Is it all only make believe?

Law and Order


How many times have you watched a cop show on TV and a few minutes into the episode  said to yourself, “Oh, yeah.  I remember seeing that on the news.”

It is a common technique for such shows to use real events as backdrops for  fictional treatments. The reason the approach works so well is because people want to watch or read about things that have happened, or at least could have happened, to other flesh and blood human beings.

Using a real event as fodder for fiction creates a number of interesting challenges for authors.

Do readers want the story to  remain true to historical events, or is just a whiff of reality enough?  How much license does the writer have in re-creating the story?

In the digital world of fiction reality often takes a back seat to imagination.  Fantasy, horror, sci-fi and permutations of those genres hang their hats on the notion that things can and should occur on their pages that are alien to the work a day world we inhabit.

But traditional thriller, mystery and suspense novels are different. They take a world like the one we are used to, throw characters into events that are within the realm of possibility and let the chips fall where they may. The reason I gravitate in my reading and writing toward those genres is because I want to see people in almost impossible situations find a way out.

A hero with a super power is not one I can identify with.  He has a way out of a tough situation that isn’t available to me. It’s not about using his wits to outsmart the bad guys, or summoning his last vestige of physical energy to climb the mountain that blocks his way.

I suppose I am struggling here with the continuum that stretches from pure  non-fiction, to narrative or creative non-fiction to pure fiction. The use of a real event, or a setting that evokes one, inhabits the slot just between narrative non-fiction and pure fiction. It is neither fish nor fowl.

The other side of this equation is that no author can imagine a fictional series of events that haven’t actually played themselves out some where, some time in the real world.  Truth is stranger than fact, as they used to say on Hee Haw.   Hee Haw

But in the back of my mind I feel that picking something out of the real world, dressing it in different clothes and parading it our as an original work of fiction is some form of cheating. It’s like it is a shortcut around creating a new world out of whole cloth where characters can take root.

So, let me hear from you about this. Readers, do you like stories that evoke current events?  Authors, do you search the headlines for gripping true life stories to use as   roadmaps for your books?

Oh, and by the way, I could hardly write a blog entitled Is it All Only Make Believe? without paying homage to the late great Conway Twitty.


(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author of thrillers.  Click here to see his books on his Amazon author page.)

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