Welcome to Writers Talkback. If you are a new user, your account will have to be approved manually to prevent spam. Please bear with us in the meantime

Hybrid fiction & non fiction novel

edited February 2014 in Writing
Hi this is my first time here and my first post.

I am currently writing a novel about my experiences in Iraq as a private security contractor. I'm not doing it for money or for fame just a tick off my bucket list.

I won't lie to anyone, I'm not actually writing it but talking into a dictaphone and having a company transcribe it into word document.

Here is my question and I hope anybody out there can help.

I have got quite far into my story all based/drawn on from actual real events but I would like the story to go off in a direction that tells a story if I'd have done what was ask then this is what would have happened scenario. I hope that makes sense, I was wondering if this is perfectly acceptable?



  • Do you mean you are going to fictionalise a true account?

    There are several things to think about. Is your true account completely unbiased and without libellous comment? Could anyone sue you for defamation of their character? Even a characterisation you think is fair and even kind could be viewed quite differently by the person it depicts.

    Then there is the fictionalisation of characters' (who are real) actions . What would they think about this?

  • Oh! And welcome to the site!
  • Hi, I don't think I explained myself properly so I apologise it was late. I'm stuck on wether to do a total fiction book drawn on from my experiences in Iraq which would mean there would be no problem as such putting in this mission that never took place because the whole book would be fiction or do a hybrid of fact and fiction , I'm finding it quite hard to explain sorry !

    Im not wanting to write a autobiography just a story that's based on experience but to include a mission that never took place in reality but takes place in the book. Thanks for the heads up on liable I will have to look into that but names and places would be changed for security reason

    I hope I've explained myself a little better and I apologise also because I'm writing this on my iPhone.

    Any input would be great
  • edited February 2014
    Hello too, hope you'll stay around so you can get the full benefit of everyone's views.

    If you want to do that then make it entirely fiction. You will no doubt use elements from your experiences in the story you create, but you'll need to do more than just change people's names to avoid libel and defamation risks...

  • Hi thanks flower, I will look into it all but will be seeking permission off my friends to use them
  • After a quick search on the internet whilst sat having my coffee in Starbucks it is clear that it would be better to do a book that is categorised as fiction. I will still contact my friends who I worked with and who I'm basing my characters on to sign a release form and send a copy of the manuscript to a solicitor who can advise me if anything written is liable. I will be honest I'm not to concerned about my friends and liable, I'm more worried about the companies I worked for. The security world is very small and the contracts that exist or ex sister in Iraq are even more well known so the difficulty will be making sure these are not recognisable, does anyone have any tips on that situation? Has anyone here ever dictated and then typed up their book, or do you see it as cheating? It's very hard to actually just sit there and talk ( as strange as that sounds ) but you do get a lot done very quickly!
  • Hi Dave, there's no law that says you have to type your book yourself. In fact last year, due to a shoulder injury, I thought of turning to dictaphone too. What's important is that you get the words down in a way that you can control. You can't edit a spoken work easily, but you're getting it typed up so you can work with the physical copy.
    Barbara Cartland (yes, from the sublime to the ridiculous!) dictated all her novels, you know.
    Make your work fiction; that means altering things so that they aren't recognisable as happening within a specific company, but are, as it were, generic across the security business. Anything that only one company did should be changed. You can't in this instance mix fact and fiction; you could have people trying to sue you, or the identifiable company, for an event that never took place, if, for instance, what you describe in the non-real part goes wrong.
    And of course, write under a pen name.

  • Thank you for the input. I will be going down the fiction route. When I speak into the dictaphone obviously personal names, company names etc come out as real but when I edit the word document I will make sure that these things are changed. Could I ask how liable effects pictures. For example if there was a picture of my team but with personal security being adhered to and their faces blurred out how do you work around that?
  • To use any pictures you must either have taken them yourself or have permission from whoever did. In this case you'll also have to check you are complying with official secrets (I'm assuming you signed this) and if it was taken on military land or features military equipment or staff you'll need thier permission.

    Actually official secrets is something you'll need to consider for the writing too. It would be advisable to check with your employer if you're at all unsure if you have permission to reveal any of the details you wish to include.
  • btw, you might find it interesting to look up the words liable and libel in a dictionary. I'm making another assumption here - this time that a writer is interested in words.
  • I took the pictures and being a civilian contractor I did not have to sign any official secret acts, I was armed security in Iraq so did not come under the military, I will of course seek permission from my friends in the pictures
  • Hi Dave,
    Once you've typed up your spoken notes, it might be a good idea to get it edited so that it comes across as professional. I don't know how much you know about writing books, but writers can take years to perfect a story - rewriting whole chunks or just rephrasing sentences, adding in, cutting out, reordering, so it's not just a matter of typing and thinking it's finished. Sorry about that! Editing is important whether you choose to go down the fiction or non-fiction route if this book is going to be for public consumption.

    As I gather, your story currently begins as a factual account, then becomes fiction, but with all the realism gained from your experiences. I think the danger there is that the 'join' might show where you link the two. I agree that it would work better if it was all (realistic) fiction, rather than autobiographical, but I think you've already come to that conclusion!
  • Hi and welcome - lots of good advice to be found here but none of it's going to help until you've finished your first draft. Get that done and then focus on how you want to edit it. That completed draft will indicate which path you need to take.

    You might decide not to go any further than that draft - who knows? - but it generates new ideas for future projects.
  • Great advice Tiny Nell. I believe the editing of my story is going to be the hardest part. I've already received some of my writings and don't like how it comes across so know it needs a lot of work but I also think that's part of the fun of it. I'm enjoying doing the book and I also think that is paramount. The hardest thing for me is getting it all down so it does not sound boring. If anyone would like a little insite to what I did please see this daily mail article.

  • That's powerful stuff.
  • Dave, I cannot imagine what you went through and how difficult it must have been to come out the other side. I have the utmost admiration for your bravery.

    Just get it down for now: brainstorm. Don't worry about the order too much. You can sort that out later. A computer is a wonderful tool for cutting, pasting, highlighting, etc.

    I'm sure you'll get some satisfaction from this project. Keep going with it!
  • Thank you,. Brainstorming is a fantastic idea as things just pop into my head that I've forgotten about and think it would go great in a certain area.. I always welcome any advice, tips or direction.
  • Welcome dave. I would say pick an angle - fact or fiction-based-on-fact. The second option would leave you free to let your imagination roam, and also leave some facts waiting for another book - or a series!
  • I like the idea of letting my imagination run wild, I saw things in Iraq that would astound, surprise and shock most people and each one has a great story behind them!
  • edited February 2014
    Dave, if I understand your OP correctly? . . . Yes, you can include fiction within non-fiction. It's down to the style of exposition and execution.


    I aimed my rifle as the insurgent's leader approached. One bullet, one shot and the uprising was over. Home with my wife, my children. Medals displayed in the cabinet, blah, blah, blah . . .

    Continue, embellish . . .

    Return to original moment.

    But I couldn't pull the trigger. I just stood there and peed myself.

    - There's nothing wrong with 'dynamically' reporting what you 'imagined'.

    I hope that makes sense.
  • It does make sense. I have found that actually explaining what a contact situation is like is very difficult and when you tell it in simple terms it seems rather boring which is where I have to learn how to make it not so. Great input from this forum...thank you
  • JanJan
    edited February 2014
    What 'they' said, Davethepioneer but with the caveat; avoid pre-publication publicity. Even an excerpt from your first draft could affect liability issues.

    As an ex-editor of an international sports magazine {too many years past to have relevance in todays computing technology} receiving tape recorded articles from sportsmen etc., was encouraged. It enabled spontaneity of a situation, with tone of the delivery, to be scribed for an entertaining read. It was often the case that final article displayed few words from the original tape because transcription included 'interpretation' of actions into a readable format.

    Perhaps you should consider dictating to a computer voice recognition package such as Dragon. Then only you see your dictation developing in its raw form.

    Oh, good luck and welcome to Talkback.
  • I understand some of what your saying, but what is the harm of me using a transcriber? Forgive me but I'm a little confused, I don't see myself as a writer and would never profess to be as such that's why I thought it would be better to dictate it then get someone who knows better to put it into paper.
  • There's nothing at all wrong with having someone type up your dictation for you, if that's what you want to do. If that's all they're doing for you then you're still the writer.

    Alternatively you could give a ghostwriter your ideas and have them do all the writing and editing for you. In that case your name (or pen name) would be on the cover, but you wouldn't really have written it. Lots of books which are apprently written by celebrities are produced that way. It's an option, but not likely to be cheap.
  • If you are going to take the option Phots Moll suggests, then it would be best to get a publisher involved at this stage.
  • Everything I say on the dictaphone she transcribes apart from all the " umms & ahhhss " she does not add anything. It will be me who will edit it once I have enough to work with. I suppose she helps with the spelling but I believe that is part of her service because she wouldn't put things down on paper incorrectly. Incidentally with my story taking place in various places in Iraq she has actually messages me for the correct spelling of places. I don't think a ghostwriter would be the right avenue for me to take as my bucket list says write a book, ok so I'm not actually writing it but it is all my own words/work, it will need lots of refining and I will need help editing it on screen. She email it over to me in a word document, I print it out and add and remove as I see fit, bits I have missed or not given enough detail with, then I will definitely need help getting it into the correct format of a book but again I still believe with all this help it's still my story/book or am I wrong. Do I need a publisher? I was going to print myself and promote myself or is this a big no no. Once again thank you for all input
  • Sorry for any misspellings, typing in an iPhone is horrendous with sausage fingers
  • You don't need a publisher. But if you've never written a book before, getting a ghost writer would be my suggestion. It's not just a task of editing.

    Is it the story you want to tell, or do you have a burning desire to write? Because at the minute writing isn't really what you are doing. Barbara Cartland used to dictate her novels but she was already imbued with the talents needed, ie to arc a story, describe in a few words an entire scenario, venue, country, town, characterise so you understood immediately what someone looked and acted like so you had a picture in your head, etc. etc.

    It seems to me you have a brilliant story to tell, but to tell it as an account is completely different to fictionalising it, which is quite a task.

    Have you written anything before?
  • I have never written anything before but I'm a great believer in giving anything a go " if you don't try, you will never know "

    At the risk of my book not being as good as it could be If I used a ghostwriter totally defeats the object to me. I would rather have my book at an under potential status than not being able to say all that in my book are my words.

    Yes I'm not actually writing the words down on paper, but that alone doesn't make you a writer, in my eyes anyway.

    The book is not to make money but to just give to friends and family, I really don't like the idea of a ghostwriter, they may know how to put down on paper what it's like in a contact, to see your friend blown to pieces whilst part of his brain is on your clothing but to me it wouldn't be my book, all I'm doing is asking a lady to type up what I have said, I don't want her to actually come up with the actual story which I gather is what a ghostwriter does, is that correct?
  • I would say that YOU are the writer regardless of who is doing the typing, Dave.
    The suggestions regarding using a ghost writer were probably made because you have a powerful story to tell but don't necessarily have the writing skills to tell it as well as a professional writer could do it on your behalf.
    I don't know enough about ghost writing to advise, but maybe someone else will know.
    Good luck however you decide to do it.
  • I will be the first to admit I don't have the skills to write it, and it would be arrogant of me to say I have, but what I do have is a willingness to try,! I'm sure even the most accomplished writers in the world started somewhere. Claudia, thank you for saying I am the writer, I see it like that also, but I do understand how people may see using a dictaphone as being wrong or cheating etc, but my aim is to publish a book and it will happen :-) The comments on here have been fantastic and since joining all I can think about is finding a little extra time to work on my novel.
  • I think your enthusiasm will take the project a long, long way.

    You have an incredible story to write - and that's what you should do, whether someone helps in that process is irrelevant. It's your story to tell.
  • Agree with what Baggy said.

    Good luck with it.
  • edited February 2014
    Great comment Baggy Books thank you. Do any of you write novels or have a certain style that you stick to? What do you find the hardest part? Character creation, intensity, editing??? All very interesting stuff.
  • Didn't mean you were cheating Dave, but that writing the story after it has been dictated onto paper is a massive, even to a writer with many years experience, task.

    I agree with Baggy that your enthusiasm will get you a long way along the road - but I also think it is a story worth telling so that many will be able to read it. So it is worth telling well - and I don't know anyone whose first novel was that good. Take any writer and they will tell you that it took many years to hone their craft - and the less experienced you are the more likely you are to think you can do it!

    Your first hand words can be used, just shaped (not the actual words, the story) by another, but it could also be done after you have done the main body of the work.

    I'd definitely get it read by an expert once you think it mostly done. But I am certain you will get it done!
  • I will definitely get it checked. The person who does this, what are they called?
  • I don't think using a dictaphone is cheating at all. It's just a different way of doing things - just as typing onto a computer/word processor is different from writing with pen and paper.

  • I'd suggest you get that first draft typed up before you invest in paying for any other services.

    Then grab a 'how to' book which will show how it needs to be set out and presented. You can pay for that service, but attempting it yourself would be part of the drafting process.

    Writing Mag and Writers' Forum both publish useful articles each month that might be of interest.

    If, once you've done your 'writing' research, you decide to get the manuscript looked at, you will have more knowledge of what you need to pay for and won't waste your money.

    Both those magazines run adverts for various services that you might be interested in.

  • There are so many ways to write a novel, and everyone does it differently. But the main thing is to write it all out as it appears to you in your head, then start tinkering with it.
    You'd be amazed at how much you can lose that doesn't add to your story - but at the point of first writing it, you may not actually know what the core story is. Any writer will tell you that they can start out to write one thing and find that the characters take them down a different route. I suspect this is already happening to you with your fictionalised part wanting to take over. It's developing in front of your eyes.
    Once you've written your first draft, you can decide what adds to the plot and what is just padding or back-story (the part of the story that happens off-screen, as it were, that doesn't need to be included but forms the bricks and mortar upon which your plot and characters are built). For instance, it's very tempting to chuck in everything you know about a subject, but you will need to trim all of that unnecessary stuff down to the bare bones or cut it out. All this happens later.
    This kind of novel works best with spare prose, and will probably have a mostly male readership. Write with your ears - sounds ludicrous, but it's probably the best advice I can give you. Read it aloud - even read the typed version back to your dictaphone and listen to it. You'll see things differently when you hear the words!
  • This is great advice, I already know what stuff I have missed out and I'm looking forward to adding it in. I've dictated it in simple terms and now need to add a lot of the intensity and detail but not to much as I don't want to overload the reader on info
  • I've just started my first edit this morning, wow it's very hard work!
  • 10% writing, 85% editing, 5% wishing you'd never started - par for the course!
  • Wow the percentages for editing are really that high? How many times do you yourself edit your work, once, twice more? Is it just a case of you know it's right when it's right
  • As many times as it's needed.

    Each writer is different, so there's no norm.
  • Sometimes hundreds, Dave.

  • Over and over and over. And over. And again. Until it's perfect. It's agony. And I only write poems in the main.
  • As many times as it's needed.
    Welcome to the world of writing!
    Incidentally - not everyone finds editing a chore - it's the bit I love best in the writing process.
  • I usually edit short stories 3 or 4 times. Novels need far more passes as it's difficult to look at everything at once.

    I'd avise you not to do too much editing before you have the entire first draft written. It's not uncommon for writers to decide they need a different opening or to write from a different POV, or make other substantial changes.
  • Thanks all, great advice, but how do you know it's perfect? What's perfect for you might not be for someone else, I have a feeling by the time I've edited this book I would have read it a hundred times or more ;-)
Sign In or Register to comment.