Honoring Fact in Fiction

fact in fiction

A writer can honor fact in fiction just as in nonfiction. Friends, family, pets, locations, events… anyone or anything can be inserted smartly into storytelling, with a wink to those who really know the truth.

Novelists forever juggle fact and fiction, wanting so much to write what they know in real life but worried someone will take issue with it and sue or concerned revealing too much personal information will be a betrayal. You might have a wealth of material to incorporate into a tale to give it a sense of reality but are afraid to use it.

But there is a way to honor fact in fiction. There are ways to take all those feelings, memories, experiences, and people in your life and use them to mold your scenes. While the characters aren’t necessarily from your history, individual exchanges can become part of your fictional characters, with nobody in real life being the wiser. Writing what you know can indeed enrich your fiction with nobody getting hurt in the process.

My mysteries abound with real life, subtly veiled as make believe. In my own way I honor people who’ve impacted my life, because inserting them into stories not only preserves them but also protects my own history, reminding me of moments that defined me.

Lowcountry Bribe is my first novel, the debut for the Carolina Slade Mystery Series. The story begins as an event that actually took place: I was offered a bribe and participated in an investigation that went sideways. For obvious reasons, I had to disguise many factions of that case. But I inserted many other pieces of my life to give it flavor, in honor of those I know and love, to include the man I eventually married. It’s like keeping a journal with enough details changed to make people wonder what part of the book is real and which part is imagination.

On a tense scene on a front porch, Carolina Slade has a heart-to-heart with her newly separated husband about how their lives would change. Behind the door, her father stands guard, gun in hand, ready to deal with her daughter’s spouse if the need arises. I remember thinking of my own father as a hero during my own similar situation. Today he’s in his eighties. One day when he’s gone, I’ll read that scene and remember the knight in shining armor.

In the same book, Slade recalls her grandfather seated at a Formica table, much like one she finds in an abandoned farm house where a farmer recently died. The floor is worn where the poor, lone farmer sat day in and day out, eating meals by himself, until he succumbed to age. I inserted a fond memory of when my own grandfather sat at such a table, in his own farm house, my little sister on his lap. He taught her how to drink coffee cooled on a saucer, slurp it, smack in delight, and then say “Damn that’s good!” He’d reward her with a nickel to say it in front of my mother. The situation fit so well in that chapter, drawing the protagonist back into her own memories, allowing her to distance herself from the stress of the case to relive a childhood moment, if only for a few seconds.

The truth and the story-telling, the fact and the fiction. They can entwine until one cannot tell the difference. Fueling your story with snippets of life instills three-dimensional depth, allowing you to sink into the tale, feeling it as reality around you as you attempt to mold a novel. These reality instances empower you, enabling you to more fully explore what is needed for a complete scene.

My mother’s cooking, my son’s defiant behavior as a child, and even the name Slade. A strong name. A name with very defined roots in my family’s genealogy. Using that special family name, even noting in the tale that it was my Mississippi grandmother’s maiden name on my mother’s side, I’ve left a piece of my legacy in print for my progeny to pass on.

Honoring people in fiction doesn’t have to entail a poignant or nostalgic memory, though. In writing my latest release, Murder on Edisto, I recall an argument between one of my best friends and my husband. She’s a free spirit and he’s law enforcement. When it comes to locks, she’s of the mind that strong security is welcoming danger into your life, as if embracing the negativity. Of course, security is a necessity in his world. To listen to the two go at it for an hour was humorous, especially knowing neither would convince the other to relinquish their polar position. As a nod to their beliefs, the conversation found its way into the story.

The list goes on and on. A writer can honor her world in fiction just as in nonfiction. Friends, family, pets, locations, events… anyone or anything can be inserted smartly into storytelling, with a wink to those who really know the truth.


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  1. I found this article interesting in that I have thought of writing a story which actually happened to a personal friend. But I would change names to protect her and her children.

  2. I get so much email that I don’t open everything. Even Bookbaby rarely gets opened. When I saw the subject line – Honoring Fact in Fiction – I opened this up because its something I work with in much of my writing and wanted to learn more. Imagine my surprise when I saw this post was written by one of my favorite authors.

    Hello Hope! And thank you for teaching me more about writing…again!

  3. Thank you for this post. I am a beginner working on my first novel. It is a historical mystery set in the Wild West in Nevada in 1871. I would like to include some historical figures but I am confused on how I can do that without problems. For example, did this person really visit in Nevada? Does that need to be proven or can you use that as fiction? Also, I know titles can’t be subject to copyright, but can you use an agency name that is still in existence?

    • First, it is an historical mystery–not “a.” Get the grammar right and out of the reader’s way. Then let Wild Bill burst through the saloon doors with a swagger, heel drag his way across the room spurs scraping the floor and he cursing so loudly the piano player freezes, the crowd roar of gamblers, drunks, and those about-to-be falls silent and everyone hears the bar tender squeak out a weak, surprised, “Howdy, Bill. Usual?”

  4. Thanks for permission to use bits and pieces of my life experiences in my writing. The only conscious time I did so was to endow my adult hero with some mannerisms and preferences that my little grandson had before he died in a playground accident at the age of 18 months. They carried the same name but likely only his mother and I will notice. And that’s okay.

  5. Don’t we all insert disguised events, people, and opinions from our own lives into our fiction? All our ideas can’t possibly come from nowhere. My crime novels are positively littered with situations and events that either I’ve witnessed, been involved in, experienced, or simply heard about from friends, acquaintances and colleagues.

    If we don’t inject ‘real’ things into our writing, it loses its credibility. I’ve always said: “Get the facts right, and they’ll believe the fiction.”


  6. The question you don’t answer, though, is whether those people involved in the situation you insert into your stories, like your friend and your husband, felt queasy about winding up in your book because they were afraid they’d be recognized. Has that ever happened to you?

  7. I appreciate that the author uses personal experience and actual writing examples to make her point. How better to explain this than to draw from real life?

  8. I really like this article. The sentence ‘ In my own way I honor people who’ve impacted my life, because inserting them into stories not only preserves them but also protects my own history, reminding me of moments that defined me.’ I have already written one particular individual into my second novel and a passing nostalgic reference to another. I didn’t do it in my first, I hadn’t found my feet. But I did mention a piece of machinery, no joking, a piece of machinery that helped define a good deal of my life. Well done Hope and bookBaby!!


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