Robin Coventry's picture
Robin Coventry December 30, 2017 - 9:23am

I have had an amazing life experience, one that many would benefit from reading. No kidding.  

Anyway, I have written much of it but am uncertain whether it should be a nonfiction or fiction based on a true story.  IN the back of the book I offer resources for people to use on their own with contact information for a number of companies.  

If it is a nonfiction do I have to use peoples real names?  Or should I change names and say the book is based on a true story?  How much liberty can you take in a based on a true story/fiction?

Should I write based on the historical occurrences or bounce around from experience to past back to experience?  

These questions answered can help relieve my current confusion on how to proceed and alter the way this is done. 

Thanks in advance,


helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman December 30, 2017 - 1:53pm

A few questions, and I'll give my answers:

Resources: You can offer resources without committing to fiction or non. I've seen this a lot in teen fiction that deals with suicide, for example. 

Names: It's common practice to change names in a non-fiction story provided the people depicted are not public figures. 

Based on a true story: That's up to you, but it's not required to say a fiction is based on something true. 

Liberties: In non-fiction...let's face facts, nobody has a memory for the exact thing someone said 10 years ago. I think it's about being as true as your memory allows. If the dialog you put in captures the spirit of what was said and most likely not the exact words, that's okay. 

Bouncing around: You can bounce around chronologically and that doesn't have to determine fiction or non.  

If you look at a lot of memoirs, they'll have a disclaimer in the beginning. Basically, things are remembered as best as they can, names have been changed, characters and dialogue have been altered in places, people have been deleted from the story, and chronology might be different. 

I think this freaks a lot of people out after the James Frey business, but truthfully, the issue he had was adding things he knew never happened to his book and inflating things for the purpose of drama. When you make alterations to your story based on creating clarity for readers and excising stuff that's truly unnecessary, you're fine. 

Bellbird's picture
Bellbird from Virginia, USA is reading On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous December 31, 2017 - 11:51am

Hi Robin,

I found Lee Gutkind's "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" extremely helpful when writing my own memoir.  It's an insightful and entertaining 250-page guide that covers every aspect and includes many examples of the genre (BOTS, literary journalism, memoir, etc), as well as answering all those niggling questions about the moral, legal and ethical implications that every CNF author worries about. Here's a link, if you're interested.

Best of luck with your own sounds fascinating!




Robin Coventry's picture
Robin Coventry January 2, 2018 - 4:58pm


Hi Helpfulsnowman,  Good information and put my mind at ease.  Was concerned about what I could and couldn't.  I'm feeling better.


Hi Bellbird, I actually have that book. I will have to dig it out and revisit what I read when I purchased it.  Thanks for the tip.

Thank you both very much for your response.  Much appreciated.