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Writing fiction from reality

beyond-the-tripping-point-cover Amazon link-72dpi4Sometimes writing fiction from reality can make a stronger story. And I am not referring to the “reality” of so-called reality TV shows. I’m talking about your personal experiences.

There is a catch, though. You are writing fiction so you need to change charactes’ names. You might also want to change places and timelines. One of the most important points is that because this is fiction, you can change what happens – in fact you can use what happened in your life as the seed for your story and go from there.

One of the short stories, Porcelain Doll, in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) is taken from a regular occurrence in my childhood – but a pleasant one. So I did a “what if?”

My late father worked for many years as a timekeeper for one of the railway companies. Mom and I had free travel passes on that railway line and the competing railway. That was how we travelled to visit Mom’s relatives and to other places each summer.

So, I took that travel and the approximate time and created a “What if?”

What if the dad was a bully?( My Dad wasn’t.) and the mom was a doormat scared of him? (My Mom wasn’t.) What if the dad also bullied the daughter? (My dad didn’t – he used to call me his princess.)

So, I extracted a few facts from real life – a family of three who annually visited a grandfather on a farm, the mom knitting, the dad obsessed with the train service, and what the train ride was like at that time (early to mid-1960s), and the daughter’s obsession with reading Agatha Christie mysteries and dolls. Here the resemblance gets more than murky.

What never happened on a train in real life (at least not on any trips I took), occurred here – from playing poker for money, a prize doll (hence the story’s title), murder, disappearances, the aforementioned bullying – and the aftermaths. Story is told going back and forth between the present (1989) and the past to move the plot along to a startling conclusion.

With this use of my past I could get the feeling of being there on a train ride in the late 50s and early 60s including some little known facts such as the trains actually had a separate coach for smokers and you couldn’t smoke in any other coach, a somewhat novel idea in the days before smoking and non-smoking regulations across the board. My dad smoked back then. There was also the train route and where you would have to change trains – although I kept it to the same route I changed the location where the grandfather lived. So, I had feelings and remembrances of these train rides.

What I didn’t have was how the little girl in Porcelain Doll would react and act to what happened. That was pure fiction and that is where I had to get inside Sarah’s head. And…

No, I’m not telling you anymore. This is an example to give you an idea how you can do it. If you are stuck for a story idea. I think Porcelain Doll is a stronger story because of my past experience. Certainly others who have read it have said so.

If you want to read Porcelain Doll and the 12 other stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, you can click on the book icon at the top to get more information about the book.

What personal experiences have you had that could be turned into fiction – with a lot of well, fiction in them?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Writing from Real Life

Rosemary McCracken author of the Pat Tierney mystery novels

Rosemary McCracken author of the Pat Tierney mystery novels

Today, I have a guest blogger – Rosemary McCracken, a friend and writing colleague who has often been part of the same panel on crime writing as me. Rosemary’s third novel, Raven Lake, in her Pat Tierney mystery series is out now in June and… well I’ll let Rosemary tell you all about it and her writing. The e-book launch is on Facebook this Sunday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Click here to reach the party site.and the in-person book launch is June 25, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto. Over to you,  now Rosemary…

Thank you, Sharon, for inviting me here today!

I thought I’d talk about a subject that’s dear to my heart—writing from real life. All writers “borrow” from the people they know and situations they’ve been in when they create their fiction. Some to a greater extent than others. Two students in my How to Develop Your Novel course at Toronto’s George Brown College are working on novels based on their own lives. It’s not as easy a job as it might seem.

Writers who turn real-life events into fiction face the same challenges that writers have with any novel. They need to create believable characters and riveting plots. But knowing the real-life counterparts and the outcome of their adventures can often curb a writer’s ability to let the characters get on with their fictional lives.

My advice to writers who base their stories on real people and events is not to incorporate every detail of the real story into the work of fiction. “Use your imagination,” I tell them, “and don’t feel you have to stick to the facts. You’re writing fiction.”

They will need to expand the scope of the real-life story. In fiction, plot is the order of events in a story that gradually builds tension. The plot needs to develop with all its requisite plot points—which may take characters far afield from the people they are based on. Writers shouldn’t be afraid to impose the cause-and-effect order of plot on the story they are telling. It will build conflict and tension, and make the story more unified and enjoyable for readers.

Of course, names will have to be changed to protect the privacy of people the writer knows. The writer should go a step further and change characters’ initials as well, so that Mark Manners doesn’t become Mike Madison. The character’s physical appearance, the details of his childhood and his job will also need to be altered.

With my background as a newspaper journalist, I enjoy developing fiction from real-life stories that have been in the news—situations or events that happened to other people. And, yes, a story that was in the news a few summers ago is part of my new Pat Tierney mystery novel, Raven Lake.

The news coverage described the plight of vacationers who had turned to rental websites to find vacation homes to rent for their holidays. They arrived at their vacation destinations in Ontario lake country only to find that they’d been duped by con artists. The cottages were actually full-time residences and not for rent at all. They lost their deposits, some lost their full payments, and they had nowhere to spend their holidays. My heart went out to these people who had driven for hours thinking that they were about to spend a relaxing week or two at a sylvan lake. I also felt sorry for the residents of the targeted homes who had would-be renters turning up on their doorsteps. Some of them were afraid that these strangers might take their frustrations out on them.

A perfect crime for a mystery set in cottage country. It helped that I didn’t know any of the real people involved so I was free to create my own characters and outcomes.

Rosemary McCracken

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Bio:

Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts reviewer, editorial writer and editor. She is now a Toronto-based fiction writer and freelance journalist. Her first Pat Tierney mystery, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010 and published by Imajin Books in 2012. It was followed by Black Water in 2013. “The Sweetheart Scamster,” a Pat Tierney mystery in the anthology Thirteen, was a finalist for a Derringer Award in 2014. Rosemary’s third Pat Tierney mystery, Raven Lake, has just been released. It is available at myBook.to/RavenLakeTierney.

Follow Rosemary on her blog, Moving Target at http://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rosemarymccracken and on Twitter @RCMcCracken. Visit Rosemary’s website at http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/.

Links to Rosemary’s books and short stories

Safe Harbor: myBook.to/SafeHarborTierney

Black Water: myBook.to/BlackWaterTierney

Raven Lake: myBook.to/RavenLakeTierney

Thirteen: http://amzn.to/18oY8mF

 

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