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:)



A lot of what I write is based on something that actually happened. My YA novel Street Racer was written after I read an article in the paper about someone involved in a street racing accident.

Hope for Hanna is based on real events that happened to a number of people and Harry’s Goldfield Adventure (coming out August 2010) has a factual setting, but the story is purely fictional.

My YA novel Letters to Leonardo, started with a story that was told to me by a friend, and one of the book’s characters is a person that I actually know.


If you’re writing a biography or an autobiography there is no need to turn fact into fiction – in this instance, it’s best to stick to the facts.

When I wrote A Duel of Words, I had to be creative about the way I told Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson’s story, but I had to be meticulous about the factual detail.

But if you’re writing a novel and making things up about your characters, you need to change the facts because:

  • What you make up could offend or hurt someone if you name a real person.
  • Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and people wont’ believe it. In high school I had to write a love story so I wrote about how my parents first met. The teacher’s comment was that the story was well written but ‘not credible’. (Even though it was all true).


To me there are two steps you need to take to disguise the true bits in your story.

  1. Make the physical changes to the detail.
  2. Make the emotional changes inside you.


Letters to Leonardo is based on some real people, real events and real places. I spent a lot of time creating new scenarios, places, people and events so that I could disguise the things and people that could be recognised. Here are some of the steps you can take to hide the ‘true bits’.

  • Change names of characters and places
  • Add or remove people from the event
  • Change the setting
  • Change the time/era in which the story took place
  • Combine real events from different sources
  • Change the details of the actual event – eg a cat stuck up a tree could become a dog stuck in a drain pipe.

It’s all about using your imagination. Look at it as a challenge. How could you tell someone’s story without them recognising it? How could you tell your own story and people not know it’s you? Think of your facts as being treasure that you have to bury beneath ‘creative’ detail.

Sometimes it can help to draw up a two column table with the real events/people/names etc in one column, and the second column devoted to the ‘made up’ bits.


I find I’m only able to fictionalise ‘true events’ in my life once I have been able to emotionally distance myself from them.

Maybe this is the same for you – maybe you need time to allow something to become a story in your mind rather than a traumatic event.

Fact can be a great basis for fiction – it’s just how you handle it.

I hope that you have found these tips helpful.

Happy writing



Author, Catriona Hoy is celebrating the launch of her fifth picture book, “Puggle”, which she says now qualifies her to call herself a children’s writer – personally, I think she was one way before then.

Catriona writes wonderful books about real things, but turns them into fiction. She’s here today to give us some tips on how she does it. Over to you, Catriona.


If there was one tip I could give about turning fact into fiction, it’s the obvious one. Research!

I regularly write non fiction for some childrens magazines. With non fiction I usually have a topic and a brief, so the shape of the writing is there so to speak. Once I have researched, collated and refined my material, the smaller subheadings begin to emerge; pretty much like writing an essay.

However, with fiction, it is more difficult. My new picture book, Puggle, began with an idea. My imagination was captured by a cute baby echidna that I met at the home of some wildlife carers. I loved the name and wanted to write a story but the shape wasn’t there yet. The idea sat around somewhere in the back of my head, brewing away.

I kept in touch with the wildlife carers and they told me of Puggle’s progress as he grew and began to learn the skills he would need to survive. While I waited for the shape of the story to come, I found out all I could about echidnas. I searched for photos online, compiled lists of interesting facts and made a timeline marking out the milestones in Puggle’s life.

I distilled all the information down to the essentials, what would be the most important points. Then the story began to take shape.

Puggle just getting spines

There was the beginning and introduction, then the explanation of how Puggle came to be with his carers. Then forward in time to trace Puggle as he grew up. Because the house was filled with other animals, I began to mark time passing with the exit of some of these animals as they became well and returned to the wild.

The challenge with turning fact into fiction is that it has to be a readable story, the language has to flow, the story must be interesting, we must love Puggle…otherwise it will sound like a piece of research that has been turned into a story and is more suited to a nonfiction book. So I think the key is …EMOTION.  You have to love your characters and they have to feel real to you and other people.

With Puggle, one of the obvious markets is the educational one; therefore I really had to resist the temptation to give Puggle human emotions. The nearest I came to it was ‘ milk smelt very, very good.’ I had to get into character and imagine I was a baby echidna.

Finally, for me, verifying the text is important.

As I write picture books, they are short and therefore not too onerous to read. I established contact with Dr Peggy Rismiller at the Pelican Lagoon Research Centre on Kangaroo Island. She generously read the text and advised on any areas that she thought needed tweaking. Likewise, the carers in the story also gave me their advice. (Including the fact that they would have euthanized the magpie with the broken leg …but I didn’t think that was appropriate to include!)

If anyone would like to see pictures of Puggles, there are some gorgeous ones on my website and some information about some of my other books.


Thanks so much for dropping in Catriona, and telling us your story and sharing your helpful tips. (Believe me, Catriona’s pictures are seriously cute, you will definitely want to see them).

Catriona is visiting us on her blog tour. Here’s where you can catch her in cyber space over the next couple of weeks.

Blog Tour Dates
April 12 http://scribblygum.wordpress.com/
April 13 https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/
April 14 http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com/
April 15 http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com/
April 16 http://orangedale.livejournal.com/
April 17 http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com/
April 18 http://angelasunde.blogspot.com/
April 19 http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/
April 20 http://belka37.blogspot.com
April 21 http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/
April 22 http://trudietrewin.com/blog-ramblings/

Hope you enjoyed Catriona’s visit as much as I did.

Happy writing.