Telling True Stories: Accuracy vs. Truth

Q&A Notes Webinar: “SETTING UP CHARACTER AND STORY, PART I”

From the Webinar Archives of Syd Field The Art of Visual Storytelling.

Q: Nina asks, “If the story is a true story, should you stay with and write the true events or create and embellish the story?”

A: Nina, that is a great question because if it’s a true story, most of the time reality gets in the way of the drama or comedy. The truth is that a true story will not be very effective on the screen. We always have to change an event and change the dynamic of the story to add certain things in order to make it an effective dramatic presentation. So sometimes the true experience gets in the way.
I mean, I had a story which I wrote based on myself at a certain experience in my life and when I got to a certain point, I suddenly did not know what to do or where to go with the story, because I was so tied into my experience and the reality of that experience that I could not let go and create the dramatic unreality in that real experience. I learned very quickly that, like a wise man says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Interesting. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” I find that so interesting because it’s really true. I always say that you use —imagine three steps up a staircase. The bottom step is the true experience, the second step is the unreal fictional things that did not happen that we need to happen to make the story work effectively, and the third step is actually the fusion of the real experience with some artificial things taken out of context, out of time, and put into the story line to make it more effective. So it’s interesting that that particular kind of story will work. So never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Just make it real enough so it fits into the dramatic premise.

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