Tuesday Writing Tip – Turning Fact into Fiction

One of the fun things about being a storyteller is that you can change the way things really happened and turn a real event into a work of fiction. You have control of your story. You decide what happens,who it happens to and where it happens. Real people and events can provide great inspiration for fiction.

But having creative licence brings responsibility. You have to write with integrity. You don’t want to do things that will invade people’s privacy, you don’t want to upset them and you don’t want to get sued.

If you want to turn a true story into a work of fiction for whatever reason (like I did with Hope for Hanna), these are my tips on how you could do it:

  • Step away from the true story as much as you can. Try and sift the essential elements of what your story is about from the detail of what really happened.
  • Write down the main things (action points) that happen in the memoir/biography. Decide what’s important to you – what do you want to keep in your story?
  • Decide where your story is going to start and where it’s going to end – this could be different from what actually happened in real life.
  • Do a plot plan for your story with a beginning, a series of events leading to the climax (the high point of your story) and a conclusion tying all the threads together. Plot your story as you would a novel.
  • Decide which characters to include in the work of fiction. In a memoir there are usually lots of people mentioned because real life is full of encounters, but you can cut some of these out if you are writing fiction. It can get confusing if you have too many characters or too much happening.
  • Do a character profile for each person you want to include in your story, but make their background and details totally different from real life. Completely change names, places of residence, appearance, number of siblings, number of children, possibly even gender. Do what you can to make them unrecognisable in your story, whilst still being real people. It’s the essence of the people you want to capture in your story, not their detail.
  • Use these characters to create fictional things in your story and you can blend these with the true events.
  • Rework your plot outline to include true and fictional incidents you want to use. Perhaps change the order of events from what really happened.
  • Try and sum up in a paragraph what you want your story to be about. Leave out any incidents/action that is not related.
  • Get someone who knows you well to read your writing to make sure you have moved away enough from the true story.
  • Try and feel your story and allow it to take you in new directions. Don’t fight against these changes because they are not what actually happened.
  • Find the truth in your story in the power and complexity of your characters rather than the detail of actual events.

If you have any tips or experiences to share on how you have turned fact into fiction, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Our series of posts on point of view is coming up soon on this blog so stay tuned.

In the meantime, 

Happy writing:)

Dee

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ALWAYS JACK – TUESDAY WRITING TIPS WITH SUSANNE GERVAY

Most people have been toucbed by cancer in one way or another. Today author, Susanne Gervay is here to give us tips on how she wrote her incredible brave and powerful new novel, Always Jack.

When  Jack’s  mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, he realises that the things that bothered him about being part of a blended family aren’t so important after all.

Always Jack is an extraordinary story about ordinary people going through a difficult time in their lives – about an illness that puts their family unit to the test.

Author Susanne Gervay, draws on her own experiences of surviving cancer and Always Jack is a story told from the heart.

Susanne is on the board of the NSW Writers Centre holding the youth portfolio, Chair of The Sydney Children’s Writers & Illustrators Network at The Hughenden, co-head of Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Australia & New Zealand,  and has been awarded The Lady Cutler Award for Distinguished Services to Children’s Literature and aProfessional Achievement Award for Literature from University of Technology Sydney

HERE ARE SUSANNE’S WRITING TIPS

1. Know your characters:-

Writing Always Jack, I began with the wonderful characters from I AM JACK & SUPER JACK.  I know them so well and love them. They jump onto the page with all their particular characteristics.

2. Write about what you know and feel:-

I assessed my own experiences going through breast cancer and they drove Always Jack.

3. Research:-

Research is important to give credibility to what you are writing. The Cancer Council and the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre contributed their medical advice and this was essential for the integrity of Always Jack.

4. The theme needs to mean something to you:-

Always Jack is about giving kids and community a voice when a parent faces cancer, to support, celebrate and commemorate.

5. I let the story surprise me:-

Life intervenes and slots into Always Jack. I just came back from speaking at the World Burn Congress and was on the faculty with Kim Phoc – the 9 year old Vietnamese girl running from napalm in Nick ut;s 1972 photo. Kim Phoc and the Vietnamese War experience slipped into Always Jack with Christopher the Vientamese boy becoming Jack’s great friend..

6. Laugh and Cry:-

I laughed and cried as I wrote Always Jack, exposing the emotional ride of life and myself.

Thanks so much Susanne for visiting DeeScribe writing with your fabulous tips. I know that so many people’s hearts and lives will be touched by your wonderful new book, Always Jack, just as i was.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has other tips to share about writing from real life experiences. Please feel free to leave your tips, questions and responses in the comments section of this post.

Dee:-)

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – TURNING A MEMOIR INTO A NOVEL

Recently, I had a question from Diane on this blog about how to turn a memoir into a work of fiction. Diane asked:

Kindly advise what steps I can take to turn my memoir into a work of fiction.

Turning something biographical into a novel is something I have been pondering for a while.

Several years ago I promised a dearly loved terminally ill friend that I would tell her story. Apart from having to allow myself time to grieve, I’ve also been held back by concerns about how a true story might damage my friend’s childrens’ already difficult relationship with their father, and how it might upset them to know what their mother went through.

But her courage was so inspirational and her human spirit so strong that I want to be able to share it with people. I have been thinking carefully about how I can honour her memory and tell her story honestly in a way that won’t cause upset to the people she loved the most.

It’s only recently that I’ve made the decision to write a novel told from the point of view of one of her children, possibly with some excerpts from my friends own diaries where people and places aren’t named.

I think I have worked out how I can tell Sue’s story with love and respect and inspiration. So Diane and anyone else who wants to turn a true story into a work of fiction for whatever reason, these are my tips on how you could do it:

  1. Step away from the true story as much as you can. Try and sift the essential elements of what your story is about from the detail of what really happened.
  2. Write down the main things (action points) that happen in the memoir/biography. Decide what’s important to you – what do you want to keep in your story?
  3. Decide where your story is going to start and where it’s going to end – this could be different from what actually happened in real life.
  4. Do a plot plan for your story with a beginning, a series of events leading to the climax (the high point of your story) and a conclusion tying all the threads together. Plot your story as you would a novel.
  5. Decide which characters to include in the work of fiction. In a memoir there are usually lots of people mentioned because real life is full of encounters, but you can cut some of these out if you are writing fiction. It can get confusing if you have too many characters or too much happening.
  6. Do a character profile for each person you want to include in your story, but make their background and details totally different from real life. Completely change names, places of residence, appearance, number of siblings, number of children, possibly even gender. Do what you can to make them unrecognisable in your story, whilst still being real people. It’s the essence of the people you want to capture in your story, not their detail.
  7. Use these characters to create fictional things in your story and you can blend these with the true events.
  8. Rework your plot outline to include true and fictional incidents you want to use. Perhaps change the order of events from what really happened.
  9. Try and sum up in a paragraph what you want your story to be about. Leave out any incidents/action that is not related.
  10. Get someone who knows you well to read your writing to make sure you have moved away enough from the true story.
  11. Try and feel your story and allow it to take you in new directions. Don’t fight against these changes because they are not what actually happened.
  12. Find the truth in your story in the power and complexity of your characters rather than the detail of actual events.

Diane, I hope you find these tips useful. Good luck with rewriting your memoir and to anyone else attempting the challenge of turning fact into fiction.

If you have any tips of your own on how to turn fact into fiction, I’d love you to leave them in the comments section of this blog for others to share.

Dee:-)

Tuesday Writing Tip – CAMELS, RESEARCH AND ROAD TRIPS with Janeen Brian

Today, I’m pleased to welcome to Tuesday Writing Tips, good writer friend and researcher extraordinaire, Janeen Brian.

Those of you who know me and my website will know that I have a thing for camels so I couldn’t resist the chance to chat with Janeen about how she wrote her two wonderful camel books, Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes.

Janeen is a diligent researcher and spent over 1500 hours researching and writing Hoosh and collected 36 files of information.

Janeen, you travelled to Alice Springs to see The Voyages Camel Cup to research this book? How important do you think it is to do field research when you are writing a book like Hoosh?

In my opinion field study is vital. I can’t imagine how else I would’ve been able to research the topic of camels in the outback of Australia with any veracity if I hadn’t had some field experience. I was able to come face-to-face with my subject matter and in doing so, gained far more knowledge and awareness as well as discovering unexpected information. Aspects of my field study included experiencing the Camel Cup race, interviewing camel breeders and handlers, viewing museums that highlighted camels as part of Australia’s early development, and riding a camel.

Afghan mind-mapping

Why is it important?

How can you write convincingly about a broad, information topic if you don’t have some vital experience? We often research prior to, or during the writing of fiction, but since my topic was huge and encompassed many features of camels, I knew I had to research at ‘grass roots’ level as much as possible. Prior to writing Hoosh! I knew nothing about camels and so, in my research, I gathered more information than was necessary – somewhat similar to writing fiction where we create more detail background for our characters than will ever turn up in the final draft.

There was another important reason for field study in researching this book. Apart from providing current and accurate information, I also wanted it to carry a ‘narrative tone’. For that to ring true I needed two things; a sense of the anecdotal and the use of the five senses. I needed to experience the landscape and climate, touch the type of herbage eaten by camels, smell their aroma, drink the milk and listen to their sounds and those of their trainers. I couldn’t have written Hoosh! simply by researching from written material, be it books, primary resources or the internet.


What was the most fascinating piece of research you found when writing this book – the fact that you had been looking for – that sent a tingle down your spine?

As you can imagine, there were many! But I think the most fascinating piece of research was the discovery that up until the 1950s, police patrolled vast stretches of the outback by camel. It had never crossed my mind that areas that spanned hundreds of thousands of square miles/kilometres would’ve needed policing. And of course, in that rugged terrain, camels were ideal vehicles.


Can you tell us where and how you found it?

It was a case of pure serendipity. By chance I was one day flicking through the pages of an Adelaide newspaper. I came across the obituaries page where several people of note were cited. One, in particular, caught my eye. It was for Max Homes, and the obituary stated he was one of the last South Australian outback police officers to patrol by camel.

Farina 1928 camel trade in its primeThat was an eye-opener for me and I quickly scanned the report, especially looking for names of any descendents. Close to the end, it mentioned that later in his life Max moved ‘to Christies Beach to live with a son.’ My heart beat as I checked the phone book. Sure enough there was the same surname, an address and phone number. I made contact and to my amazement, the grown-up son not only handed me his father’s journal that contained newspaper clippings of his police life in the outback but also told me with affection of his pet camel when he was a boy. From that wonderful experience, came a whole, new, unexpected chapter topic.

What was the most difficult part of researching for this book?

Apart from striving for information accuracy, I’d say sourcing the photographs, because it was all up to me.

Why was it hard?

To begin with, I’d done little research of this nature. Sourcing photographs was time-consuming, fraught with copyright problems and potentially costly, since I was paying upfront.


How did you overcome it?

I made hundreds of phone calls seeking help with visual material. I checked the internet searching for names of people who had some connection with camels or the camel industry. I contacted tourist offices that were willing to provide certain photographs gratis or for a minimal cost. As much as possible I used my own photographs and spread the word to friends and acquaintances, hoping it would bring some rewards. In many instances it did, however not all photographs offered could be used, either because they lacked reproduction quality or the information about them was scant. Those with potential I either made copies of, or if I did need to keep the originals for some purpose, I had to protect them for many month and return them safely. Once a camel handler in northern South Australia gave me a bunch of old photos in an envelope, giving me permission to use any of them. Naturally I was thrilled, until I discovered copies in books etc. Alarm bells rang. The handler was unable to remember how he came upon the photos in the first place, but assured me he didn’t mind which ones I used for the book! I, however, was pale at the thought of copyright problems and spent countless hours checking numerous sources for duplication, and/or extra information.

How important is it to verify your sources? How do you do this?

In that particular instance, I trawled through books, internet sites and photographs cited in various state and territory library archives.

Thanks Dee, for your great, explorative questions. I enjoyed revisiting Hoosh!, Columbia and camels. Thank you so much for hosting me and I hope one day you get your wish and have your own camel!

Janeen will be back here on Thursday with more great tips and information on how she researched both Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes. Hope you can join us then.

If you want to know more about camels, research and writing, check out Janeen’s fabulous blog at http://janeenjottings.blogspot.com/ where she’s going to have more great tips and tales.

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – WRITING ABOUT ISSUES IN CHILDREN’S FICTION

Today I’m pleased to welcome Children’s author, Marianne Musgrove to DeeScribe Writing.

Marianne is a former social worker who writes fantastic books for children about real life issues. Real issues can be difficult to incorporate in children’s books – they can’t be preachy, but they can’t be taken too lightly either.

Marianne seems to have found just the right balance and today, she has generously agreed to share some of her tips with us.

DON’T SCARE THE KIDS: WRITING ABOUT ISSUES IN CHILDREN’S FICTION

By Marianne Musgrove.

Bullying, abuse, racism, disability, depression, war, divorce, death. These are the kinds of issues cropping up in modern children’s writing (and that’s just the picture books!).

As a former social worker, my own books, aimed at six to twelve year olds, cover such topics as anxiety, dementia and the nature of truth. The question for me is not so much should we be writing about such subjects as how?

The Preachiness Test

Kids are canny. They’ll tune out before you can say, ‘And the moral to the story is …’ so ask yourself this question: why is this scene/chapter/character here? If your answer is to teach the reader something, there’s a possibility you’re being preachy.

Each scene needs to either move the story forward or reveal something about a character. Do yours?

My latest book, Lucy the Lie Detector, is about a seven year old girl trying to figure out the nature of truth and lies. What do you do when someone gets a horrible haircut and asks you what you think? And what about those times Dad buys you an ice-cream then says, ‘Don’t tell your mother.’?

Writing a book about lying without metaphorically shaking a finger at the reader was a challenge. I tried to show the complexities of lying (white lies versus lying for gain versus pretending), but I didn’t want to cop out and avoid the moral issues either. Telling the truth is complicated and lying breaks trust.

The most important thing, I decided, was to tell a rollicking good story first and explore the issues second.

The Age Appropriateness Test

Wondering if your experimental picture book, Judy the Giraffe: Serial Killer, is a goer?

Think of your book’s target audience then imagine how a child that age would feel after reading certain scenes. It’s desirable to engage the reader emotionally but you don’t want to traumatise them.

Treatment is the key so if you still want to write about a particular topic, consider dwelling less on the heavy aspects of the story, eg. Margaret Wild’s Let the Celebrations Begin! is a picture book about the Holocaust that never mentions the concentration camp itself, instead focusing on the women prisoners sewing toys for the children.

The Values Test

Adopt the role of impartial observer. What are the main messages and values contained in your story? Is this really what you want to say?

Some years ago, there was quite an uproar when Margaret Clark wrote a YA novel called Care Factor Zero in which the main character commits suicide, carrying a message, many argued, of hopelessness. In my view, children’s books should always be infused with hope.

Yes, there can be great sadness in life, but even in the worst of situations, there is always hope (and that’s one of my values). The point here is that your book may contain unintended messages so look closely.

Suggested reading:

The Naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard (death of a baby sibling/post natal depression)

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (refugees)

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox (dementia)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Asberger’s Syndrome)

Mahalia by Joanne Horniman (teenage single dad)

— Marianne Musgrove Author of

  1. The Worry Tree
  2. Don’t Breathe a Word
  3. Lucy the Good
  4. Lucy the Lie Detector

(All with Random House Australia.)

Thanks for dropping in, Marianne, and for your fantastic tips.

You can find out more about Marianne and her work at www.mariannemusgrove.com.au/

Next week on our Tuesday Writing Tips segment we’re going to be looking at How Writing Competitions Hone Your Writing Skills.

The Woman Who Saved The Children – Tuesday Writing Tips on Writing a Biography

Clare Mulley on Mount Salève where Eglantyne Jebb drafted her statement of children’s rights that evolved into the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history.

Yesterday, we met international author, Clare Mulley at DeeScribe Writing. Today she is back to give us some tips on how she wrote her amazing book, The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children.

For me, one of the most fascinating parts of this whole story is that Eglantyne didn’t even like children.

She set up Save the Children in 1919, at the end of the First World War, to bring relief to the starving children of Austria and Germany. Later she wrote the pioneering statement of children’s human rights that has since evolved into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history.

Although Eglantyne devoted her life to saving children, she said in 1919

‘I suppose it is a judgement on me for not caring about children that I am made to talk, all day long, about the universal love of humanity towards them’.

As author, Clare Mulley says,

Eglantyne was not an overtly sentimental or maternal woman, but she was inspired by a burning humanitarian compassion that helped to bring many back to reason after the horror of the war, saved the life of many thousands of children immediately and many millions around the world since, fundamentally altered relations between the generations and permanently changed the way the world regards and treats children.

Today Clare has some tips for us on how she wrote this amazing book, The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children.

CLARE’S TIPS

1.    You don’t have to love the person you are writing about, but you have to have a connection with them.

I started off with Eglantyne as my inspiration, fell out with her about half way through my research, and then finally managed to sort things out between us and admire her with all her faults and eccentricities by the time I was really writing. A person’s faults are often also their best points, and Eglantyne had plenty to work with here…

2.    Research

Get the big facts, but it is often the detail that is most fascinating and evocative. Don’t forget smells and temperatures. Ask everyone all the time. Start writing before you finish researching. Keep at it.

3.    Follow up leads

I was stumped about what went wrong with one of her romances which had ended abruptly. She must have got rid of any letters she had – the sort of fossil residue of emotions that biographers rely on – and I had no idea where to go next. Then a friend introduced me socially to the grandson of Eglantyne’s lost love… three weeks later I was having dinner at their house, and picking up the story from the other side, looking at letters no one else had even seen. At times like that I almost felt that Eglantyne herself was tapping me on the shoulder, saying ‘come on, over here…’

4.    Decide which facts to include

I still have files I can’t bear to throw out. It is hard, but I think you have to respect your reader and not expect them to plough through every detail. In the end it is a judgment call. I kept in a list of her clothes at death, and chucked out the agendas of early charity meetings… I just thought; what do I really want to know about?

5.   How to make dry facts interesting

Dry facts have their place, but most facts are pretty juicy once you start looking at the why, why not, what did it look/taste/feel like, who said it and why, or who tried to cover it up.

6.    Learn from your writing

I learnt that I think I am both a better writer, and a better mother, for having these two passions in my life. All of my time, with my girls or at my desk, is hugely precious to me, because there is never enough of either. I feel immensely lucky to be able to combine these two great jobs.

it was only a year or so in that I realised I was going to write a book – so I guess I learned that I have the ability to be an author. Then with every chapter I think I got a bit better at it – in the end I rewrote most of it!

7.    Clare’s general writing tips

  • Try and write regularly
  • Try to stop when you know what you’re going to start writing the next day.
  • Get a friend to read some and give some honest feed back. Stay friends with them.
  • Get an agent.

Congratulations to Clare on an amazing book and for winning the prestigious Daily Mail Biographers’ Club Prize for The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children.

Thanks for visiting and sharing your amazing journey and Eglantyne’s amazing story with us.

ALL AUTHOR ROYALTIES FROM THE BOOK ARE BEING DONATED TO THE CHARITY, ‘SAVE THE CHILDREN’.

Buy The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children from any good bookstore or online at Boomerang Books

http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Woman-Who-Saved-the-Children/Clare-Mulley/book_9781851686575.htm

The Woman Who Saved the Children – Meet the author

Today, I’m very pleased to have international author Clare Mulley visiting my DeeScribe Writing blog.

Clare has written the biography of Eglantyne Jebb, the amazing woman who founded the Save the Children Fund in the early 1900s because she was outraged about the injustices being perpetrated against children.

Clare says that the idea for her book ‘The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children’ came from her being nosy.

I had been working at the charity Save the Children and was poking around in their archives when I came across a crumpled leaflet shoved down the side of a plastic crate, which showed a photograph of a starving Austrian child at the end of the First World War.

In the top right-hand corner was the word ‘suppressed!’ pencilled in the unmistakable scratchy writing of Eglantyne Jebb, Save the Children’s founder. I could almost feel her indignation still burning through the paper. I knew then that I was on to a good story, but it took a few years before I realized I was going to write a book!

Clare says that she loved doing the research for the biography.

It is a funny thing to look for someone in the archives of public libraries or between the lines of private letters. My best moment with this book was finding a secret stash of very scandalous love letters… But then I love the actual writing too.

Clearly, Clare became completely immersed in her work when writing this book and she says that the hardest part was finding the time to write. She has three lively daughters aged 8,6 and 2 so it wasn’t easy for her to set aside the three days a week she needed to write ‘The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children’

Clare’s interest was first piqued when she working at Save the Children and discovered that Eglantyne Jebb, the charity’s founder, had never really been very fond of children.

In fact she once called them ‘the little wretches’. I was fascinated – but it was only when I went on maternity leave (thereby showing much less commitment to the cause than Eglantyne, who never had children and dedicate herself to the charity), that I found the time to find out a little more. Obviously it became a bit ironic – me sneaking away from some of my childcare responsibilities to research the life of this children’s champion, who didn’t even like individual kids… but it turned out to be such a good story I was quickly hooked. And no one else had looked at it for 40 years.

Tomorrow Clare is coming back to DeeScribe Writing to be our special guest at Tuesday Writing Tips, telling us how she wrote ‘The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children’.

Find out more about this fascinating book and why Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it ‘a truly brilliant book’, and the comedian Paul O’Grady said ‘pick up this book and be inspired…’

ALL AUTHOR ROYALTIES FROM THE BOOK ARE BEING DONATED TO THE CHARITY, ‘SAVE THE CHILDREN’.

Buy The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Childrenfrom any good bookstore or online at Boomerang Books

http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Woman-Who-Saved-the-Children/Clare-Mulley/book_9781851686575.htm