I have confessed via Twitter to being a secret Anglophile. It’s not a huge obsession but I have a certain level of interest with all things Princess Diana. I was a hopeless teenage romantic when she came into the spotlight. I was in Alaska when she got married and watched TV for hours as she walked down the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was over the moon when she got pregnant and gave birth. She was the subject of my very first published piece on motherhood and balancing the life of expectation with life in general. And I cried in the streets of the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum festival, my own young daughter on my hip, when I learned of her death.
Shortly after Princess Diana’s death, a fellow writer shared the story of her upcoming release that was postponed. Her plot? A princess and a photographer. She’d written it more than a year before the horrific accident that claimed Diana but the publisher pulled the book because of the timing. The right decision, of course. It was eventually released but not before a rewrite.
So the birth of Diana’s namesake granddaughter has left me feeling nostalgic. It also made me want to put aside my current WIP and start on another planned novel where the heroine is named Charlotte.
Television shows like Law and Order (can you hear the trademark sound here?) often “rip stories from the headlines.” They can do it while the story is still hot as production can go from concept to commercial in a very short period of time. That wasn’t always true for a writer, where publication used to take upwards of a year. Now, thanks to the advances of electronic publishing, we can also enjoy the same concept-to-bookstore quickness but several months will still usually pass unless we self-publish.
I’ve always wondered the ethics of building on real-life stories. We call it fiction, even if based on real-life events. It’s inspiration, not a biography, right? We change the names, tweak the course of events, the setting. Still…we all know it’s the same basic story. Writing about real life events is not new but so much time used to pass between the event and publication, some of the newness of the event had worn off by the time readers could pick up the book.
Are we exploiting the subjects? Are we the paparazzi in the bushes with the telephoto lenses? Or are we simply taking an idea and running with it? My first book, Sex and Insensibility, started with a news story about a woman accidentally running over her husband three times in a hotel parking lot after she found him cheating. I have no idea what happened to that woman or her husband. I couldn’t even tell you what state the story occurred in. But it planted the seed: what would happen if a wife did accidentally run over their husband? And the opening line blossomed into my head.
Like so often happens, the story idea I began with had nothing to do with the story I finally wrote. The characters talk to you, grow, change, as does the story. I didn’t even know one character’s secret until I wrote it! But I think about that woman in the hotel parking lot every time I read my opening line. And I wonder about her.
Tell me about the real life inspiration for one of your stories or share your thoughts about pulling inspiration from the headlines.