Based on a True Story – Let’s Discuss

Posted March 7, 2015 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Let's Discuss / 42 Comments

As I was coming up with ideas for this month’s Discussion Challenge Link-up, I was struck with this idea of fiction vs. non-fiction. I actually didn’t think all that much of it in the moment, but the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. So, I’m going to be writing two posts on the topic. This first one is all about why I’m fascinated with the idea of fiction that’s based on a true story.

As soon as I know that a fictional story is based on something real (even just a little bit), I’m instantly intrigued. There’s something about knowing that the things the characters are going through are based in reality that makes me want to know more – connects me even more deeply to them. Of course, all fiction is based somewhat on reality. Even the most fantastical fantasy is created by an author who uses their own experiences and emotions to inform their writing. But a hint of actual reality – that totally draws me in!

Recently, I’ve read several fiction books that were fiction, but were inspired by true events. One of those is the book All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (which I just reviewed yesterday). The book is completely fiction, but when you read the author’s notes at the end (which you always should – I find that it often really enhances my view of the story!), you’ll see that she was inspired to write it because of a friend that she lost to suicide. This made the book more deeply personal to her, and as a reader, I could feel that intense personal connection – it came through to me.


Another fantastic example of this was the book Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. Again, this book explores mental illness (I actually haven’t written my review of this book yet, but it is amazing, but quite psychedelic in a lot of places, since it is told from the POV of a teenage boy who is suffering from schizophrenia). My first clue that this was based on real life was the fact that Neal Shusterman’s son’s drawings are featured throughout the book. Plus, reading this book, I just felt that personal connection with the topic – Shusterman told the story too well. I knew that he either had some personal experience with this type of mental illness or he had talked extensively with people who had. Sure enough, the author’s notes confirmed what I had suspected – his own son struggles with mental illness and many of the experiences in the book are based on what his son went through (and what he went through as a parent). Sure the book was fiction, but it was infused with intensely truthful and personal moments. Plus, just knowing that the book was based on real experiences made it that much more amazing to me.

Challenger Deep

One last example is a book that I edited recently – Dare by Allie Juliette Mousseau. I’ve worked closely with Allie for the past couple of years, and so I’ve gotten to know and love her. She is an amazing person and a fantastic author! I’ve always known that she infuses her books with a lot of her personal experiences. Her son and father were both in the military and some of their struggles can be found in her first book.  But at the beginning of Dare, she put a quick note saying that much of the book is based on a true story. She doesn’t go into any more detail than that, and I won’t go into specifics either, but I did find out later that the story follows parts of her life much more closely than I realized. Dare was a huge success (her best yet – it became a USA Today bestseller!) – and that success was so much sweeter because the people who fell in love with these characters and their circumstances were, in many ways, supporting Allie herself without even knowing it. It validated her life and her struggles when people supported this book. I’ve LOVED seeing this process from the other side and seeing how fans can truly touch an author in an intimate and spectacular way! I adore Allie and her fans do too – I think that they can sense the truth in her books – the rawness and reality of the emotions.


Like I said, I’m a sucker for a true story. Whether it’s a story that’s just inspired by a unique, real place (like The Walled City) or a story that’s very nearly true with fictional elements mixed in to make the story work better, I love it! Oddly enough, though, actual non-fiction (even things like memoirs) don’t interest me at all – weird, right? But that’s a topic for next week …

How about you? Do you love fiction that’s based or inspired by real circumstances? Does a story affect you more emotionally when you know it’s based on something the author actually experienced, or does this not really impact you? I want to know!


42 responses to “Based on a True Story – Let’s Discuss

  1. You might really enjoy creative non-fiction then if you love fiction that’s based on a true story. This is a story writing technique I came across last year while listening to The Writing Excuses podcast. They have some recommendations in that post, so I’ll link to it here.

  2. Personally, there’s two types of fiction I’m in the mood for – something fantastical that will never happen that I can lose myself in (Harry Potter, Throne of Glass etc.) and something real and emotional that I can relate to (contemporaries, historical fiction etc.). When I’m reading a contemporary I like for it to be realistic and my rating is usually reflective of how realistic the storyline felt, and how much the book made me FEEL at all. Fantastical reads aren’t judged just as harshly on this criteria (though I love when they depict “accurate” human emotions too), because I don’t know how I’d react to a lord of the underworld being after me, or if my boyfriend turned into a werewolf. Mixed in with this, if fiction based on a real story – I usually find that because of the research, it feels much more realistic, and because we know it’s based on real life events, hurts hurt more, heart-breaks ache more, and it’s even easier to empathise with the characters. Does that whole ramble make sense??? Lol

    Rachel recently posted: Review: Losing Hope
    • Definitely makes sense! I totally agree – fantasy and paranormal have more wiggle room in general because you’re not expecting realism. But contemps need to feel much more true to life (though I still don’t want it to be completely realistic because sometimes real life is too boring! LOL!).

  3. Interesting post. I do love fiction that is based on a true story, and am always eager to learn more about the reality behind the narrative. But I wouldn’t say that it appeals to me more than purely invented fiction (insofar as that is possible — writers always draw from their experience in one way or another). What I am finding more and more that I HATE is non-fiction that contains so much speculation and guesswork that the writer should really have just made it into a novel.

    Lory @ Emerald City Book Review recently posted: New Release Review: Echo
    • Interesting – I don’t think I’ve read any non-fiction that I could say that about. But, then again, I don’t read much non-fiction at all, so I guess that would explain why!

  4. A great post! It’s funny I stumbled on your post because I was having a similar discussion with my reading group. I love fiction, but find fiction based on true experience to be incredible as it just adds another layer to the final story. And, it gives me a new view of the author.

    • True – an unhappy ending that you know is real is just sort of depressing. Which is also why I really enjoy fiction based on true stories rather than actual non-fiction – the details you don’t like can be changed!

  5. This was a great post, and it really made me think!

    I’ve decided I’m not a big fan of fictional books inspired by a true story. Movies are fine, but if I’m reading a book, I more prefer it to be either non-fiction or fiction. I don’t mind reading non-fiction if it’s not too dry. I like fiction the best, though.

    I guess I just feel that if you’re going to write a story based on/inspired by true events, why not just write the true events as a non-fiction work? However, that does take away the author’s creative license.

    • Interesting perspective. I really like the fiction aspect because the author can make the story work in ways that it wouldn’t otherwise. But I can definitely see your point.

  6. It does make a book a lot more real and interesting when you know it was based on something real- a person, or an experience. It’s like seeing a movie that was based on real life. I tend to get more emotional because it’s not that only COULD happen, it DID happen. That changes things sometimes.

    ShootingStarsMag recently posted: A Look Back at Blog World (6)
    • Yes – this is actually the topic for my next week’s post (I ended up splitting it into two because otherwise it would have just been TOO long). I don’t like non-fiction either. I’m really not a fan of anything that reads like a memoir, and honestly, I like fiction because the author can take the liberty of “fixing” what really happened to make it work dramatically. So, fiction based on reality is great (for me), but pure reality … not so much. 🙂

    • You actually make a good point. For some books (like All the Bright Places) I don’t know until after I’ve read the book that it was based on real experiences. In that case, I already loved the book, but knowing that it had come from the author’s own life made me think that much more deeply about it afterward.

  7. I think this is the reason that I like historical fiction so much. I love reading about things that really happened, but with a fictional twist to make things interesting. I am currently reading Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, which is based on World War I. I love how he, and other historical fiction writers, are able to put their own ideas into history.
    I have not read much nonfiction, but I made it a goal this year to try and start reading some biographies.

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  8. I think books based on true stories,people and events are beautiful.The fact that it was real makes the emotions more intense.I’ve always loved movies based on true stories-especially tragic ones.I haven’t read a book which is wholly based on a true story,but I’ve read some which are inspired by true events and people,and I’ve loved them all!

    Mishma @ Chasing Faerytales recently posted: My favourite contemporary heroines.
  9. I’m torn on this. I do like realistic stories, but I guess it depends on how realistic. TFiOS, All the Bright Places… those are reads that are too realistic for me and I don’t like how emotionally bogged down I get with those kinds of books. I don’t believe everything has to have a HEA, but I guess with ATBP, I wanted a more hopeful outcome for all involved. Otherwise, if a book is too far fetched and everything is too easy, I don’t typically like that either.

    Jessica@Lovin' Los Libros recently posted: Review: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp
    • I can definitely see how some people responded to AtBP that way. Sometimes realty is a bit TOO depressing – I personally loved it, but it can be hard to swallow this type of book sometimes.

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