Stranger Than Fiction

I took a creative writing class in college, and for our first short story assignment, the professor gave us a list of prompts to choose from, all of which had been adapted from true events that had been reported in the recent news. They were stranger than even the craziest things a fiction writer could dream of.

I think that’s mostly because there is order to fiction. There has to be order to it, or else books wouldn’t make sense and they’d be unpublishable or unreadable. But in real life, there sometimes isn’t any logical order to things. Sometimes, there’s no motivation for why people do what they do, or perhaps the motivation rests on something rather weak.

I read a recent news article about a 21-year-old woman who set fire to an apartment complex, leaving 34 people homeless. When the article first came out, it didn’t say what the woman’s possible motivation for the crime was, and that was the first thing I wanted to know. Why did she do such a foolish thing? Did she even have motivation? Later on, the article was updated to say something to the effect of “the woman was the ex-girlfriend of one of the apartment’s residents.” It wasn’t a motivation, per se, but it was enough to lead me on a wild trail of speculation.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It was possible that her ex had cheated on her during their relationship. Maybe their breakup had been a “mutual” decision, but the woman still harbored angry feelings. Perhaps she was just plain nuts and had an irrational thirst for revenge on a lover who had broken her heart. She  might have skipped her anti-psychotic meds the day she set the fire. Her ex could have hooked up with her best friend after the breakup, which could anger even the most rational, sane person… but who knows? The article gave me a lot of good ideas for a story.

And the moral of this blog post is: Inspiration can be found as easily as watching CNN or Fox or your local news channel. So the next time you want a story idea… turn to the media.

5 thoughts on “Stranger Than Fiction

  1. Your post reminded me of a quote by author Tom Clancy, so I went looking for it. It turns out that the quote is attributed, in various forms, to a good many people. In essence, it is:

    “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

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  2. “I think that’s mostly because there is order to fiction. There has to be order to it, or else books wouldn’t make sense and they’d be unpublishable or unreadable.”

    Or never-ending. 🙂 That happened with my second novel. I was really winging it, and at a certain point I realized I needed to tighten things up or the book would go on forever.

    As it is, it ended.up over 170,000 words. 🙂

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  3. So true…a couple of years ago where I live, a limo full of bridesmaids was highjacked…everything turned out alright, but I thought that was a great premise for a story, but probably readers would think it preposterous…

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  4. I love doing this! I also do it when reading books – when I stop reading at a cliffhanger, I think of all the different possibilities of what may happen next, then read on and see what actually does happen.

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