5 real examples of the wonderful ways life inspires fiction


I always feel that even though my stories are strange, they are still in many ways close to reality. I think I can put most of them under five headings, although some belong in more than one category at the same time.

writingtips 1. Jigsawing

This is where I mix together scenes, ideas or descriptions that are unrelated and that I experienced and wrote about at separate times. It’s amazing how well this can work. The River and Finger Buffet are two stories in The View from Endless Street that came together like this. Finger Buffet was inspired by two experiences, a leaflet in my local community centre left by an elderly Londoner who wanted to reach out to the Bengali community and the near murder of two boys that I was witness to. Similarly, The Reunion in my collection Mercy, is a jigsaw story where the eccentric couple are based on people I once knew and the narrow boat section came from a holiday I had a few years ago.

2. Personal situations

Quite a few of my stories are the result of something I was directly witness to or involved in, for instance The Women was inspired by an elderly woman I worked with in a patient care project in London, and much of Don’t Drink the Water came from memories of going to Tangiers on holiday. An Ordinary Coma was the result of meeting the two crazy and wonderful characters who haunt this story in my neighbourhood. I still see them in my local high street today… and their lives have not changed.

3. Remodelling reality, or What if?

The ‘what if’ idea is common in fiction writing, it’s where you’re inspired to write by something you’ve experienced but you want to heighten the story by imagining a different, perhaps more dramatic ending or set of events. The story The View from Endless Street that my book takes its title from came about when I was living in London and saw a wistful elderly man staring down at the flower garden of his elderly woman neighbour. What if these two had known each other as young people and were in love but something terrible happened I asked myself. I set the story in the hop fields of Kent where they may well have worked in real life if they were true cockneys.

writingtips24. Newspaper articles

This is one of the best places to find material for stories, and several of my stories in both collections have evolved from articles I’ve read. They’re usually those easy to miss tiny snippets of information down at the bottom of the page or somewhere in the end column, and often in local newspapers. The Splendid Plan, the last story in The View from Endless Street, came about when I’d read an article about a man and wife who, while living in the same house, hadn’t spoken to each other for twenty years, but instead communicated by post-it notes. How mad is that? And The Balloon came from a more recent article about a man who put his fiancé’s engagement ring inside a balloon so he could give it to her in a novel way, wow!

5. Snatched moments

These are those times when you see or hear something arresting while you’re out and about. The Lover in Mercy came about that way; I witnessed the man take the bear into the back of the van and then waited with everyone else to see what would happen. (I worked on a traditional circus for some years). Time Stolen evolved out of something arresting and moving that a woman speaker said about her father with early onset dementia … I found it hard to think of anything else for the whole of that day. I don’t think I wrote the story for a long time though.

writingtips3Rebbeca Lloyd’s short story The River won the 2008 Bristol Short Story Prize in 2008. She has written a children’s novel Halfling,  and had two short story collections published, Mercy and The View from Endless Street. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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4 replies

  1. “I’d read an article about a man and wife who, while living in the same house, hadn’t spoken to each other for twenty years, but instead communicated by post-it notes. How mad is that?”

    Crazy mad, that how mad it is! Just goes to show truth really is sometimes way strange than fiction.

  2. Hi Rocktop,
    yes, isn’t that mad? In the story I wrote, called The Splendid Plan, that was published in The View from Endless Street, [book cover above], he becomes afraid the police are after him and goes to hide under the sofa for weeks. Silvia, his wife, has to pass food underneath to him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make that up either!

  3. Seems that some truth is not only stanger than fiction but inspires fiction. Be interesting to know what method’s the most successful for stories.

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