Nora Raleigh Baskin On Turning Fact Into Fiction

Originally Published: June 2012

by Kristi Olson

Middle grade and YA author Nora Raleigh Baskin spoke on “Turning Fact into Fiction” at the May 8th Tuesday Night Professional Lecture. Author of eight novels and winner of the 2010 ALA Schneider Award, Baskin discussed how to find the story within one’s own memories and use it in writing fiction.

Baskin’s road to publication was a nine-year journey. It was not until she discovered truth within her own writing – and learned more about the publishing business, thanks to joining SCBWI!–that she found the path to success. “Don’t ever feel anything is wasted,” she told the audience.

She advised writers to, “settle on one theme for your story and boil it down into one sentence.” She added, “No one can tell your story but you. And the more specific your story is, the more people can relate to it. The very specific becomes universal.”

Writing from personal history can be tricky, she said. It will not work if the author is still too close to the material. “Often stories come from strong emotions and history. You need distance before you can turn it into fiction. You have to be ready to tell the story.”

  • Baskin added that good stories include many elements that often aren’t present in real life and must be added by the writer: A journey, internal or external.
  • A complete plot with beginning, middle and end.
  • A single problem, want or need that gets resolved within the book.
  • Characters and dialogue.

In addition to knowing what should be included, writers should also be aware of what to leave out. “Every character is a ball you’re juggling. If can’t handle all the balls in the air, you need to get rid some of them,” Baskin suggested.

Finally, Baskin encouraged the audience to “Take a risk. Nobody likes perfect people. Expose yourself. Be brave. Be honest. Be open.”  

Nora Raleigh Baskin is the author of eight books for middle grade and young adult readers including The Summer Before Boys, Anything But Typical, All We Know of Love, The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah, In the Company of Crazies, Basketball (Or Something Like It), Almost Home, and What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows. Visit her at: www.norabaskin.com

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Kristi Olson holds an MFA in Creative Writing for Children from The New School University. She is currently working on a young adult novel.

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