The “True Story” Conundrum by Shelli Wright

There are so many interesting people and situations in our lives, you could write nothing but true stories your whole life and never run out. In fact, most of this year’s award noms are based on a true story… Dallas Buyers Club, Blue Jasmine, Philomena, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, and Wolf of Wall Street.

So how much of it is really true? And how do we, as writers, know when to fudge the facts in favor of a compelling tale?

I recently finished a script about my own father, and being objective about the character proved nearly impossible. In real life, I see him as this smart guy with a good sense of humor, who takes everything in stride. So I kept getting notes from the group saying, “Everything is too easy for your protagonist,” “He has nothing to overcome…”

I knew I needed to create a flawed man with obstacles, but I kept writing the guy I “see.” Then I realized I had another reality at my disposal… a sister, who sees him quite differently. (I love my sister. I love my dad. Families are complicated. Yada, yada, yada.) The point is, it provided a great tool. I was able to write the dad she sees in the beginning grow into the dad I see at the end, giving my protagonist a real arc, which is still true.

The lesson for me was… sometimes all you need is to view your real life ‘characters’ through someone else’s lens.

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