I had the wonderful opportunity to go to the movies before Christmas at watch the much-awaited Disney movie, Saving Mr. Banks. Needless to say, the simple awareness that Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks were the main actors was enough to spark my excitement, but add to it the story behind the ‘creation’ of my much loved Mary Poppins movie and I was all –in!
Disney hand-picked the info it wanted to use - and then refined its fiction to make a good movie-story, because there are plenty of real-life elements to P.L. Travers (the author of Mary Poppins) that wouldn’t have given the warm-oozy feeling we get by the end. And in the Mary Poppins’ books, Mary probably wouldn’t have been quite as lovable on the screen as she is in the Disney version.
I’m doing research for my new WIP right now and I’m watching my collection of Christy movies. The t.v. movie series inspired by Catherine Marshall’s classic books does the same thing. It takes real-life and glazes it with enough fiction to bring out a great story. That’s why the series and Saving Mr. Banks are labeled as ‘based on true events’ or ‘based on a true story’ – but they aren’t biographical. It’s adding the fictional twist to a true tale.
Here are a few tips on how to take real-life and transform it into good fiction?
1. Passion – is there are story worth telling? Let's face it, most of our regular lives aren't that interesting to place in the plot of a book, but sometimes we come across a story worth telling. Careful consideration of the 'true events' and how those events can be crafted into a novel is important to consider.
2. Protect the real-life characters - When you spin 'real life' into fiction, things can get a little sticky with characters and stories. To keep Uncle Joe, Great Aunt Marge, or whoever else's decendents from making your life pretty tough, we need to use pseudonyms. It's not difficult when you're creating characters from scratch, but using a true story that can be identified by others carries special care with it. Make sure the names and very specific details are changed for fiction.
|old school early 1930s|
4. Truth/Message - Good stories need heart - a purpose. Ones gleaned from real-life need that too. Just because Uncle Ralph was a soldier in World War I and came back to tell the tale - doesn't mean HIS story is a novel. Does it have a message? Does it hold all of those other wonderful elements of a good story - conflict, goals, character growth?? What's the point of the story?
|picture of some of my ancestors in 1909|
5. Don’t let Real-Life events stifle your fictional story - If Disney had gotten all the details right in Saving Mr. Banks, it would have broken the HEA mold Disney is so well-known for - so instead it kept some fictional aspects (or glazed with real-life with a whole lot of faerie dust) to make their story work. Novelizations do this quite often - that's one reason the book is fiction instead of nonfiction. The true events become our guide, our inspiration, but then we fill in the rest with our own creativity. Now if you're dealing with wildly publicized 'real events', you have to dance with more care because you don't want your story to be discredited, but again...your story is fiction so it gives much more margin for creativity. :-)
Let's Talk: Have you ever read or written a book that was based on a true story? What did you like best about it? What's something you felt could have been strengthened?
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