Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Inspired by Actual Events

Brandilyn Collins recently asked “Do you know where your characters are?” She received several responses. Among them was this one from Karren Dunmire Barnett: Searching for her family in an earthquake ravaged city. When I saw that, I wondered just how many other people are writing about someone who has lived through an earthquake. Given the recent events, I imagine that there are many people writing about that topic. As I suspect there are also people writing about their characters going to a fiery death in a Toyota. The news has a powerful influence on inspiration. We also see this in television shows. Some weeks after a news event, we see a television show about the same thing.

But what works for television isn’t necessarily good for novels. Television shows are character based. Each week we see the same characters and each week they solve their problems in much the same way as they did before. Viewers tune in to see how their beloved characters are going to handle the situation of the week, so nearly any story will do. If the story happens to be a retelling of Twelve Angry Men or it is a story inspired by the news, it doesn’t matter as long as the viewers get to see their favorite characters in action. But a novel tends to be more plot based. If you’ve built a fan base and they have grown to know and love your characters, you might be able to throw a news inspired story in there, but if you are trying to get people interested, the plot is likely the thing that will draw them in. They won’t be drawn in if they look at the story and recognize it as a news story. Instead, they will say “I’ve already seen this story.” A publisher or an agent is likely to reject it because they have already received many other stories just like it.