Sunday, February 20, 2011

When Writing Fiction, Make Sure it’s True

Or at least true to life!

Have you ever read a book and felt like a character wasn’t acting or reacting right?

Maybe you’ve found yourself deep in the story and suddenly you find something happening that was totally unbelievable. These are common complaints from readers and it’s our job as writers to insure that it doesn’t happen in our storey world.

Here are a couple of guidelines to help your story always ring true.

  • Take time to get to know your characters. The more you know and understand about who your character is the easier it will be to keep them true to themselves. And a character who is true to herself is always believable.
  • Become familiar with your setting. It doesn't matter if your story is set in your home town or on planet Egon if you can’t visualize it neither can your reader.
Whatever you write, don’t fall into the trap of It Really Happened.

We’ve all heard the old saying, STRANGER THAN FICTION. Like most clichés there is more than a modicum of truth within it. Sometimes things that happen in real life just don’t work in fiction.

I got caught in this trap one time. I entered a Flash Fiction contest by retelling a true story about two of our three sons. The younger one, Kirk, insulted his older brother’s girlfriend. Afraid of repercussions, Kirk shimmied up a nearby sapling—well out of reach from his older brother’s wrath—or so he thought. The older brother, Jimmy, proceeded to get a hatchet and cut down the tree, with Kirk still clinging to its uppermost branches. Luckily Kirk wasn’t hurt and the girlfriend’s honor was avenged.

When my entry was returned I was disappointed, and a little surprised, to learn it hadn’t fared well. But the judge’s comments explained why. I’ve kept the comments and shared many a chuckle with my family when we’ve reread them. “Story line is totally unbelievable. No brother would ever treat another in this manner.” So learn the lesson I did—just because it really happened doesn’t make it believable.


  1. Oh my gosh. That is so funny. I have six kids and if I wrote about them our antics would not be believed either.

  2. Raquel, thanks for your comment. I guess we'll just have to tone down our true stories when we incorporate them into our books!

  3. Great post! Good writing tips and a belly laugh, too!

  4. Thanks for the great post, Edie! I've been reading a lot about fiction writing lately, so it was very timely for me! :)
    What a great story, by the way! I believe it!

  5. Hey Edie, great post. Sadly, it tells me that many of my life stories will be deemed unbelievable.

  6. I sometimes complain about living a boring life and not having many experiences to make into good stories. I guess sometimes excitement works against you, too. Good Advice.