Based on a True Story

The phrase ‘based on a true story’ is marketing catnip, but it also presents special challenges to writers. People often tell me stories from real life that I ponder and re-mix into starting points for fiction. Once is a while, someone will tell me a story and make me promise NOT to use it. This doesn’t happen often and I warn friends that I’m a story vampire and may not be able to resist the lure of good premise.

Last week a good friend related a true story that I can only describe as magical in its combination of coincidence and instinct. He said he wanted to commission (yes, that’s his word) a few stories based on real life events. The story based on the magical coincidence started to write itself a few days later.

This is where it gets tricky.

My friend told me the story from his point-of-view, while as a storyteller I can see that it needs an omniscient voice, one that speaks to the feelings of one of the other principal players and the not on the feelings of my friend. In order to tell the story, I must imagine how this woman felt. What she did. And how she reacted to what happened—including her interactions with my friend.

How will I write him as a character? That is the challenge. His—almost supernatural—ability to put the right people together is at the heart of the tale. If this were purely fiction, I might even write him as a wizard or an enchanted changeling gifted with magical empathy. But as this is a true story, I must tell the story without an “actual” supernatural element.

It’s an interesting challenge…. Do you have any thoughts on the tricky game we play when we base a story on real life?


The magic of real life stories…


  1. Ick…. 🙁 I’m sorry but this one fills me with unease. You’ve rightly pointed out the requirements of THE story, but it’s pretty clear the person who told you /his/ story has cast himself in the starring role. You can’t satisfy him and the THE story as well, not unless, as you say, you cast him as a fantasy wizard.
    Can you get out of this one?

    • Candy Korman

      This particular wizard of a person trusts me to do my kind of magic and turn his story into a story. It wasn’t that he cast himself in the lead, he simply told me the story from his point of view——a literal POV of the outsider. To give the story emotional weight, it has to be told with a focus on one of the other characters. My friend will understand. I’m certain of that. I just hope I can a good job in bringing to life this real life story in a quasi fictional format.

      The funny thing is that I think that in his own sphere——Argentine Tango——he really is a wizard, with a magical instinct about people.