But it really happened. I swear. – This is the defense fiction writers offer when someone says their story isn’t believable. “That could never happen,” they say. But it could. It did. Still, their disbelief lingers.


I write both fiction and non-fiction. When people inquire about the difference between creating the two, my response is, “They are exactly the same, only different.” With NF, the research comes first. It must be gathered, fact-checked, and organized. Then, the writing begins. With fiction, you must first know your characters, plot, and setting before researching the materials needed to create a story that rings true.

Fiction winters often base their stories on a true crime. A look at best-selling books and iconic movies over the years underlines this fact. The horrific slaughter of the Clutter family in rural Kansas became Truman Capote’s masterpiece In Cold Blood—a book that sits somewhere between fiction and true crime. Serial killer Ed Gein fashioned furniture and clothing from human skin and inspired Hitchcock’s Norman Bates in Psycho and Buffalo Bill in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

For fiction writers, a true crime book, a news story, or maybe a blog post sparks the idea. For my third Samantha Cody book, Original Sin, I created a snake-handling preacher character. My research led me to the National Book Award finalist Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington. It chronicles the story of Glenn Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, who employed a rattlesnake in the attempted murder of his wife. You bet that little wrinkle appeared in Original Sin.

Or Victor Borkov, the bad guy in my first Jake Longly story, Deep Six. His enemies often found themselves lashed to an iron ring and dropped into the Gulf of Mexico. Alive. This is based on the actions of Skylar Deleon. Look up sociopath. You’ll see his picture. Under the guise of buying their boat, Skylar and a thug friend convinced Jackie and Thomas Hawks to go for a test cruise. It ended with the Hawks bound to an anchor and dumped in the Pacific Ocean. Alive.

These true stories are unbelievable. Yet true. For fiction writers, the trick is to morph unbelievable facts into believable fiction.

We fiction writers owe a great debt to true crime writers. They do the heavy lifting, the research,  the telling of the crime, and we use that to inspire and create our stories. Ann Rule once told me that when she approached a true crime story, she looked for the person who was the heart of the story. Not the bad guy, often not the victim, but someone scarred by the crime. In fiction, we do the same but have the added freedom of not being bound to the facts.

The marriage between crime fiction and true crime is alive and well.

Keep your eyes open for Unbalanced coming soon.

DP Lyle, Award-winning author, lecturer, story consultant

Website: http://www.dplylemd.com
Criminal Mischief Podcasts: https://www.dplylemd.com/podcasts