Ripped From the Headlines

As I printed out a well-written newspaper account of the chaos that occurred at Sunday's Chicago Marathon yesterday to place in my idea file, I felt a little twinge of guilt. Dozens of people became ill at the event. One even died. And yet it inspired me as something to include in one of my works in progress that has a Chicago setting. My stomach did a few jumps out of my moral objections to what I was doing.

This is hardly the first time I've used current events in my writing. I've written about the aftermath of 9/11, how love often grew between those closest to the deceased as they comforted each other. I wrote about a man who'd been found dead Monday morning after lifting weights alone in his office, with no one to help him when he suffered a spasm. I wrote about a wedding fiasco I read about in the local paper. I've got a novel drafted around the aftermath of a tragic fire in my hometown. Plus, I have in my file an article about a fatal holiday car crash, although I haven't used that one yet. All of these incidents were devastating . . . to real people.

But wait a minute. Fiction is drama. A novel where everything is hunky dory and nothing extraordinary, even tragic, happens will read like a real snooze and for that reason will never be published. That's a fact. I told myself to chill and promptly went back to my search of the headlines.

Is anyone else influenced by current big news stories, or by those human interest stories? Do you overlook anything with a tragic overtone? If not, do you ever stop and ask yourself, What the hell am I doing?

6 comments:

Mel said...

My third book came from watching Pyschic Detective. This woman was attending a meditating class and started to see a man slump over a steering wheel. Then one morning she opens her newspaper and see's the guy she's been having visions about.

In real life that'll be an extremely scary experience. You'd think "I must be going crazy." You'd get test done, probably spend a few months in a mental hospital, you'd become very isolated from the fear you're going to go postal.

In a book it's a very good hook. Yet, at the same time in tragedy you find your inner strength. You become more than you ever thought you'd be. In life and in a book. Nothing wrong with that.

bettye griffin said...

Thanks for sharing your writing experience, Mel! It's nice to know I'm not alone.

Patricia W. said...

I get ideas from current events all the time. I just don't write fast enough and am not seasoned enough to produce a timely book.

But I think that when a story pulled from the headlines is done well, it helps the readers to make sense of what happened, to see angles that the media might not present, and maybe, as in the case of 9-11, to help with the healing.

Donna said...

I have an idea for a story that starts out on 9/11 and then jumps to 10 years later.

I think that you can use headlines to generate stories. "Law & Order" does it all the time.

bettye griffin said...

Thanks, Patricia, for your insight.

Donna, my 9/11 story also addressed the aftermath, but just three or four years later. (My editor held it back to publish it the month of the fifth anniversary.) You do realize, though, that as of now it's only been six years . . .? You'd have to wait to publish it until at least 2011.

As I had my guilt trip the other day, I wondered how many of the people whose murders inspired Law & Order scriptwriters enjoyed watching the show before their deaths, trying to match the show with the real-life case? Like that poor woman who was mauled to death by a pit bull in California. Of course, sometimes the murder has to be fit into the plot, as in that Britney Spears/Kevin Federline episode that aired last season (complete with a dreadlock-wearing blond wannabe rapper).

I feel a lot better, and my guilt has passed. Thanks, ladies!

Donna D said...

Considering the story won't be written before 2010, I have no worries.