Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Thin Line between Fact and Fiction

Photo taken by Claudia Del Balso
 When writing our stories, we usually get inspired on facts, true events, places and people we know. The question is, where do we draw the line between fiction and non-fiction?

One of my creative non-fiction short stories is based on my visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West. My mentor told me to be careful with overdoing the dialogue to avoid crossing into fiction. I had to keep it true (even if I had paraphrased) to what was really said. He also advised me to go easy on the minutiae: you can incorporate facts and any research without overwhelming readers with boring details. When writing non-fiction, you can reword conversations or change names without altering the facts. This is what I am doing in my latest story set in Istanbul, hence the photo above.

When using facts, don’t forget that your readers have to find the material informative, yet entertaining.
You can also use your sources by including them in the form of dialogue, background description, or three-dimensional scenes.

The material doesn’t have to sound like a university research paper. Be wise on how you weave the facts into the story.

One important piece of advice: you have to be a credible author. Your readers will know if your facts are accurate even if your story is fiction. A perfect example of this, my short story “I Am a Woman,” is a complete figment of my imagination. The story is set in Africa and even though I’ve never been there the facts were definitely there. I did extensive research and I knew I had succeeded when one of my readers, who happened to be African, told me she was impressed with the accuracy of the details. She was convinced I had been there.

Remember, just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it can’t sound real. Doing research can inspire you to create the perfect story.


  1. I so agree!! I think I've already said this anecdote before but I'll repeat it! In one of my scenes a character gets on a plane at this airport to Chicago. I didn't look it up - I just picked an airport and used the name.

    It was only after a proper fully fledged author critiqued my work did he point out that there were no such flights to Chicago from that airport. I could have died for shame! So yes, I learnt my lesson!! Fiction without the necessary research will show like a bad sore! Take care

  2. I agree with you on credibility. Fiction should always have some realistic base to anchor it. Even fantasy authors are able to do this. Great post!

  3. Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you for candidly sharing your story. But remember that it is from mistakes we learn ;)

    Hi Alleged Author,
    Thanks for your comment. This is one of the points my mentor keeps reminding me: I have to be a credible author therefore, I have to create credible characters that fit in a suitable story.

  4. Interesting post. I've just completed a screen play which I've sent out with hope. The problem was that the ending needed a bit more pizzazz. Why not just write that pizzazz? Because it was a dramatisation of a true story. How to get round it? Suggest an adulterous affair. Problem? You bet. A grandchild is still around who might understandably be miffed. Research is everything :)

  5. Hi Mike,
    Yep! Research is important indeed. Whether you're writing fiction, plays, children's books, accuracy is key. Best of luck with your screen play!

  6. Greetings from Turkey (Turkiye). Very nice photo of The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It is a historical mosque in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the capital of the Ottoman Empire (from 1453 to 1923). The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. While still used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has also become a popular tourist attraction.

  7. Merhaba Isa,
    thank you for stopping by and for this wonderful piece of information on the Blue Mosque. I absolutely loved Istanbul and all the architecture that's iconic to it such as the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Museum and Domabahce Palace. Just amazing!

  8. Did you see the harem Claudia? And where have you been? like the new posts on your blog, guess who!

  9. Hi Colette,
    I'm assuming it's you ;)
    No, the Topkapi palace museum is so huge we didn't have time to see the harem but we definitely saw the treasures :)
    But we got to see other major/important places.
    Thanks for dropping by.

  10. Hi Claudia,
    Good advice on doing one's research. Place and time are both important. Even in fiction, when the reader finds something that doesn't ring true, it can break their investment in the story. I'm now writing a project set in 1940. Fingers crossed.

  11. My blog Amish Stories is having its first ever contest this week. The First prize winner will win 2 tickets to tour the farm where the 1985 move "Witness" staring Harrison Ford and Kelly Mcgillis was made in Strasburg,Pa . This farm is now Amish owned, and the family has given permission for folks to tour their farm. This may be the last time anyone will be able to walk and see the same things that Harrison Ford and the other actors saw during the making of "Witness". The Witness tour should last about 2.5 hours. In addition to the Witness farm tour tickets, 1st prize winner will also receive 2 tickets for Jacobs choice. There will also be a 2nd place prize, which will be 2 tickets for the Amish Homestead. Please go to My blog www.AmishStorys.com for contest details, and more information on the prizes. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county.

  12. Hi Adam,
    Thank you! Yep, I learned this the hard way when I started my writing career. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you ;)

  13. Hi Claudia,

    I've only recently discovered your blog and am looking forward to becoming a regular reader. I'm a creative nonfiction writer venturing into fiction as a way to tell some truths that I cannot otherwise tell. It is incredibly challenging and is forcing me to unbutton my brain (a good thing, I think!).

  14. Claudia, can I hire you to do my research? ;)

  15. Hi Beth,
    Thank you for stopping by. I invite you to join my blog so that you can get my weekly posts and meet wonderful fellow writers ;)
    Venturing into fiction will only expand your writing wings. Believe me, you'll get hook once you try writing fiction. Hope to see you around.

    Hi Michelle,
    Yes, you can hire me. In fact, I'm looking for a job ;) Any suggestions?