On True Events and Fiction Or How I Was Bitten By a Monkey

I’ve been thinking about how true events mix and meld into fiction, forming something that’s both true and not true at the same time.

While nonfiction can be added to fiction, the reverse can’t be done. I was a reporter for a while and still freelance for feature articles. Fiction was my first love but I try not to let it sneak into any articles. As anyone who has ever seen the movie “Shattered Glass” knows, you can get into trouble that way. The movie also shows how fiction can make the facts a lot more interesting.

There is much more freedom in writing fiction. I love to get out and interview people for feature articles but whenever the time comes to sit down and write, the writing can feel constricted to facts and quotes. I’d rather let my imagination take over and drift into fiction.

Then just when I think I’m finally writing fiction, true events end up seeping in. In the short story that was recently posted here, the international incident on the beach did happen pretty much as described with maybe a few embellishments that hopefully helped to make it funnier. In real life, there was also a monkey on a leash that people liked to have their pictures taken with. That monkey bit me, which was also funny, but I couldn’t figure out a way to work the monkey bite into the story. It was just a little bite on the finger, but the lifeguard still gave me some antiseptic while calling monkeys, “little thieves who jump out of the trees to steal people’s sunglasses.”

Even as these things were happening, the idea to turn it all into a short story didn’t come up until I started thinking more about mixtures – from drinks to nationalities or cultures. There are lots of references to mixtures in the story, so I guess it makes sense that the story itself is a strange mixture of fact and fiction.

What have been your experiences with writing fiction? Is it always truly fiction or does the truth seep in somehow?

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20 thoughts on “On True Events and Fiction Or How I Was Bitten By a Monkey

  1. I suspect that truth has to seep into fiction, or it won’t seem real! Even when we are creating characters – I don’t know about you, but sometimes mine start off with real people (not normally people I know), but those I have observed covertly on the train!

    • That’s true – I keep wanting to try writing pure fiction that’s not based on reality at all but maybe that never really happens. I agree it’s better to include strangers as characters instead of any characters you might know in real life. Trains are good observing places for spying on those strangers.

  2. I like Stephen King’s quote: “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” When writing fiction, we try to create something new. The world and characters may be imaginary, but there HAS to be truth behind them or it’s just bad writing and sounds fake. I also like the famous advice “Write about what you know.” If you write what you know, there will always be truth in your work, even if it’s fiction.

    I loved the title, as well. It’s what made me click on the link to this post 🙂

    • Yes – as long as you’re not limited to writing what you know. I like being able to imagine as much as possible but probably don’t do it enough. After all that, I guess I didn’t explain why the monkey bit me – I think he just thought my finger was a banana. He grabbed onto it and before I knew what was happening, he bit it. Watch out for those monkeys!

  3. oh I find my truth(s) showing up in fiction all the time–be in the description of a hospital room or just a general theme of a story (I swear to God, I’ll think I’ve written something totally different and then oops, here comes that pesky theme of guilt and responsibility and expectations…sheesh!!)

    But rarely does some event that actually happened to me ever show up in a story in a significant way–perhaps something minor….some funny conversation I actually overheard will show up…but not in any major way. I don’t know if I consciously avoid that or if I just don’t include these things because now that I’ve lived through them, they bore me to write. Interesting…

  4. Several of my main characters share some experiences and traits with me. I tell people that’s why they chose me to write their stories. So some “real” events get woven into my fiction. I think it can give the reader a sense of “reality” or “truthfulness” about the story.

    Thanks for the follow! I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    • hahah – that’s a great way of saying it – that they chose you to write their stories. I’m looking forward to getting to know you too. 🙂

  5. I am not sure you can separate the two…the two are entwined, because even our imaginations draw from experience, from what we have learned and seen and heard. An interesting and thoughtful read

  6. I noticed you said you were a freelancer….I have wanted to do the same but I am not sure where to start. Do you think you can point me in a good direction or have any advice? You may use my email if you wish. Thank you much. celestealluvial26@gmx.com
    And thank you for your follow….it is wonderful to have you. I have followed you too so I can keep up.
    Happy writing
    Celeste

    • Thank you for following back! 🙂 For freelancing, local newspapers or regional magazines are good places to start. Most are probably online these days so if you look them up that way, you can send an email to the managing editor with links to or examples of your work. They might also want to see a resume and the email introducing yourself should be like the cover sheet that you use when applying for regular jobs. Local publications especially are probably looking for freelancers since they can use them instead of paying full-time reporters (even though salary for full-time reporters is usually pretty low – especially at a local publication)! Hope that helps – I’ll send you a msg anyway in case you were looking for more details.

  7. Hi Sheila.
    First I’ll start by saying that I love the feel of your WordPress, some astounding photography too.
    With regard to truth seeping through in fiction. I think it’s unavoidable, the last short story had elements of personas I have encountered during my life.

    Also, liked your poetry.

    Best wishes.

    Talia.

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