Turning true stories into fiction

I’ve just read a news story about a personal shopper who, in a fit of jealousy, destroyed her boyfriend’s (ex-boyfriend’s, surely?) expensive clothes. The female protagonist in my second novel is a personal shopper and I know better than to have her behave like that – personal shoppers have too much respect for expensive clothes for such a story to be convincing.

This has set me pondering on the paradox that what you put in a novel has to strike your reader as plausible, no matter that it happened in real life. My days of whining ‘But it really happened to me’ are over.

I was once visited by a Peeping Tom and the police suggested that I had imagined it until they found his footprints outside my window. Having put this incident into  short story and got a professional critique of it, I was indignant when told that my plot was unbelievable: the police would never behave like that. I have used the incident again in my novel ‘Timed Out’. But this time I have ensured that the police have been told the woman has mental health issues.

Being dumped: I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had that experience and not seen it coming and not understood why it happened. There are  two such events in ‘Timed Out’, but in the novel plenty of clues have been laid, and  the men’s motivation is (I hope) understandable and predictable, at least to the reader.

People do unexpected things and often we never find out why they did them. They act out of character. But that is not good enough for fiction. It’s rather the same as for writing dialogue – you can’t just put down what happens in real life.

Do please let me know what you think and give some more examples.

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