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.


A JOURNEY WITH WITH MATT and ME – Letters to Leonardo is Going on a Blog Tour

letterstoleonardolrgI can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about the impending release of Letters to Leonardo on 1st July, 2009 (Less than 40 sleeps away). Which might seem a lot but seeing as this book has taken more than ten years to write, it’s really quite soon.

And my blog tour through Cyberspace starts in just over a month. Matt Hudson (who tells his story in Letters to Leonardo) and me are visiting fantastic blogs every day for about two weeks starting on the 24th June.

Here’s what’s happening:


24/6    A review by Sally Murphy http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com

25/6    Interview with Sally Odgers http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com

26/6    Discussion with The Book Chook http://thebookchook.blogspot.com 

We’re going to be talking about why language and art are important in Letters to Leonardo.

27/6    Mabel Kaplan  http://belka3.blogspot.com

All about the research process.

28/6    We love YA http://weloveya.wordpress.com

I can’t wait to guest blog at We love YA. What a great blog for ‘Lovers of YA’. I’m going to be around all day chatting with Vanessa Barneveld and answering questions.

29/6    Dale Harcombe http://livejournal.com/users/orangedale

Author Dale Harcombe and I will be talking about the process involved in writing Letters to Leonardo.

30/6    Claire Saxby http://letshavewords.blogspot.com

Claire is going to share the reasons why I chose Leonardo da Vinci as Matt’s mentor – and why YA novels need a mentor.

1/7    Robyn Opie’s Blog  http://robynopie.blogspot.com

A hugely, massively, amazingly exciting day for Matt and me (sorry, I know that’s an awful lot of adverbs, but I really need to convey how momentous this occasion is.)  LETTERS TO LEONARDO COMES OUT TODAY – 1st July. And it’s also our first official launch. It’s a Cyber Launch so everyone’s welcome (more about that later).

On this special day, I’m going to cross to Robyn Opie’s blog http://robynopie.blogspot.com and she’ll be posting a piece about where Matt and other characters and ideas came from – and the hurdles overcome on the very long and winding road to publication.

2/7    Persnickety Snark http://persnicketysnark.blogspot.com

Lovers of YA will also be familiar with Adele’s great blog. I’m going to talk with her about how my life paralleled Matt’s – and how the more I discovered about Leonardo da Vinci, the more obsessed I became with him.

3/7    Brenton Cullen http://bjcullen.blogspot.com

Talented and very enterprising young writer, Brenton Cullen is going to chat with me about what it’s like to work with a publisher and what’s involved in the editing process.

P.S. Working with Walker Books Australia and my wonderful editor, Sue has been an inspiring, amazing (sorry there’s that word again)learning experience.

4/7    Sandy Fussell http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com

I’m afraid Matt is a little shy of publicity, but he’s agreed to appear on Sandy’s blog to talk about himself and his life. This is a once only opportunity to meet Matt in Cyber person.

5/7    Teachers Writing Helper Blog (That’s another one of mine)http://teacherswritinghelper.wordpress.com

I’m going to be talking about themes in the book – and suggesting some fun class writing activities.

6/7    Tips 4 Young Writers Blog (My blog too) http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com

I’m going to share some writing tips I learned in the process of writing Letters to Leonardo, and I’ll be talking about how I turned fact into fiction.

Hope to catch up with you on tour – somewhere in Cyberspace.