Writers are notorious for not respecting (or even knowing) the difference between what did occur and what they wrote as having occurred. Many writers believe that the distinctions between these two classes of event are—at day’s end—rather overly tidy distinctions, and never as interesting as what gets made of each. It is also true that some things that actually do happen often prove difficult to work with, become refractory to the writer’s process of development through change. My Grandpa Ben did not kill a man in a hotel lobby in Kansas City. But “my Grandpa Ned,” who bears a striking resemblance to another man, needs to do it for my story to find its climax, only I have a hard time feeling convinced about it. Often the real events, the actual people, cling to their factuality in ways that can make them unbalance a story, even ruin it. Fiction, after all, needn’t be a news report on life. Life’s just where the trip begins, and of course where it ends. But in the middle, in the story, we depart from life as we please in order to think of what might happen, and what difference it would make.
From Richard Ford, “A Short Story” in Maurice A. Lee, ed., Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story (2005).