Recently, Tara Dairman wrote an Emu’s Debuts blog post called Based on True Events. She asked her reader whether or not people could tell which elements of their stories were true.
Writing based on life is tricky. What really happened may not make for a good story. Perhaps the tension doesn’t build effectively or the antagonist’s motives are unconvincing. When you get comments back from an editor, your instinct is to resist. “That isn’t how it happened!”
No, but how it happened apparently doesn’t make an effective story.
What writers often need to do is turn loose of the plot points that don’t work. They need to relax about characterization. They need to do what needs to be done to tell a story that works.
The truth that they need to tap into is emotion. How did it feel to be betrayed by a family member? Your best friend? What was running through your mind when that phone call came? You may not have experienced events as they happen in your story, but as some time in your life, you’ve felt what your character feels. Tap into the character’s emotions, fiddle with the story as needed, and things will ring true.
I know this because of reader reaction to one of my stories. “Wow. You must be a youngest child. You really know how they feel.”
Actually, I’m the oldest. That said, this particular story needed to be told from the POV of the youngest child. I drew on what my sister has said about being the youngest. What were her experiences? Her emotions? I may not have felt those things at those times, but the emotions themselves were familiar. All I had to do was find them in my own life and tell the story that needed to be told.
Do it and readers will respond to the truth in your story.