Writers are often asked if real life events end up in their fiction writing or rather—if their fiction is actually based on true stories. In many cases, my personal answer to this is ‘I sincerely hope not.’ Can you imagine the horror of Stephen King’s daily life if that were true?
Instead of being based on true stories, fiction, as Mr King puts it, is: “the truth inside the lie.”
In the case of my book (a contemporary romantic suspense novel) and other books like it, the horror is entirely more subtle. The realism of it, the fact that it could happen—that it does happen—makes it terrifying.
As for whether real life has an actual place in my books, Brooke’s situation in Blood’s Veil (no spoilers) is entirely fictional as far as I’m concerned, but my life experience whether through real events, literature or film, have all aided me in creating her and her story. I’ve lived with the crippling aftermath of sexual abuse and I’m no stranger to depression. Some of this seeps into my fiction writing — but it’s organic. I draw on this inner source of inspiration if the moment requires it rather than setting out to write what would essentially be a memoir.
Writing a character like Brooke allowed me to express a tiny fraction of my experience whilst keeping that much-needed distance, but I did this because it was true to her character.
My current work in progress, Immisceo, is part of a fantasy series. There’s adventure, there’s magic, all in a fictional setting and bygone time—none of which I experienced (wouldn’t that be cool!?) Yet in every story, no matter how exciting or fast-paced or fantastical the plot is, as readers, we relate to the characters. If a character is a likeable dude on a noble life quest, we automatically begin to root for him. If a character is unspeakably evil, we immediately loath them. If they’re somewhere in between—the anti-hero like Severus Snape from Harry Potter or anti-villain like Rumplestiltskin / Mr Gold from Once Upon a Time—we feel a certain kind of kinship with their struggles; it speaks to something within us all—the complexity of the human psyche.
“Has it ever crossed your brilliant mind that I don’t want to do this anymore?”
This is where truth comes in. It doesn’t matter if we’re writing or reading about (or watching) a character struggling through the mundane day-to-day routine of a job he hates or battling a terminal illness; or one who is about to take on a fifty-foot dragon… what it all boils down to is real emotion. A human connection with what we see before us.
Fiction Writing vs. Real Life: Blurring the Line
I’ve never fought a dragon before but I can I recall a time when I felt so scared I could barely breathe or a time when I had to attempt something for the sake of someone else—nothing life-threatening like a living, breathing dragon of course, but the fear and awe are emotions and experiences I’m familiar with.
“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” Stephen King
Writers take those feelings, those memories, and amplify them tenfold, gives the character a whopping great sword and a pair of balls the size of Texas and—boom! And while the action is fun and exciting, when we witness this as readers or viewers, the part we relate to is the fear, the adrenaline, the sheer wonder of the size of that scaly beast.
So, how often is truth found in fiction? My answer is: always—in terms of human emotion and experience, and everything that makes a story relatable. The rest is a wondrous product of the imagination.