I was thinking of writing a story filled with intrigue, romance and scandal but maybe it isn’t believable enough. The plot line briefly is this: A retired four star General, who has been appointed to head up the international intelligence bureau in the US, is approached by an attractive woman who’s a journalist and an officer in the Army Reserves. She offers to write his biography highlighting his stellar military career. During the course of her research, their professional relationship develops into a romantic affair despite both parties being married. There is also a beautiful Floridian who serves as social liaison to the local military base where she has established a number of connections including one with the aforementioned four star General and his wife building a friendship that goes back five or more years. The socialite begins to receive threatening anonymous emails and so she contacts an acquaintance in the FBI. She wants to know what she should do.
The FBI case gets passed along, inquires are made and the source of the emails turns out to be the general’s biographer/mistress who views the socialite as a romantic rival. Digging deeper the FBI finds an email trail that connects the General and his biographer exposing the affair. The General tenders his resignation to the Commander in Chief one day after a victory in a hard fought presidential election. The biographer can’t be reached for comment and the Florida socialite, it seems, has been busy with a different General who has been sending her thousands of flirtatious emails, which widens the net and complicates the investigation. Were classified secrets divulged by either General? Was national security compromised at any time? Like I said maybe that’s a little over the top. That kind of thing would never happen in real life, right? Um, well, actually it has happened. Open any newspaper.
You can hear people saying: “Life imitates art” or “It’s a story ripped from the headlines.” You can’t make this stuff up. How about the story that was recently in the news about the puppeteer who is the person behind Sesame Street’s beloved, red, cuddly, falsetto-voiced Elmo? He was charged with sexual misconduct but those charges have thankfully been recanted and the puppeteer is absolved of any wrong doing. Elmo involved in a sex scandal? No way. As Steve Meitz pointed out, that would have given new meaning to the phrase “Tickle Me Elmo.” Also there was the woman who was arrested for repeatedly driving on the sidewalk to avoid waiting behind a school bus. The judge found her guilty, charged her a hefty fine and sentenced her to stand on the corner for two days with a sign that reads, “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.”
There is an abundance of material that you can draw from just by reading the newspaper or watching broadcast news on television. Personal interest stories are everywhere and you can use them like a Chinese menu, one tidbit from column A and another from column B.
For example: suppose you were to take inspiration from a newspaper story about a teen missing from the site of a fatal car accident and combine that with elements from a TV news clip about a woman with amnesia who turns up as a stranger in a town far from where she lives. These unrelated elements could be combined into a story about a teen first thought to have been abducted or seriously injured in the crash, but who has wandered off and shows up elsewhere without a clue about who he is or where he lives, suffering from traumatic amnesia.
Is that any more far fetched than the General’s or the puppeteer’s sex scandals? What if the woman driving on the sidewalk had hit a child getting off the bus, what kind of story could we take from that? Would she forge a strange but sincere relationship with the child she nearly killed, as a way of serving penance? What if a news story reported that a huge piece of space junk fell out of the sky and obliterated a man’s house just as he was leaving to take his dog for a walk? Would the uninjured man become obsessed with his own mortality? This world is full of evil, sadness, compassion, drama and humor. You don’t have to feel like you need to make everything up on your own. There are real-life stories out there just waiting to be mined, and all you need to do is find the vein that’s rich with material.
Question: Where do your story ideas come from?