Story Starters #4

“Ripped from the headlines.” Origin unknown.

Robinson Crusoe, a bestselling castaway tale written by Daniel Defoe, was published in 1719. Defoe based his story on the real-life Alexander Selkirk who was rescued after being stranded for five years on an island off the coast of Chile. Numerous versions of Robinson Crusoe, as well as other castaway stories, have been written.

The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue, a book by Michael J. Touglas and Casey Sherman, tells how four members of the Coast Guard rescued men off a broken oil tanker. The movie invented characters, imagined dialogue and added drama to emphasize the brutality of the storm.

Eddie the Eagle is a movie based on the real-life British ski jumper, Michael (Eddie) Edwards. He wore thick glasses and leg braces as a child but dreamt of participating in the winter Olympic Games as a downhill skier. Although the screen writer took liberties with the character of Eddie’s coach, the story is a true feel-good story of determination.

Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven, and Her Amazing Story of Healing by Christy Wilson Beam tells the story of a girl with a rare, incurable digestive disorder. On one of Annabel’s rare chances to play outside, she fell three stories headfirst into a hollowed-out tree. The fall cured her.

An episode of Chicago P. D. depicted a six-year-old boy being shot three times in a Chicago alley. The story, taken from a recent Chicago murder case, changed the plot significantly to allow the redemption of key characters.

If you think your idea has to originate from a big headline, you’re wrong. CSI: Cyber presented an episode that involved a fitness wristwatch, stalking, and harvesting organs from unsuspecting donors. The writers took three separate ideas and combined them into a suspenseful story.

You don’t have to write a castaway story, a daring sea rescue, a triumph over adversity, or even about a miraculous medical miracle. Try taking the elements from several different headline-making stories, combine them, embellish the drama, add a surprise conflict, and you’ve got your plot. Tell the spectator’s version of the event and how it affected you. Give that person an even better storyline than the main participants.

Think about reading your newspapers and magazines with an eye for plot ideas. Are you ready?



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    • Kelly Bixby on March 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    Great advice, Barbara. My favorite Jodi Picoult books are those with realistic plots that challenge us to examine our beliefs and help us understand the motivations of others.

      • Barbara Pattee on April 18, 2016 at 11:26 pm
      • Reply

      Thanks, Kelly, for telling me about another author with realistic plots. I’ll have to check her out.

  1. Brilliant Barbara! Fiction is a veiled version of true events.

      • Barbara Pattee on April 18, 2016 at 11:22 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you, Karen. I enjoy finding reality combined with fiction in books, movies, and television shows.

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