Alice Osborn

Write from the Inside Out

How To Write a Novel Based on a True Story

Posted by on Jan 31, 2012

How To Write a Novel Based on a True Story

Harlow CobanToday we welcome guestblogger, Harlow Coban! Harlow is the author of Life in Death, her debut novel which is now available. A fast-paced murder mystery, Life in Death is the first part of the Kari Marchant series. Read on to find out how to effectively turn your real life stories into captivating fiction!

 

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 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.   

  • Lastly, start writing.  “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.     


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

Harlow Coban, authorAbout Harlow Coban:

Author Harlow Coban 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.

She shares a birthday with the notorious Napoleon Bonaparte.  In keeping with his legacy, she is currently working on taking over the world.  Harlow’s positive attitude and fresh take on life are her tools and conquest is certain.

She spends her free time writing, dancing, traveling and defending mailboxes from her 16-year-old twins’ driving.

Her debut novel, LIFE IN DEATH (to be published in early 2012), is a murder mystery which pulls from real-life situations from her own family history.  She felt compelled to share her story with the world while offering a thrilling, entertaining, and amusing escape for readers.

In keeping with her commitment to improving the lives of children, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of her book will be donated to the Boys and Girls Club in her home state of North Carolina.

She loves to connect with her readers and can be found on Twitter, her Blog or on Facebook.