Chapter 15 – Based on a True Story

Books that are based on true stories are interesting to read, but where’s the limit between fiction and non-fiction?

True story meme

The other night I watched the movie the Conjuring, which is said to be based on a true story of a family being haunted and possessed. The paranormal investigator involved in the “true story” and the real family even acted as consultants for the movie. I’m aware there’s a book about the events as written by one of the family members but I haven’t read it and I’m not entirely sure how much the events differ.

The Amityville Horror book is likewise said to be based on true events (also experienced by the same investigators involved with the Conjuring story). I found it interesting that people have apparently gone to court over the truthfulness of it. Is it really that big of a deal? I’ve always thought that horror movies had the luxury of claiming they’re true when then they’re not, because it makes them scarier and people know the truth anyway.

Besides, if people are convinced that what they have seen is real, and are certain their book/movie/whatever retells the story accurately, who are others to judge it? If you don’t believe in that sort of thing, then you don’t. Problem solved.

But is that the truth? And if it is, where’s the line? Is it right to market something as non-fiction, or based on a true story, if only a fraction of it happened as described? I know this happens and for the most part I don’t see anything terribly wrong with it, but there are situations where it might hurt someone.

A few years back there was a bit of a scandal in my country dealing with a book that was marketed as the true story of a bullied girl who committed suicide. When people got more interested in it, it was discovered that the story wasn’t exactly true – but we all know this sort of thing happens all the time. People got furious and the point, the raising awareness about bullying, got lost in the shuffle.

The controversy surrounding the book made people question if these things really happen. Now newspapers are filled with stories of bullied teens, some of who have taken drastic measures to escape the situation.

To me it seems that fiction can at times be even more powerful than the truth. Whenever I pick up a “based on a true story” book, I know it’s probably not going to be 100 % accurate. Maybe not even 50 % accurate, but I’ll probably enjoy it anyway. For me it’s hard to understand why people make a fuss over novels when they tend to be more about enjoyment/entertainment than scientific accuracy anyway.

Children’s books are a great example of portraying something as the truth when it’s not, and I’ve never heard of anyone complaining about that. Is it different, more acceptable, because it’s for kids?

Obviously if you’re doing research and going to library for credible sources, it’s important the book is true. But those books are usually in a different section and shelf, and I think every true event made into a book should be taken with a grain of salt.

Non-Fiction books
Picture by ALa

Army and military books are another good example. There are tons of novels depicting true events and as much as they’ve been researched, can we ever be sure it is the truth and nothing but the truth? Do they have to be? Bravo Two Zero, for example, tells the story of a SAS patrol and was written by the patrol commander himself, and even so it has raised controversy. While I don’t support lying, people can remember things differently, and I don’t think that’s a crime. I don’t see the need to lose sleep over a book’s truthfulness when things that have been described in the book are probably happening somewhere to someone.

All in all I think novels (labeled fiction or non-fiction) like these are a completely different breed from hard fact books, and should be treated as such. Novels can offer insight to matters both wonderful and horrible, with a protective shield of fiction around it.

Should there be a rule about this, or should we just trust people to make their own judgments? Is it right for someone to market a book as a true story if the events didn’t go exactly like described or happen to the person portrayed as the main character, but the core of it still happened? I think this is a very interesting subject so I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on it!

REMINDER: Awoken Dragon will be published tomorrow, so stay tuned for the big announcement!

NaNo word count for November 18: 28,375 (target 30,000, yes I know I’m behind again, unfortunately…)


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