January 21, 2017
Stranger than Fiction…
Writers are sometimes the least imaginative people around – we consistently use true stories we’ve been told, overheard or are part of our own histories, as springboards for our fiction. But hey, no one can come up with ideas better than real life.
If you base a story on an event in your own life you can lend your work real emotion to your work, emotion difficult to conjure otherwise. Tears in a writer will bring tears to a reader.
However, real life is often so bizarre that you’ll often have to tone down the story to make it more believable (avoid real life co-incidence stories). Also, a straight account is reportage, not fiction. You need to add colour and description, internal thought and other aspects to make it more real…
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.
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, nationalities 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…
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.
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.
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).
Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm.
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.
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July 13th, 2013 at 14:47
Sue, There’s a difference between truth and realism. While truth is the domain of journalists, realism is the essence of fiction. I have to confess, my life has been relatively boring, so when I create fictional characters, very often composites of people I’ve known or encountered on my journey through life, I’m more likely to ramp it up than tone it down.