The Power of Basing Fiction off of True Events


Editor’s Note: The blog below was first published on August 15, 2016 , while the Rio de Janeiro Olympics were going on. That was quite the interesting time, between Brazil’s political upheaval and rampant crime problem, NBC’s incessant commercial breaks, and bad behavior by the athletes – most notoriously Ryan Lochte.

It was also a pretty contentious time in American politics, as our presidential elections were still going on and the candidates were out swinging at each other, as were the citizenry.

In that regard, how little has changed. I don’t know about your social media feed, but people are still certainly sniping on mine. As if Facebook has ever actually changed anybody’s opinion to any worthwhile degree.

Do you know what can though? Well, keep reading and you’re bound to find out.

The Power of Basing Fiction off of True Events

It’s that time of year. Or that time every two years, I should say. The time when I curse my cable-free life and check my computer once every other second to keep track of the Olympics.

Despite my overall lack of athletic abilities, I love the Olympics, cheering for “my” three countries (the U.S., U.K. and Italy), admiring the flags represented (Jamaica’s is now and probably always will be the coolest) and shaking my head in wonder at the feats performed.

Unfortunately, whether I’m following all of this online or watching it at a friend’s house, that means I catch a lot more news than I otherwise would. And that’s depressing considering how it mostly seems to be about worsening race relations, undesirable election choices, and children dying in hot cars or on waterslides.

Oh yeah, and terrorist attacks. Tons and tons of terrorist attacks, the latest of which may have taken place on Saturday on a Swiss train, with a 27-year-old starting a fire and stabbing passengers.

After reading that, my first reaction was to feel exhausted at how these attacks just don’t seem to be stopping.

My second was to think about one of my students in the CCBC class I just finished up. He was basing his fictional story on an actual article he’d found. It was about a woman who was murdered down in some smaller South American country after she shed light on its corrupt government.

Considering how few choices we often have to make a real difference in the face of such misery, I genuinely do believe that writing can be a powerful way to handle these snapshots of injustice. Oh, such stories might not make a bit of difference to anyone but us…

Then again, they could end up shedding light on really serious issues to a whole lot of people.

For example, there are plenty of fictional movies I’ve really enjoyed, but few I’d actually call impactful. Two exceptions that instantly spring to mind are as follows.

Based on a novel by Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland follows a young, rather cocky Scottish doctor who travels to Uganda and ends up staying with Idi Amin, the real-life dictator “president” who tortured, murdered and otherwise oppressed his people from 1971 to 1979.

Without that film, I never would have known about Amin and all the lives that were lost or broken at his direction. While the movie was one of the most difficult films I’ve ever subjected myself to, I’m very grateful to both Foden for writing the original book and whoever turned it into a movie.

History is important. And those people who died? They deserve to be remembered.

Then there’s Reign Over Me. Starring Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler, it’s about a man whose family died in the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City. While I obviously already knew about that event, the movie is still a beautiful homage to anyone who lost a loved one in that particular tragedy – or has suffered a devastating loss at all.

Fiction like that? The kind that’s based around true events? It has the power to remind us about what we should never, ever forget…

If not for the memories of those who already suffered, then just maybe to prevent ourselves from suffering more of the same.

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