How to write fiction that is based on real life: 7 tips to bring your story to life

This is a guest post by Harlow Drake

My story isn’t a warm and fuzzy one.

My father was murdered when I was 12 years of age.

A few years ago, at my uncle’s urging, I looked into what happened to him. The police had suspects, but no one was ever arrested and the case remains unsolved.

I learned a lot about police procedure when I looked into my father’s murder. It was then that I decided to write a novel.

While my murder mystery novella, Life in Death, is not entirely based on what happened to my father, it draws from real life experiences I had with him.

Writing the novel was a cathartic experience for me. What I liked most and found particularly cleansing about the experience was my power to spin the story as I saw fit.

We all love, hate, laugh, cry, and everything in between, so we’re never at a loss for stories to tell.

Here’s how you get started writing a novel based on a true story:

  • Determine what kind of story you want to write. Talk to family and friends. Look at newspaper articles. I don’t want to be morose, but look at obituaries, too. Take notes. There are stories there.
  • Determine the story’s theme: Good/evil, love/hate, birth/death, peace/war, etc. Again, take notes. This may be where the title of your book comes from, or maybe not. The title of my book came to me in a dream.
  • Construct a compelling plot. I suggest creating a plot outline to start with. I used the “what if” technique to determine what would happen in my chapters. Basically, you ask yourself “what if” this or that happened to your character and expand from there.
  • Create dynamic scenes. My advice is that something has to happen in every chapter or scene.
  • Create multi-dimensional characters. Many writers, including yours truly, base their characters on real people and then add nuances to create more complexity and depth. This is one way to go.
  • Read, read, read. The more you read, the better writer you’ll become.

Truth can be stranger than fiction, but maybe not as entertaining. The key to writing a novel based on a true story is in spinning the story to make it enjoyable for readers.

About this post’s author:

Author Harlow Drake was born in Kansas City, MO, but grew up in Denver, CO. She relocated to North Carolina five years ago with her husband, two dogs, and 16-year old twins. Her debut novel Life in Death is a murder mystery that pulls from real-life situations in her own family history. She felt compelled to share her story with the world while offering a thrilling, entertaining, and amusing escape for readers. She loves to connect with her readers on Twitter, her blog, and on Facebook.


  1. These were great tips here, Harlow. I sometimes find myself getting stuck as I am working on my first novel, that’s also based on real life. But these tips will certainly come in handy for me. Thanks for sharing them here and thank Novel Publicity for having you over.
    Deeone Higgs recently posted..Clear Up Your VisionMy Profile

  2. Great post, Harlow. Thanks for the tips and congrats on the launch of your awesome book! ;)
    Kimberly Kinrade recently posted..The launch of Bella World and a major book sale!!My Profile

  3. Thanks for popping over, Deeone. Good luck with the book.
    Harlow Coban recently posted..CODE OF CONDUCTMy Profile

  4. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without you and Pav’s exceptional support. Thanks!
    Harlow Coban recently posted..CODE OF CONDUCTMy Profile

  5. A lot of great tips you share in here..i really appreciate it..
    Jill recently posted..pregnancy miracleMy Profile

  6. Inspiring post. i enjoyed it as it was a familiar situation when I wrote a novel that more non that much of fiction I claimed it to be.
    csthartic for me? Yes. Document for what was going on my life, yes.
    I will be looking of for your Life in Death.
    Malika Bourne recently posted..How do get your point across to your teen?My Profile

  7. Hi Jill, thanks for stopping by.
    Harlow Coban recently posted..CODE OF CONDUCTMy Profile

  8. Hi Malika, I appreciate your comments and thank you for your interest. You can find my book here: I’m the parent of teens so I’ll be hopping over to read your recent post. Cheers!
    Harlow Coban recently posted..CODE OF CONDUCTMy Profile

  9. Great post, and thanks for sharing your story!

    Good luck with the book!
    Nick Thacker recently posted..Hack Your Life: Ben Franklin StyleMy Profile

  10. I’ve been planning on writing my whole life, I’m finally getting on with it. Thanks for the tips, I will keep them in mind. I think the challenge for me is figuring out what to leave out, sometimes there is almost too much to say.

  11. Chet Kamal Parkash

    Hi Rose, Yours is a good plan. Can you get back to me for more information.