Finding Fiction in Real Life

“There are more bizarre stories in reality than any of us could imagine.” – J. Garth

If I wrote a story about an elephant buried at a shopping mall in the United States, no one would believe the plot was plausible. And yet it’s true. In 1972, Little Jennie, an aging elephant with a traveling circus, died at the mall and was buried immediately at “what is now Summit Place Mall in Waterford.” (Detroit Free Press, August 11, 2014, front page)

If I wrote a story about the compassion and empathy that a gorilla can exhibit, few people would want to believe it. After all, gorillas are just animals. Now that it is documented that Koko the gorilla expressed her sorrow at the loss of her friend, actor Robin Williams, people may now believe that gorillas are closer to humans than we thought.

Who would believe a young man with cerebral palsy could write a novel using only the toes of his left foot? I read Christy Brown’s Down All the Days long before it became the movie, “My Left Foot,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The novel depicts life in Dublin, Ireland from the point of view of a young man suffering from cerebral palsy.

When I read the newspaper or watch television news, I’m often amazed by the real world. Why would a young person pour a flammable liquid on his chest then set the liquid on fire on a dare? Why would a woman kill her family and herself because she suddenly lost her job? Why would a child kill himself because he is gay? How does someone strapped with dynamite walk into a building and blow himself up for a cause?

Real life presents some bizarre stories. If you choose to write stories “ripped from the headlines,” you must be prepared with convincing plots, believable characters, realistic dialogue, and sights and sounds that satisfy us. Are you prepared to make the bizarre believable?

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