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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