07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Monday, March 17, 2014

Headlines as Story Inspiration

Most writers I know have been asked at least once, if not many times, where they get their ideas. The answer is that writers get their ideas from virtually everywhere—personal experiences, history, literature, mythology, an overheard conversation at a coffee shop, and even from news headlines.

Current headlines include a missing jetliner, the loss of lives and homes after century old gas mains caused an explosion in New York City, and the trial of Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The intensity and tragedy of the events that make up news headlines often set writers’ minds spinning, and those events inspire stories or serve as elements of setting in their novels.

In a recent interview in the Bend Bulletin, bestselling American crime fiction writer Patricia Cornwell acknowledged that the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as recent Wall Street scandals, served as key elements in her recent novel, Dust.

As a historical romance author, modern headlines might not be applicable to my stories, but I can still be inspired by historical headlines. My favorite place and era to use as a setting is 1880s London, and there are few news headlines from the period more famous than those related to the still unidentified killer who came to be known as Jack the Ripper.

Fascinated with unsolved mysteries and London from the time I was a teenager, I’ve read several book about the Ripper mystery and always thought the period, the events, and the conundrum of the cases would make for a fascinating story backdrop. At the time of the crimes, several authors were inspired by the tragic events. The Lodger, a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes, is based on the Ripper mystery and tells the story of a London family who suspects their lodger is guilty of heinous crimes. The novel inspired four film adaptations, including one by Alfred Hitchcock.

When I began developing ideas for my Whitechapel Wagers historical romance series, I knew I wanted to include the Ripper mystery as a backdrop for the stories. Though my characters aren’t directly involved in the crimes, as in Scandalous Wager, the first novella in the series, they do inhabit the same area of London where they took place. Using real events as a backdrop to the series not only grounds them in history, but it also allowed me to explore a bit beyond the headlines.

Do headlines ever inspire story ideas for you? Have you read a story that was inspired by headline news?


Stacy McKitrick said...

While headlines didn't inspire a story for me, it did help me with a scene I was working on. Just as my character wondered what evil thing he could do next, I read a headline in the paper and got his answer! Kind of sad when I think about it, but hey...it worked.

Judith Ashley said...

Wow, Christy - Scandalous Wager's cover is awesome! and very provocative!!!

Which was not your question - no headlines only keep me up on major events because I seldom watch the news these days.

Sarah Raplee said...

Yes,I have been inspired by news stories and headlines.

For example, a character awaiting her story is loosely based on a young Iowa woman who'd boxed as a teen. When her home was broken into, she chased down the burglar and apprehended him.

Enjoyed your post!

Christy Carlyle said...

Hi Stacy, Judith, and Sarah,

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

Stacy and Sarah, it's interesting to hear how each of you have found news headlines useful in developing stories.

Judith, thanks so much for your compliments on my cover. It was a thrill to finally be able to design my own cover. :)