *never* whacked a Turkish assassin in the head with a mostly full bottle of vodka.

  • Eliza

    Great tips – maybe a reason to why we keep memories is to share them in the future …

  • Pat Bean

    You are a brave woman. I love the self-portrait and that you had the guts to share it. You give me lots to think about. Thanks.

  • Lissa Masters

    Thanks Sue. As always great suggestions. I myself have never been big on public nudity, or even wearing a bikini for that matter. Colorful layering can be more interesting to me….I wonder if there has ever been a study done on people who frequent nudist camps and who tend to write the “naked truth?” 🙂

  • Sherry Isaac

    Ashamed to say, I have done this in critique groups. “This sounds unlikely.” “Oh, no, it isn’t. It happened to a friend of a friend of a friend of mine.”
    I know better. If it sounds unbelievable, if it’s not working, take it out.

  • Dawn Pisturino

    I wouldn’t have the guts to post a naked picture of myself!

  • carminamasoliver

    This is great – it goes along with thoughts that have been going on (in both real life and literature) about real life events as a springboard into fictional creations. As someone who likes realism (but also aspires to a Kafka-esque surrealism!) I find I am often inspired to write by seemingly mundane things.

  • redjim99

    Great post, I have the problem of being too secretive in my writing, I think the reader should find out things. Drives my wife nuts as she has to read it all and tell me what needs to be opened up.

    I like hidden writing, but finding the balance is hard.


  • sixfootbear

    Although I paint I would not dare to do a self portrait.I would need to order a tanker of flesh tones first.
    I do write from my heart. It is my choice to.
    Actually that is wrong.I write “me” because I don”t seem to have a choice.
    Write what you know is what I was told.So I do.I write of me.
    My poetry is my voice.Here,even under pressure,I remain stammer free.Here you see your idealized portrait of me.
    Good luck.xx

  • sixfootbear

    Mind you a bloody good imagination helps too.
    I have never been a hangman yet I have written of being one in the first person.
    I have written ,and write , love poems yet I am still single.
    I have not been a soldier but I come from a military family.
    One thing binds all these and more.
    I love words and words speak for me.
    Only one of my blood family knows I write lots of poems.
    Only one has read them all.

    I envy your skill with pastels all the same 🙂

  • Marvin the Martian

    Write about what you know, but avoid libel. Good advice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: