I am currently working on a short story that was inspired by a real-life series of events, and I’ve had to decide how closely I should stick to the historical record and how far I should stray for the sake of a good story.
I should make it clear that I’m not working on a piece of historical fiction along the lines of Harry Turtledove. It’s simply a piece that jumped into my head after I started thinking about the events.
As a lawyer, my first thoughts were of members of the real individuals’ estates coming after me for any number of reasons (This was a worst case fear. I do not expect my piece to 1) become a big deal or 2) treat the individuals badly, but you never know). So, I plan on taking a page out of the “Law and Order” playbook:
That is, change the names, change the setting, and change the details. Take pleasure in taking artistic license with history.
I’m not saying writers shouldn’t do plenty of research to make the details accurate for the time and place of the story. In fact, I would think your story would suffer without those details. Just don’t be a slave to those details. Remember the advice given to writers: reality doesn’t have to make sense; fiction does. So make the changes 1) necessary to separate yourself from your source material and 2) necessary to make your story entertaining.
I figure it’s better to use an allusion. The readers who recognize the real-life incident will feel get added pleasure from being on the inside, while others who do not know the real-life story can simply read and enjoy the story.
What do you think? What tips and tricks have you used to adapt stories from real-life incidents?
If I am fortunate enough to get it published, I will post a notice on this site. And should the story not be published, it will find a home here. So watch this space.