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Real Life Fiction

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No one can deny that there is much repetition in the settings of many stories. I 'm not talking about the basic plot of course. A story must have dramatic conflict to capture our interest, and hero defeats villain to save the girl, err boy, is a constant theme in many stories. I'm not talking about that, but about the nature and even the deeds of the villain and hero, who both tend to become stereotyped or caricatures of what might be more interesting if we found unusual motivations for their conflicts.

Whilst our imaginations may indeed provide a source of ideas, mixed with our own experiences, as well as references to the archetypes from which we might create more individualistic protagonists and intriguing bad guys, I wonder where else we might find a source of inspiration for such deeds, as we might have them act out in our plots.

This thought was at the back of mind as I read the local headlines on the News page of our local newspaper.

It occurs to me that real life has become almost unbelievable in terms of what we might pick and choose to use in a plot.

It's not so much that we want to avoid reality in our fiction as much as it is that, what is real seems so beyond the realm of possibility that no one would believe us if we used the story behind the headlines in a plot.

Here are examples for you to consider, all reported in the daily press:

1. A 22 year old man killed his father, dismembered the body and fed the pieces to coyotes, evidently because his father abused and raped him. Just to add flavour to the details, the man claims that on the day his father raped him, the Dad told his son that God wanted him (the son) to have a sex change so he could become his wife.

2. A 17 year old Taiwanese teenager has been arrested after chopping off his father's hands, allegedly to avenge years of physical abuse.

3. A WOMAN has been arrested after allegedly locking her son inside a house for nearly five years. Police in the US say the 14-year-old boy spent most of his time locked in a bedroom closet inside the Oklahoma City home.

4. Reports are often seen that it is illegal to feed homeless people in some cities. Also there are reports of large numbers of homeless people living in circumstances that challenge anyone to think of a story where people meet, fall in love and are not rescued, and yet (to give a questioning example of extrapolation from the headline) does this really mean that in such poverty and deprivation, there cannot be happiness for them?

The list of such headlines is humongous and while I am not suggesting that such headlines should be dramatised into fiction just for the sake of it, I do think we should encourage people to expand the horizons of their plot-lines by keeping an eye on real life situations.

Of course the above headlines are the more gruesome ones, but there are many other news stories that can inspire happier scenarios.

Truly, I think real life can provide inspiration, but I guess it is up to the author to make it believable in a fictional tale. Just a thought.

:icon_geek:

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I agree wholeheartedly that real-life stories can be used as a basis for novels, novellas or short stories.

I am nearing the alpha-stage completion of a 200 page a novel/novella that I call Palouse based on a series of stories that appeared in The Oregonian newspaper and which are reprinted here http://search.oregonlive.com/%22lost+in+the+music%22 under the title Lost in the Music Parts 1 through 3. I've changed the circumstances and names, of course, and made the main character gay, but the basic themes of a struggling prodigy have been retained in the context of a love story.

A news or magazine account can trigger a plot for a novel or define a character. Once a novel is begun, of course, the characters take on lives of their own, as they have in Palouse, so that the end result becomes something new and different even though it may be faithful to the original roots.

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I agree, you can find some interesting "jumping off points" just by scanning the papers and news magazines.

Very famously, Stephen King did that about 20 years ago, discovering a headline that basically said, "Homecoming King Discovered As Sniper Near High School." The story told of a good-looking kid who dated the prom queen, was the most popular kid in school, from a fairly well-off family, straight-A student, captain of the football team, etc. Only, as police dug into the case, they discovered that the kid had been quietly murdering street people over the last few months, just as a "hobby." And it got worse.

King expanded the basic idea out to come up with an effective opening for the story, where the boy starts out slightly twisted, then through chance, discovers that his next-door neighbor is an escaped Nazi war criminal, living under a fake name. The novella was called Apt Pupil, and it's far darker and more unsettling than the film version.

Sometimes, a good idea can jump out of a vague conversation or thin idea. "What if... a boy had the ability to read minds, only every time he did it, it robbed him of a week of his lifetime?" "What if... one person admires another from afar, only is too afraid to tell them? And what if the other person comes up to them, strikes up a friendship, but asks them to introduce them to a mutual friend... because the other person is in love with them?" Or: "What if you wake up, and nobody seems to remember who you are?"

There's a thousand stories out there in the naked city. Me, I'm interested in the complications when things go terribly wrong. You start with scenario A, only complication B happens, which sends the story spiralling out in direction Z.

The only other comment I'll make is often, the newspaper stories don't have endings that are dramatically satisfying. Sometimes, things just kind of stop for no real reason, without a big payoff or d?nouement. I'm reminded of the recent Jaycee Dugard kidnapping, where this 11-year-old girl was kidnapped and forced to live with her kidnapper in a tin shed and tent for 18 years. And she was just discovered through a series of accidents that took decades to happen. Sad story, but it'd be a rough movie to sit through. A story based on the same idea, but maybe compressed the details to two or three years might work better as a story.

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I am nearing the alpha-stage completion of a 200 page a novel/novella that I call Palouse based on a series of stories that appeared in The Oregonian newspaper and which are reprinted under the title Lost in the Music Parts 1 through 3.

This is tricky, because stories similar to this have been done -- most recently with the Robert Downey, Jr. film The Soloist, about a newspaper reporter who discovers a prodigy cellist inexplicably living on the street, a film released about six months ago (and based on a true story).

It's really hard to come up with a 100% original idea that doesn't draw comparisons to ideas that are vaguely similar, particularly if they become widely-released films or best-selling novels. I think all you can do is look at the issue head-on and do everything you can to make it radically different -- change the ages, change the sex, change the location, alter the time-frame, clear out every possible similarity as much as possible.

But if the core idea is good, the sky's the limit as far as what you can do with it. I could potentially see a lot of different ways to go with this.

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This is tricky, because stories similar to this have been done -- most recently with the Robert Downey, Jr. film The Soloist, about a newspaper reporter who discovers a prodigy cellist inexplicably living on the street, a film released about six months ago (and based on a true story).

It's really hard to come up with a 100% original idea that doesn't draw comparisons to ideas that are vaguely similar, particularly if they become widely-released films or best-selling novels. I think all you can do is look at the issue head-on and do everything you can to make it radically different -- change the ages, change the sex, change the location, alter the time-frame, clear out every possible similarity as much as possible.

But if the core idea is good, the sky's the limit as far as what you can do with it. I could potentially see a lot of different ways to go with this.

I agree that things have to be changed, but they don't have to be "radically different." Very little is radically different in this world, in my view.

That said, the theme of child prodigies having problems isn't new. The movie Vitus is an interesting take on the subject (with a music setting), but Searching for Bobbie Fischer -- a wonderful movie, by the way -- explores some of the same themes. Good child actors fall by the wayside constantly, while some, like Jodie Foster, manage to pull through the ups and downs of notoriety.

In Palouse, I've stolen bits and pieces from these sources (not to the extent of plagiarism), and have tried to build a different story, but not radically different except to the extent that it is extended beyond the outcome in the Oregonian story -- and subsequent followups.

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Newspapers are certainly a great source for inspiration. You can take it a step further, however. Newspapers report things that are going on in the world. A broader source, though possibly not quite so dramatic or perverted, is simply what we see in our own quotidian world.

I wrote Courage from just that experience. I saw a young man wearing only skimpy athletic shorts jogging on a street I was driving on. That's all it took, seeing someone jogging. I made that into an entire short story. All it takes is a germ of an idea, and an active imagination.

I'm writing a short story right now based on something else I saw, something I saw while on my daily bike ride. Riding a bike through quiet city streets for exercise gives one lots of time to reflect on things, and the things you see people do are a wondrous source of inspiration.

I totally agree that reality is a great source of story ideas. You just have to look around.

C

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Cole wrote:

...simply what we see in our own quotidian world.

quotidian, yes that sums up my point very nicely. Trust Cole to have the word for it. Thank you.

In my training years in live theatre, our director kept at us to observe everything in life so we might portray characters in a play with more gusto in detail, never forgetting to let our minds wander with imagination. I found watching people on my daily bus rides to and from work, was a great source of human nature. In my mind, my fellow passengers were soon analyzed as everything from espionage agents through to neurotic axe murderers who were all trying to look innocent by catching the bus to escape from the scenes of their dastardly deeds. There were also some innocent looking lads on the bus, but they served an altogether different purpose for my imagination. :icon_geek:

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In my training years in live theatre, our director kept at us to observe everything in life so we might portray characters in a play with more gusto in detail, never forgetting to let our minds wander with imagination.

Stephen King says something similar in his book On Writing, about the need for writers to be able to observe the world and then write it down in an interesting way. I try never to get so blase about life that I can't see something and notice something profound or moving if it's there.

I'm reminded of a great scene from Woody Allen's Annie Hall, where he and his girlfriend are at a party and Woody makes up little one-line stories about the bizarre attendees: a dark-looking man wearing sunglasses who might be a spy; a sexy woman who might be a struggling actress; a man who might be a murderer on the run. The inspiration is there if you look for it.

Can't wait to read VWL's story -- his advice has been very important to me in the past, and he definitely knows good ideas when he sees them.

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I recently met a young man that spent a year in a Christian work camp funded by our former President's "faith based initiatives".

After spending 4 weeks in a traditional drug rehab facility, it was recommended that he spend some time in "transition facility". What he was sent to was basically a slave labor work camp run by religious fanatics for profit.

I spent a half hour talking to him about his experiences and I think that I've never been more appalled in my life. Young people with serious problems are sent there: addicts, mental illness, gay- you name it. They are sent there and it is paid HANDSOMELY by insurance because it is a federally funded program.

Once the kids get there, it is all faith based voodoo bullshit. They are always kept far away from home to discourage visits and communications with families are strictly limited. No psychiatric drugs are allowed because God is supposed to heal them. Homosexuals are called abominations and are subjected to "biblical shame" to make them reconsider their foolish choice in sexual orientation.

Because it is run by a church, it is immune from federal and state guidelines and oversight. As long as a person passes muster with the church and buys their line of shit, they are in. No one is certified, there are no mental health professionals and the FEDS are spending a fortune to fund the place. While the person that I interviewed was there, a counselor was fired for having sex with 16 year old girls. There was no prosecution- it was all hused up and makes me wonder if its not just the tip of the iceburg.

The kids are set to work- I mean occupational therapy, where they make crafts for sale. They never see a nickel.

I guess anytime Uncle Sam shows up with a pocketful of money, the scams come out of the wood work looking for their piece of it. This one is sweet- they are getting money from the Feds, insurance, the states in some cases and selling the crafts that the kids assemble. I'm figuring that they could net a little over one hundred fifty thousand on thirty kids over a month.

Base Grant/month 40K

Cost per week 10K X 4 X 30 + whatever else they can cash in on = at the very least 160K/month

This sounds like a disaster in the making to me and I'm thinking about writing a fiction/fact hybrid piece and use the results of this and other interviews that I am conducting.

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James, that is indeed appalling. The story would be great, but what would be better would be to write your state senator, and to notify the state child labor law enforcer. Just the labor board would be good, because you can't legally make people work for less than minimum wage at any age.

There are strict laws about how many hours underage people can work, too.

I'm unaware anyone is immune from the state laws, and certainly the fact an institution is being run by a religion doesn't exempt anyone. Someone should be told about this, and people should be arrested.

The one way around the pay issue is if the people all are volunteering. But from what you say, they're being forced to volunteer. That isn't volunteering.

A great place to start is with the newspaper. Investigative journalists love this shit.

C

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