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Ordinary_Guy
07-25-2006, 02:54 AM
History is jam-packed with inspiration but these days in particular are great for thriller writers. From today's CNN alone, we have combat in Lebanon, nuclear intrigue in Iran, POTUS getting slammed on "signing statements" and the "State Secret" exception getting knocked down on the NSA, allowing litigation to go forward.

Which makes me wonder:

How many folk here are borrowing any of this?
Is it central to your plot or do you just dribble it in the background for believability?
For that matter, how much do you borrow real and specific history for your current-day narrative?

Linda Adams
07-25-2006, 03:23 AM
Mine is a thriller in a historical setting. It uses the lawlessness of the end of the Civil War as a reason for evil to flourish. How much did we borrow from history? * Shrug * History buffs would probably be disappointed with the book because they would be expecting more historical babble, and it isn't there. We only used as much historical details necessary to tell the story. Even things like the officers' rank was carefully weighed as to what today's audience would be able to understand.

Jamesaritchie
07-25-2006, 05:57 AM
I borrow from real life, real events, and real people as much as I possibly can. I only change what I need to change to make it work better as fiction.

aruna
07-25-2006, 10:24 AM
Ditto - what James said. My last ms is based on a real head-line making event in the 70's. And yet the story itself is entriely fictional. I've added characeters and make them interact with the "real" ones , an d change some details and even give the whole event a different premise to make it new and interesting. It's the combination of familiar and new elements, I think, history and fiction skilfully interwoven, that make for a good read.

TeddyG
07-25-2006, 10:42 AM
In my short stories...and only in there...
Some of them borrow an incredible amount from real life...
Both in Public events and in private events in my private life
Most of the short story ideas actually come from something that has happened to me in life..or from an idea I am ruminating upon due to something in my life...

then I add to or twist a bit, or actually sometimes combine two totally different things, events etc. into one ...

especially with character descriptions etc...

I am a people watcher so for years I sometimes go to a cafe with a notebook sit down and write out finely detailed descriptions of people - this helped me to train myself but also the descriptions of these "real" people found themselves in my short stories

(you could get in trouble too...for instance if an ex-girlfriend kind of reads a not so thinly veiled description of herself in your story....which is shall we say not that complimentary!!!!!!!!! - Hey just a warning..I am innocent!):Shrug:

gp101
07-25-2006, 02:33 PM
I don't like borrowing specific current events for my fiction for fear the actual event will be resolved before my book comes out. Sort of like finishing the last draft of a great Cold War spy novel a month before the Berlin Wall fell or the Soviet Union splintered. But I'm neurotic like that. If I wrote a great thriller involving the ongoing crisis in N. Korea, that country would probably reform from communist to democratic overnight; that's just my luck. Maybe I should write thrillers about Iran, the Taliban, Hugo Chavez, and global warming... for sure those problems would end just to ruin my novel, but I'd win a string of Nobel Peace Prizes.

I do use current general problems or concerns like identity theft for my stories. The less specific, the more I'm inclined to use it. And I alwys borrow from real life for my characters as I'm sure most people do. Every one of my characters is based on two or more people I know or have met.

aruna
07-25-2006, 04:01 PM
Every one of my characters is based on two or more people I know or have met.

Now that, I don't do. My fictional characters are entirely fictional and not based on anyone. Sometimes real-life historical characters enter the stories, but I try to keep those reality-based, with their real-life names, backgrounds, actions etc.

Soccer Mom
07-25-2006, 11:38 PM
My mysteries are largely inspired by actual cases. It is sort of like those movies on LIFETIME. They used to say "based on actual events" which meant that they monkeyed with the facts to make them more interesting. Now they say "inspired by actual events" which seems to mean--Hey we heard this news account and got this really cool idea for a movie.

Kate Thornton
07-26-2006, 12:09 AM
I have to be careful about real-life inspiration because I work pretty close to some of it and I am not allowed to talk about it. Insider info is more of a burden than a blessing.

I do like to keep up - sometimes inspiration can come from something current and newsworthy. But I usually mull things over for so long it's no longer current by the time I work something up with it. I avoid *specific* historical or current events - but maybe it's just a habit, not a policy...

Ordinary_Guy
07-26-2006, 12:52 AM
I have to be careful about real-life inspiration because I work pretty close to some of it and I am not allowed to talk about it. Insider info is more of a burden than a blessing.

I do like to keep up - sometimes inspiration can come from something current and newsworthy. But I usually mull things over for so long it's no longer current by the time I work something up with it. I avoid *specific* historical or current events - but maybe it's just a habit, not a policy...
I've actually heard of some folk, couldn't tell you who or where, that have gotten around NDA's by fictionalizing events. Bad memory there. Sorry.

My mysteries are largely inspired by actual cases. It is sort of like those movies on LIFETIME. They used to say "based on actual events" which meant that they monkeyed with the facts to make them more interesting. Now they say "inspired by actual events" which seems to mean--Hey we heard this news account and got this really cool idea for a movie.
I haven't watched Prime Time for a while (I don't watch TV when I'm not at work) but IIRC, NBC used to promo their Law & Order series with "Ripped from the headlines!" Don't know if they still do that or not.

I've deepened my use of current events but backed away from having characters interact with real people. Not to say that I don't ever (I most definitely do), but I try to minimalize it for a few of reasons: first off, a dozen different people will have a dozen views/opinions on any given public figure. I like borrowing the reality of public figures but sometimes the baggage can distract from the narrative.

Second: there seems a fine line between fair-use or fictionalizing and libel/slander issues. I've read some agents/editors love it for its topical punch and if you've got a fast pipeline to print, it could make it worth it. OTOH, if you're going through a normal book publishing process, I've read that other agents/editors/legal departments get skittish about it.

Third: unless you're writing "period" (which could be set in the period commonly known as "last month"), by the time the book sees print, it'll be dated by the characters and turns of events you reference. Not a problem if you're fictionalizing some specific event, say... referencing something for a flashback or "creative history" sequence, etc. However, if you want your piece to read as current day, and you use real characters as part of the "happening now" narrative in your plot, the book could feel obsolete before it hits the shelves.

I'll reference real people and real events, but I'll usually try to keep them in the background just enough that the reader gets a familiar feeling as the event passes by.

Jamesaritchie
07-26-2006, 01:42 AM
I have to be careful about real-life inspiration because I work pretty close to some of it and I am not allowed to talk about it. Insider info is more of a burden than a blessing.

.

That's what they told Joseph Wambaugh. And there are at least three ex-CIA writers, one of whom kept working for the CIA long after he started writing novels using inside information.

BJ Bourg
07-26-2006, 03:52 PM
History is jam-packed with inspiration but these days in particular are great for thriller writers. From today's CNN alone, we have combat in Lebanon, nuclear intrigue in Iran, POTUS getting slammed on "signing statements" and the "State Secret" exception getting knocked down on the NSA, allowing litigation to go forward.

Which makes me wonder:

How many folk here are borrowing any of this?
Is it central to your plot or do you just dribble it in the background for believability?
For that matter, how much do you borrow real and specific history for your current-day narrative?

I don't borrow from history or the news, but I do borrow a lot from my personal life. My first novel, which hasn't been published *yet* (fingers are crossed:-), was inspired by an incident that happened at my mom's church. I just said to myself one day when I was a kid, "Hey, what if this would've happened..." About twenty-five years later I wrote the story based on that one "what if".

bjb

Kate Thornton
07-26-2006, 06:07 PM
That's what they told Joseph Wambaugh. And there are at least three ex-CIA writers, one of whom kept working for the CIA long after he started writing novels using inside information.

Joseph Wambaugh did very well with both of his careers!
I am pleased to say I have never worked for the CIA, but I have so many other places from which to draw inspiration, background and character that I walk a wide circle around my work, which, come to think of it, isn't *that* interesting anyway.

I think one of the reasons I started writing fiction in the first place was so I could get away from the work in my head.

Jenan Mac
07-26-2006, 07:57 PM
Carl Hiaasen has said numerous times that many of the goofier details in his books are pulled from actual events and landmarks in Florida, specifically Miami. And Pat Conroy has based a number of characters on real people-- wasn't Jordan's father in Beach Music supposed to bear more than just a passing resemblance to his own father?

Kate Thornton
07-26-2006, 08:22 PM
Carl Hiaasen - yes, one of the funniest writers we have. He wrked as a newspaper reporter on the Miami Herald for a long time and continues to do Op Ed pieces. His Op Ed collections are wonderful.

He was on TV a couple of weeks ago and mentioned a few real life incidents which showed up in his books (like the hooker who demanded to see proof that the john was a registered Republican before transacting business)

Jenan Mac
07-26-2006, 08:26 PM
I love Hiaasen. He's been to the St Pete Times Festival of Reading a couple of times; when he's there his talks are an absolute must-go-to. Tag phrase: "people think I write fiction".

TesubCalle
08-02-2006, 09:44 AM
'Ripped from the headlines'; no (though I've been tempted to adapt in a 'what if' scenario). Personal observations of real events; yes!

I wrote one short story based on a conversation overheard on a train ride home. I'm writing one now that's based on a conversation overheard on a bus ride. Don't think they'll ever be published, of course, but it's certainly good practice.

Kate Thornton
08-02-2006, 05:39 PM
I love to eavesdrop and write from what I hear - I think nosiness has been one of my best sources of inspiration for crime stories.

You can hear some of the best lines in mall eating places. Just nurse a Coke or something for twenty minutes and keep your ears open!

Soccer Mom
08-04-2006, 07:34 AM
Yeah, I think eavesdropping is the novelist's gift--or it's the curse when you get busted doing it in public. It's embarassing, but totally worth it. Real people are so much more interesting than TV sitcoms.

aruna
08-04-2006, 08:58 AM
Yeah, I think eavesdropping is the novelist's gift--or it's the curse when you get busted doing it in public. It's embarassing, but totally worth it. Real people are so much more interesting than TV sitcoms.

Not always. We had a visitor last night, an ex-colleague of my husband. She was with us for 3 hours. She is one of those people who can chat for three hours about everything in detail: the weather, car repairs, the price of housing, an incident at work last month, what an ex-lient of my husband said when he heard he was retired. One topic leads into the next. She manages to dramatise each subject, even if it's only the weather, and trivialities were made to sound like huge events. And I'm sorry, she's a really, really nice person but I was bored from beginning to end. I longed to get into my novel, or watch TV, anything but sit there not knowing how to add to the conversation. I think if she ever comes again I'll say I have to work, and come hang out on AW.

Real life is often incredibly boring. The interesting things happen days, weeks, months apart. In novels we have to cut out the boring stuff and condense the interesting stuff. ALL characters have to be interesting, and all trivialities and banalities have to be cut out of dialogue.

Jamesaritchie
08-04-2006, 01:53 PM
Not always. We had a visitor last night, an ex-colleague of my husband. She was with us for 3 hours. She is one of those people who can chat for three hours about everything in detail: the weather, car repairs, the price of housing, an incident at work last month, what an ex-lient of my husband said when he heard he was retired. One topic leads into the next. She manages to dramatise each subject, even if it's only the weather, and trivialities were made to sound like huge events. And I'm sorry, she's a really, really nice person but I was bored from beginning to end. I longed to get into my novel, or watch TV, anything but sit there not knowing how to add to the conversation. I think if she ever comes again I'll say I have to work, and come hang out on AW.

Real life is often incredibly boring. The interesting things happen days, weeks, months apart. In novels we have to cut out the boring stuff and condense the interesting stuff. ALL characters have to be interesting, and all trivialities and banalities have to be cut out of dialogue.

Every person has something interesting about them. You just have to find it. And in real life something incredibly interesting is happening every second of every day to someone, somewhere. It can happen to you, if you want it to.

That woman actually sounds like a very good character for a novel. We all know people like her, and every reader out there would relate.

Butm really, all good characters are based on real people we've known, met, or observed. There may be bits of some people, and pieces of others but there's no other way for a writer to create a character. At least not a character that lives and breathes, that isn't cardboard, or that isn't a larger than life cartoon character.

aruna
08-04-2006, 03:30 PM
That woman actually sounds like a very good character for a novel. We all know people like her, and every reader out there would relate.

.

There are people like her, but you do not fill your books with them. A novel about this woman would bore me, She could, though, be a secondary character, a filler, and her dialogie pared down to give an example of what the three hours are like. One paragraph would be enough; you get the picture. I know this sounds arrogant but I do like characters to be larger than life.; they can be simple and innocent - in fact I hgave lots of simple, innocent characters - but every word they say has to mean something., I can't bear chatter in real life, and I can't bear it in novels. I know it does happen, but it has to be just snippets.


Every person has something interesting about them. You just have to find it. And in real life something incredibly interesting is happening every second of every day to someone, somewhere. It can happen to you, if you want it to.

I can assure you that incredibly interesting things are happening to me almost every day of my life, TOO MANY, in fact, and I am dying for things NOT to happen. For a start I would give anything just to stay in one country, in one home, for one whole month!!! Oh, for a quiet, boring life.

Jamesaritchie
08-04-2006, 04:05 PM
I like characters who are larger than normal life, but if no one anywhere can live up to that character, I won't read the book.

Yes, a woman such as you describe would have to be a minor character, but she could bring a book to life, if used at the right spot.

My wife calls such people "mosquitoes." They buzz and buzz and buzz, and you can't see to get away from them, no matter what you do. But be careful. Once you start thinking ofthem as mosquitoes you may stop hearing anything they say, and you realy will hear a neverending buzz.

Soccer Mom
08-04-2006, 04:22 PM
I love that. I work with a group of those. They already think I'm a little nutty. Now when one of them starts buzzing, I'm probably going to giggle.

DeborahM
08-05-2006, 07:48 AM
I love easedropping while I'm people watching! I keep a journal with me at all times, so that I can write a funny or profound statement down before I forget it while laughing at the next statement. It can be like going to Comedy Central, your laughing at each joke but by the end of the evening you can't remember one of them as your trying to uncramp the laughing muscles in your face.

I take from my travels, life in general and from myself (likes & dislikes) as every writer does. I have in my first manuscript, based the characters on their real life (family member) and the murder of one character. The murderers are still walking free, hence I went under a pen name.

With all the history, events, people walking around us and life in general, the sky is unlimited for us as writers.

Cassiopeia
08-06-2006, 10:07 AM
All of the characters in my book have been based on the personalities of people I actually know with some embelishments and some minor changes.

Some of the scenes are events in my own personal life again with embelishments.

I don't watch the news much anymore so I can't use that. *shocking I know* :D
~Casi~

jpserra
10-09-2006, 04:30 PM
I spent 17 years in law enforcement and investigations. Once you pry into it a bit, people are really strange. Most present a sense of normalcy on the surface, but behind the scenes, what we might consider aberrant, rears its ugly head high and with vigor.

While doing bounty work for a few years, I entered homes and apprehended people in all states of strange dress. Our (humanity) predilections for the strange and wild behaviors, sexual or simply familial, is frightening. I encountered a woman who regularly answered the door in only a large, open shirt. Shocking. Fun but shocking. Borrowing from this side of life might push your stories into the realm of unbelievablity.

JPS

JDCrayne
10-10-2006, 06:29 AM
I only use real life as background information, and usually only in short stories. Specific events and specific amounts of money date a story faster than anything else. It would be nice to have a book considered a period piece in thirty years, but I'd rather it didn't happen in six months. (Incidentally, I use a real town street map to help keep story places in order; where one can walk, where one has to take a car, etc.)

Jamesaritchie
10-10-2006, 06:46 PM
I only use real life as background information, and usually only in short stories. Specific events and specific amounts of money date a story faster than anything else. It would be nice to have a book considered a period piece in thirty years, but I'd rather it didn't happen in six months. (Incidentally, I use a real town street map to help keep story places in order; where one can walk, where one has to take a car, etc.)

On teh other hand, lack of such details can leave a book floating in space. I don't think this kind of "dating" is in any way a bad thing at all, and it certainly does not stop readers from buying such books in droves.

I prefer novels firmly anchored in time and place, and I believe a great many other readers do, as well.

JDCrayne
10-12-2006, 05:42 AM
On the other hand, lack of such details can leave a book floating in space. I don't think this kind of "dating" is in any way a bad thing at all, and it certainly does not stop readers from buying such books in droves.

I prefer novels firmly anchored in time and place, and I believe a great many other readers do, as well.

I agree with some of that. Readers do like to know if they're in Chicago or Los Angeles, and if this is the WW II, Viet Nam, or Iraq war era. What I don't like doing is having someone commit murder for a vast inheritance that turns out to be penny ante in a few years. I usually describe stuff like that with phrases such as "being able to buy a penthouse, and a Rolls for the garage," which at least keeps it current with inflation. Since I write about a fictional town, I tie the action down to places in that town -- which is why I use a map. Dinner for two at a good restaurant for $50? Better skip that.

Jamesaritchie
10-12-2006, 06:07 AM
. What I don't like doing is having someone commit murder for a vast inheritance that turns out to be penny ante in a few years. I usually describe stuff like that with phrases such as "being able to buy a penthouse, and a Rolls for the garage," which at least keeps it current with inflation. Since I write about a fictional town, I tie the action down to places in that town -- which is why I use a map. Dinner for two at a good restaurant for $50? Better skip that.

Even today, people commit murder for peanuts.

What's important is how much something is worth at the time of the crime, and I think this is an important detail. I sincerely doubt if any criminal in history has ever said, I would kill for this, but since it won't be worth nearly as much twenty years form now, I won't.

Readers are smart enough to understand that the crime had a serious financial motive at the time it was committed, and that whatever something might be worth now just doesn't matter.

I want to know exactly what was stolen, and how much it was worth right to the penny. If you're going to say he could buy a penthouse and a Rolls for garage, there's no reason not to actually say what something was worth. You aren't fooling the readers.

Real financial crimes always have dollar amounts attached. Fictional crimes should, as well.

JDCrayne
10-12-2006, 09:45 AM
Even today, people commit murder for peanuts.
...
I want to know exactly what was stolen, and how much it was worth right to the penny. If you're going to say he could buy a penthouse and a Rolls for garage, there's no reason not to actually say what something was worth. You aren't fooling the readers.


I don't think of it as trying to fool the readers; I think of it as giving them a frame of reference. In any event, most of my murders are for personal motives -- crimes of revenge, passion, self-preservation, etc. I don't usually kill people for money -- it seems so drab a reason. It's certainly a tried and true one, though.

Ordinary_Guy
10-16-2006, 10:48 PM
...Real financial crimes always have dollar amounts attached. Fictional crimes should, as well.
Valid point - but given inflation, the connotations of that dollar amount will change and it'll date the story. It'll be fine for 5 years, but assuming the drama can stand the test of time (and 4 or 5 printings over the next 15 years), unless you're dealing with the largest white collar crime, the figures will be quaint while everything else comes across as hard-hitting.

...kinda like holding the planet for ransom for One MMMMMillllion Dollars... [extend Dr. Evil pinky here].

If you've got a short story running as a serial, I can see using the actual figure. For a novel...? Too dangerous unless they're truly mind-boggling sums.