Using Real Events for a Story

I’m not talking nonfiction. And I’m not talking about simply using one’s life experience. I’m talking about particular events. Kind of like the TV show Castle. He uses real crimes (in the show) and writes books about them.

I think it’d be an interesting thing to do, but I doubt I’d ever even try it. It would lead me to ask myself why not just write nonfiction instead? If an author really wants to focus on real events, then why not REALLY focus on them?

For example, one of the most notorious crimes of my lifetime was when Andrea Yates killed her five children in Houston. I’m certain that there are plenty of books about this, but I think it’d be better to go ahead and write some true crime rather than a novel when it comes to something like that.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but I do think authors may hesitate to go from fiction to nonfiction or vice-versa if they’re already well known for one or the other. Makes sense. Don’t want to confuse readers. But what do I know, right?

Do you ever use specific events from real life in your stories? Things that didn’t necessarily happen to you.

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15 thoughts on “Using Real Events for a Story

  1. I was actually considering taking my mom’s immigration from Vietnam during the war and turning it into a fantasy short story. Not to publish or anything, just for friends and family. But then I figured it would be better just to write a biography, which I did, though I’m still working on it. Plus, that’s what she wanted originally. I might still write a fantasy-type version of it in my spare time, but it would just be a fun project. Other than that, I’ve sometimes gotten inspiration from real events, but I’ve never used one in a story.

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  2. Well, we all kind of do this all the time to an extent, as you say. You meet interesting people and – with some alteration usually – fictionalise them. I have a few characters which were directly drawn that way.
    As for big events -crimes particularly – that have made it onto the news and using them to base a story on … Well, you have you be careful. You need to make your story different enough or you could get your ass sued.
    But yes, I steal from real life every day.

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    • Hmm. I must not be meeting interesting enough people. Cause I can’t think of the last time met someone who I wanted to bring to life in my writing. Random thought: I hate the idea of criminals making money off their crimes. I think most states have actually banned it. The money goes to the victims in some cases. I think.

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      • Well, I do ride public transport regularly, so I see some sights! I don’t think I know anyone too weird -with the odd exception – but I do watch people and think ‘Yes, I saw what you did there – you totally manipulated that situation’ or ‘you have an answer for everything and yet you’re so ill informed’ that kind of thing.
        I have got chatting to a few people – homeless people, old ladies – and I’ve thought ‘you really have led a life’. I coud write a whole series of novels around a homeless guy I used to talk to regularly – he was a kick boxer, a builder, a bouncer, lost a fortune in a bar in Thailand, got on the wrong side of organised criminals in Australia – he must’ve lived three lifetimes to fit it all in.
        Interesting about the criminals giving money to their victims. Pretty sure that’s not the case here – certainly not if they’ve served their sentence. Maybe it should be.

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      • Hmmmm. See, the only people I see are not people I’d like to write about. Like racists or people with views way outside the mainstream who decide to strike up a conversation. I’ve been criticized twice in a bookstore about being an atheist. Like, what?
        The criminals giving money to their victims has only happened when they’re really notorious for what they did. I think.

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      • You’ve been criticised for being an atheist? Is that against the rules in your book shop, then? Well, your racists and oddballs could make for good villains in a crime novel …

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      • By customers, not employees. I don’t think so

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  3. I definitely let real current events influence my writing. I try to let my political views and such bleed through into my world and characters and I believe it gives it a more realistic feel, more relatable. As far as real events, I do base some events in my book off of real life, but it’s fantasy, and that’s kind of hard.
    On the matter of ever switching over to non-fiction, I don’t think I could ever do it. It’s just so different. I’m more of a dreamer and I want my own reality, not someone else’s. I don’t mind reading a good biography from time to time, but I could never write one.

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    • Hmm. I haven’t done any writing recently, but I’m definitely the same as you in that I try to let my points of view on things into my writing. Obviously there’s no need to offend anyone, but I see no issue with characters feeling strongly about things just as people do in real life. I understand what you mean by nonfiction being different. It is. And someone could go out of their way to fact check your entire book (assuming it’s on something a bit known). And that’s a little scary.

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  4. Yes, there was especially one large event that happened a couple years ago that inspired the ending to one of the books in my MG fantasy series. It was a horrendous day and atrocities occurred, and I wanted to pay homage to the people killed and injured. No, it’s not 9/11. But I think real life events are present in so many books I’ve read. When things affect us, as writers, we use them as fuel to light the fire of our creativity. Does that make no sense at all? I’m tired. I can’t tell.

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