Wednesday Writing: Fictionalizing Biography

Earlier this month, Patricia McCormick’s latest novel “Never Fall Down” hit shelves. It tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who survived the Khmer Rouge by playing music in the Killing Fields.

Though writing compelling middle grade fiction about difficult international realities is not new for McCormick, telling a story that is based on someone’s actual experiences is. “Never Fall Down” tells the story of the life of Arn Chorn-Pond and, in McCormick’s words, she “wove his memories together with my own research or my own imagination to write scenes that have the specificity of non-fiction and the narrative drive of fiction.”

McCormick describes the process of writing a fictionalized biography on her blog:
“I tried to write this book a dozen different ways… Once I got out of the way and let Arn’s voice tell the story, the writing flowed… The other thing that made it hard was that my other books are more purely fiction. Yes, they’re based on interviews with real people; but the characters I create were an amalgam of all of them. Arn is a real man who laid bare his entire life story. This book would form a record of his life. I had to get it right.”

In “Golden Boy” I did more of the former: creating a character based on research and interviews. Have any of you written a fictionalized biography? If so, please leave a comment and let us know how the experience felt to you.

About Tara Sullivan

Author of GOLDEN BOY (2013), THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET (2016), and TREASURE OF THE WORLD (2021). Published by Penguin Books for Young Readers Find out more at Or, follow me on Twitter: @SullivanStories
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