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.
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!