Saturday, August 10, 2013

Five Fridays in August II

"Ripped from the Headlines~!"

While I everything with "2" or "II" in the title really should have the subtitle "Electric Boogaloo," I wanted to be (semi-)serious about this.

This post was going to be about writing while on vacation, then we ended up not going away for a long weekend. Instead, I'm going to make it a follow-up to last week's post about our visit to the superhero exhibit currently at the Baltimore Jewish Museum.

The exhibit was great. (One of these days, I'll get an Instagram account to share them. Until then, all you kids get off my lawn.) We saw a lot of old and cool comic covers, sketches of internal pages, bios of the creators, and even some interactive exhibits. 

One really caught my eye and inspired this post. It showed a newspaper from around the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Comics had shown a desire for the US to enter World War II even before Pearl Harbor. The caption under the paper read, in part, "During the Golden Age, many comic book stories were ripped from the headlines."

"Ripped from the headlines." I think I heard that about several Law & Order episodes over the years. "Based on a true story" is similar. But what do they really mean? How closely based?

For ages, fiction writers have been inspired by true stories. We change the names, fudge the details a bit, tweak the setting to fit our particular genre and locale, and voila! We have a story. I've done it too. A currently unpublished novel of mine was based on a news report of gang killings in my hometown of Baltimore. Another was based on a news report of a man who confessed to a murder (spoiler alert!) he didn't commit.

Here's what I'm wondering. We don't read the paper anymore, in general. Newspaper circulation is declining faster than the number of people who don't know J.K. Rowling wrote The Cuckoo's Calling. (Brief aside: I really wish "Rowling" rhymed with "calling." That sentence would sound awesome if it did.) Today, we get our news from the Internet and cable TV. Local newspapers are online and many charge a subscription fee. How many of you read your local paper online? The thing is, websites and channels like CNN tend to have a national focus. If you're writing thrillers where the fate of the country is at stake, that can be a fertile ground for you. If your stories are more homespun, you have to search deeper.

With the decline of newspapers, is it harder to "rip things from the headlines" these days? Do the Big Three cable news channels and websites still stoke your creative fires?

Things to think about. Happy writing.

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