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Writing the “True Novel”

In the May/June issue’s 5-Minute Memoir, bestseller Patti Callahan Henry detailed how she took a story from real life and transformed it into fantastic fiction. As she discovered, it’s no easy task.

Here’s what she learned:

1. Start with the facts, but don’t be tethered to them. Ask yourself, What if … ?

2. Put aside all data—the names, dates, places, etc., of the real event—so that you can get to know the fictional characters that will inhabit your story.

3. Look deep into the story to find the heart. What does this story mean to you? Why does it matter?

4. Break free from chronology. Don’t rely on this happened, then that happened.

5. Examine the real-life story for synchronicities. What deeper meaning can you extract from them?

6. Understand that the outcome of your novel can be different from the outcome of the real-life story.

7. Remember what Mark Twain said: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities.” Explore those possibilities.

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