Writing Fiction: Ideas Ripped From The Headlines

Writers are often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" Some TV shows, such as Law & Order, have episodes that are ripped from the headlines. What exactly does that mean?

For me, it's a merging of an idea I had (What if ...?) with something I read or hear about. This past weekend, I saw two articles that crystallized a couple of ideas I've had in the back of my mind.

Friday: The Vero News is delivered, and the first headline I see says "Accused slayer of Diana Duve fears dying in prison." I am very familiar with this case, both because it was a local crime and because Diana's death was one of four within a 24-hour period on the Treasure Coast.

This article, focused on the killer, had a sentence that pissed me off. Taken from videotaped jailhouse visits, he talks about his grief over losing Diana and how much he misses her, and how he fears dying in prison. 

Boo-f***ing-hoo. This is not a case where law enforcement believes he did it but can't prove it. This is a case where he's seen on video getting into a cab near the vehicle she was found in. Local law enforcement has indicted him for first degree murder and the death penalty will be pursued. Indian River County is waiting their turn to prosecute him for this crime, because he is currently in jail in Broward County. They have charged him with violation of probation from an aggravated stalking charge, and are looking at possibly a charge for manual strangulation after looking more deeply into his past.

Saturday: People magazine has an article about Timmothy Pitzen, missing since May 2011. His parents dropped him off at school, his mother returned shortly after and took him with her, and several days later she had killed herself and Timmothy had disappeared.The title of the article is "A Mother's Chilling Vow 'You Will Never Find Him'." 

I read this article, and thought about what the story might be, from both the father's and the mother's perspective. 

I've been involved with SafeSpace for several years. Domestic violence has been an issue I've felt strongly about for 30 years. My experience and knowledge informs how I process everything. Knowing more details about one situation and nothing more than what I read in the article about the other combine in my mind.

Reading these two articles, so closely together, flipped a switch in my imagination. What if ... coalesced into a more fully formed story idea, with characters, situations, and a rough plot. I can use the headline, and make up my own story. There might be similarities to the actual stories, but only in the sense that similar crimes have similar circumstances. My characters aren't any of the real people in these two articles, but constructs to further a story.

Writers get their ideas from everywhere, and nowhere. Ideas are in the ether, and we just need to be open to receiving them.

Post a comment - I'd love to hear what you think.

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