I'm writing a book (only a hobby, but I hope I can publish it one day). I've started writing a while ago and setting was somewhat of a near-future of an alternative reality.

In my book, political situation in several countries changed dramatically. Changes are rather dark and worrying and in time of writing I could not have imagined anything like that actually happening. However, as time passes, I see that there are many events and changes in real world that are really similar to what happened in the book (close friends who have read these chapters are calling me Cassandra already). Fortunately, we haven't reached what happens next (in the book), but I guess we might.

Should I be changing my setting so that it doesn't resemble (or at least doesn't obviously match) actual countries and events? Should I abandon my hopes of publishing it because of such a close resemblance? Or should I proceed as is?

Question is not only about how things are now, but also about what to do if situation in real world reaches to the same outcome (I'd prefer it wouldn't).

P.S. Feel free to edit tags as I'm new to the site and not sure which tags suit best.


For sure, I don't think that my writing had changed anything in real world. And I don't care much if I'm just good at seeing what can happen and why, or if it's a coincidence.

What bothers me, is that if events continue to develop in same way as in my writing, and after some time I do publish it, I don't want it to be some kind of "what would happen if Caribbean crisis wasn't resolved" (if things go differently than in the book) or "how secret service helped resolve Caribbean crisis" (if things go more or less as in the book). And I definitely don't want it to be a headlines novel that is only actual for a short time after the event...

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    There are actually a fair number of books published before events happened that closely paralleled real events. Some of this is because the authors did their research and are students of history, so they had a good handle on what was likely to happen next. See, for example, The Wreck of the Titan. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wreck_of_the_Titan:_Or,_Futility)
    – Michael
    Aug 14, 2017 at 14:11
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    Sounds like God is a fan of your writing and is trying out some of your ideas in His own work! Imitation is after all the sincerest form of flattery. Talk about a great endorsement! Do us all a favor and don't go tragic or post-apocalyptic in your future chapters! Aug 14, 2017 at 14:24
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    @Michael that's a bit different. If It was published, then, well, an accidental prophecy happened, that's Ok. But if it's not finished, there are concerns like "when I finish it would look like a retrospective rather than an abstract story".
    – Alissa
    Aug 14, 2017 at 17:02
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    @Alissa Then clearly you have motivation to finish it before the extrapolation comes to pass. :)
    – Michael
    Aug 14, 2017 at 18:23
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    The Grapes of Wrath was a headlines novel. Headlines get you published. The depth and universality of your insight determines whether you will still be read 68 years later.
    – user16226
    Aug 15, 2017 at 11:45

8 Answers 8


You should either move away from real world parallels, or try to finish your book quickly. Books that build on real world politics are popular, but they are like newspapers - read by everyone today, forgotten tomorrow. Why? Because your fictional world is fixed once your book is published. And it will be necessary different from the real world, even if you get many things right.

For example, a book describing how North Korea crisis would explode into World War III can be a bestseller today, but not next year (because, hopefully, this crisis would be behind us by then).

So, when mixing facts and fiction, one should take into account whether the fiction would stay a plausible "fiction", or has to become an "alternate reality".

  • -1. The fact that a book is sells well because it parallels a current event is no guarantee that it will be forgotten next week. A book lasts based on its enduring value, regardless of whether it was first noticed because it paralleled a current event. Many books that are still popular or well regarded today were based on contemporary events of their time. We have remembered the books and forgotten the events. On the other hand, a book that lacks enduring merit will be gone in a year regardless of the news of the day. In fact, it may not get published at all.
    – user16226
    Aug 15, 2017 at 14:31
  • @Mark Baker - First, that depends on what is included in "enduring value". For the sake of my comparison, I assume literary merit of the two books equal. Second, I am trying to be specific about "contemporary events". Hypothetical book would cover contemporary events, but then it would diverge from them dramatically. This genre, if I am correct, is called "alternative history", and would demand higher creativity from the author.
    – Alexander
    Aug 15, 2017 at 16:34

Stories "ripped from the headlines" are always good sellers -- the interest in their subject matter is being actively aroused by current events. Writing a novel is a long business, so to be able to bring out a "ripped from the headlines" novel at the opportune moment is often a matter of serendipity -- events playing out in the real world that are similar to the events you have already described in your novel.

Far from being a disadvantage, then, having events in the real world parallel events in your novel is a great advantage. You can go to a publisher or an agent and say, how much would you like a finished novel about [some event that just happened]. It they can get it out before the interest in the event fades, they can sell a lot of books -- even for a book that they otherwise might not be interested in.

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    This is a good answer, but what if I don't want it to be about some recent events? I started the novel as an abstract one, about humanity and all, but not about certain events...
    – Alissa
    Aug 14, 2017 at 17:04
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    Well its up to you, but novels can be about more than one thing. The events of the novel are just a vehicle for examining the novel's themes. Contemporary events can provide a marketing hook to a novel that might get it published and read (and make you some money) and thus give you the opportunity to explore your theme and say what you want to say about humanity. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
    – user16226
    Aug 14, 2017 at 17:23
  • @Alissa If your goal is to get people to think about humanity, why not use those current events as a vehicle to get your message to people?
    – corsiKa
    Aug 14, 2017 at 23:28
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    @corsiKa: I'm not affine to writing and therefor haven't any experience in this subject. But having done some own hobby projects that transport a story in a nonwritten style, yeah sure OP can simply "sell" it as something that it wasn't intended to be. But if I got OP correctly, thats not the intention, more it is a worrying that a "near future fiction" is not taken as fiction by the audience, if the fiction is reality. May it be for the reason that a specific conclusion should be transported or an "Where will this end?" loosing its effect as everyone just needs to leave house, to see.
    – dhein
    Aug 15, 2017 at 8:48

I wrote a story in which an aircraft disappears over the South China Sea. A few months later, an aircraft disappeared over the South China Sea. You might have heard about it.

My point is, fiction and fact intersect. Somewhere, right now, someone is writing a story that will somehow "come true." Not because that writer can see the future (as far as we know) but because writers use real people and places. It will happen to anyone who does enough writing.

There's a type of confirmation bias in which we see patterns where there aren't any. We want to see patterns, so we do. Art usually imitates life, but that's on purpose. When life imitates art, it's an accident.

Don't change your story. The fact that you predicted a trend means you have a good handle on how events march. Or you're lucky. Either way it's a good sign.

  • I do totally understand that it's OK to accidentally predict some events. The question is, in terms of your answer, wouldn't it be better if your aircraft was lost over some fictional sea, or maybe if it was not aircraft, but star-ship, that got lost between Earth and Mars?
    – Alissa
    Aug 15, 2017 at 11:32

The biggest problem I see is that your "prediction" will not be appreciated, and your actual creativity is lost and considered derivative.

Suppose I started writing a book about terrorists, hijacking planes and bringing down the World Trade Center Towers by crashing into them, six months before that actually happened.

Well I'm 3/4 of the way through the first draft of my novel, and suddenly it's crap: Because any publisher reading it, even if they know me, is going to say "When did you start writing this? on 9/12?"

It may not be derivative of reality, but it sure looks like it, and the surprise factor of my ingenuity is is completely evaporated: The suspense of what my terrorists are doing by learning to fly is gone, anybody reading knows exactly what they are going to do. Any suspense about how they plan to escape the crashing plane is gone; anybody reading understands they are suicide bombers.

(I'm just saying this as an example; I did not write any such thing.)

In any case, I'd worry about how the work would be received once the events you invented as your own creative fiction are perceived by others as a simple recital of recent historical events. Will they see enough merit in the rest of the plot to warrant spending money on it? Will they suggest you condense your hundred pages to five, since far less exposition and setup is needed to remind people that X, Y and then Z all happened last year?

So my answer is yes, I would be concerned about whether most of my story just got stomped on by reality.

  • Yeah, it depends if you manage to publish before the event. On a less dramatic note, a couple of years ago I was working on a science fiction, novel, never finished, where a key element is a network of trains that travel through tubes of vacuum. So there's no air resistance, get it? Then I saw news stories about Elon Musk experimenting with exactly such a transportation system. So if I tried to publish this story now, it would just be, "yeah yeah so you heard of Elon Musk's vacuum trains". If I'd published when I first thought of it, people might have said, "how prophetic!"
    – Jay
    Feb 4, 2019 at 18:44

This depends on you. If you want it published, you should look to do so soon... The longer you wait, the more it appears to be based off real events and not your imagination. As Mark said this isn't a bad thing, but as you commented, it appears you want it to be as abstract as possible. This would mean you need urgency to keep the abstract... abstract.

Depending on how similar they are, you may end up needing to remake the story which kind of really stinks but you need to weigh out what is most important to you. If you want that unique view on the future, this is a topic that requires the story to be finished quickly. The future is constantly evolving, constantly changing. What seems crazy today is normal tomorrow, and what seems normal yesterday is crazy today. If you are okay with the story as is, then I wouldn't worry about it too much. Of course, most of this also depends if you want to publish or not.

Try not to get too hung up on it though, people care about good stories. Most stories have been re-written, re-worded, modernized, new theme same plot, 1000 times and people still read/watch. In the end, it isn't so much the content as much as your ability to deliver that content in a way that people find enjoyable.


The only real "dangers" here are those of someone thinking your book somehow caused the event in question or constituting libel regarding someone involved in the real events portrayed negatively (especially as being in some way responsible for said events) in your book. That sort of lawsuit is fairly rare, but most publishers nowadays seem to protect against it with a line like:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

because one time a lawsuit like this happened and was pretty successful. The major cases with this have been film (Rasputin and the Empress, Citizen Kane) rather than novelization, but I see this boilerplate in novels plenty often nonetheless. Beyond including such a statement, I don't think you have anything to worry about (and as Mr. Baker says, much to gain).

  • Hmm, and this disclaimer helps? Aug 14, 2017 at 22:25
  • @PaŭloEbermann Yes. Its absence was specifically cited as an issue in the Rasputin case, leading to its now being standard. Aug 15, 2017 at 4:26

@Michael made a good point about some writers being good students of history. Consider it a complement!

Consider also that stories with a sufficient amount of complexity are statistically likely to get some things right and some things wrong (e.g. see the Law of Large Numbers ). Star Trek is famous for getting a few things right (e.g. handheld communication devices and tablet PC's), while getting quite a number of things wrong (e.g. the Eugenics Wars of the 1990's). Even if you seem to "predict" a near-future event, you are still not likely to get all the details correct. Maybe you write a story about a North Korean missile hitting Hokkaido, and then real life unfolds and a real North Korean missile hits Kyoto next year.

Consider those things in your book that have not come true. What would the situation be if those things had come true and the things that actually did come true had not? Would you still have posted your question? If so, you may have a quite normal and healthy dose of being able to predict some things and failing to predict others!


It depends what you want

"Taken from the headlines" is something that is both interesting and exciting. It allows your readers to visit a possible version of the future (and whether you got it right or not).

Sometimes, you may find the story works better with a fake or invented country or location, whether Newistan, Bogoland or New Holland... Using a physical location means you don't have to define many things: its climate, its borders, its history, or its people. Even you may even create a fake suburb of a large town, such as "Baux-les-bains" which is just north of Paris east of St-Denis...

This all depends on what you want and how much it impacts your story. If your story deals with a person looking at event but sits at his/her computer. Then whether the person sits in France, Israel, or Japan doesn't matter.

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