Writing Right with Dmitri - Ripped from the Headlines

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Writing Right with Dmitri: Ripped from the Headlines

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Back a decade or so ago, a US TV series advertised itself as 'ripped from the headlines'. What they meant was that the writers took their inspiration from current events. Somebody steals plutonium? Make a story about it. Somebody hijacks an airplane to Albania? Come up with a script. Usually, the 'ripped from the headlines' bit was just a come-on. The storyline needn't parallel the RL action very deeply. In fact, that wasn't too desirable. There are libel laws, you know.

One problem with 'ripped from the headlines' stories is overfamiliarity. After all, who wants to read about something that you could see on the nightly news? Good fiction is at least partially escapist, after all. We'd like to exit this vale of tears for an hour or two, and revel in a fantasyland of our choosing – which may explain the popularity of so many stories about glamorous vampires. I haven't seen any newspaper headlines about the bloodsuckers, lately. Not even in the Daily Mail.

. (Yes, I do read the Daily Mail online. It's most amusing and enlightening. I learn a lot about the UK that way.)

Can we seize fiction from the jaws of dull fact? Who says fact is dull? Find a topic. Let your fancy roam. Take that story and run with It.

A Few Modest Suggestions

One way to find interesting topics, of course, is to read the Daily Mail. Ignore reality. (They seem to.) The daily hot topics on Yahoo are an endless source of the surreal, as well. Here's a list to start you off.

  • Will MI6 spy death mystery never be solved? Maybe not, but you could solve it. What do you think? Is it possible to kill oneself, accidentally, by climbing into a gym bag? Was the KGB involved? What would James Bond do in a situation like that?
  • Voyager 1 leaves Solar System. Yeah, it happened last year, but the news travels slowly that far into space. What will happen to Voyager? Who might find it? Star Trek made something up about 40 years ago, but hey, you can come up with something on your own. What will happen when astronauts from Alpha Centauri hear Chuck Berry for the first time? Will 'Johnny B Good' spawn a new interstellar religion?
  • Man Passes Out in Manchester, Wakes Up in Paris. You know what to do with this one, h2g2 writer: make the story about your favourite Manchester IT Guy.
  • generally weird news items. Try the one about the Romanian art thief who's suing the museum in the Netherlands over their lax security. It's their fault his mom has a bunch of stolen masterpieces in her house. Or the fact that Amazon has a contract to provide internet cloud service to the CIA. Now, wouldn't it be cool if they suddenly offered a discount copy of the CIA director's email log, complete with user reviews? 'I couldn't put it down,' – Vladimir Putin.

See what I mean? "Ripped from the headlines" could be kind of fun. Just change all the names. You wouldn't want to be sued by a Romanian art thief.

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

09.12.13 Front Page

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