Recently, I read a blog post, that I can’t seem to locate today, about a story that was loosely based on the author’s family. It could have been written as a memoir but she chose to write fiction. Why? Because she felt it made a stronger story with greater reader appeal.
That can be a tough call because there are so many marvelous TRUE stories in the world. We want to write them all.
But if we are going to write them as nonfiction, we have to stick with the facts. That means that the dialogue has to be verifiable as do the character motivations. Unfortunately, these are often the hardest facts to confirm when writing nonfiction.
Writing a story as fiction, on the other hand, can make for a stronger story. For one thing, you get to fill in those blanks as well as purify the main character’s motivation. Of course, you can also give them a selfish or bigoted motivation if that makes for a stronger story.
Fiction also allows you to dabble with the timeline. This means that you can compress the story to a shorter time frame to increase tension. You can create a reason for a delay. You can also change-up the order in which various events happened.
Nancy Churnin’s Manjhi Moves a Mountain is a fictional picture book based on true events. In the picture book, two villages are separated by a mountain. One village is well off. The other is poor. Manjhi lives in the poor village and he sees how much better life would be if there was an easier way for the people in the poor village to access the resources in the other village. One night, the takes a hammer and chisel to the mountain.
In reality, Manjhi’s task began as a love story. He wanted to make it easier for his wife to get the medical care she needed. Yes, he eventually came to see how it would benefit the whole village but that was not his initial motivation. Churnin simplified his motivation creating a story that would have stronger picture book appeal.
Nonfiction or fiction. The question you have to answer as the author is this – which would make a better story for your audience?