April 2, 2024
Where to Get Ideas for Fiction

Where to Get Ideas for Fiction

Turning Real Life News Into Fiction

Dana Perry

“Where do you get your ideas?”

That’s the question crime fiction authors get asked all the time by readers about their books.

I have a simple answer.

From the news headlines!

You see, I’m a longtime New York City journalist (New York Post, New York Daily News, Star magazine, NBC News) so I run into ideas for crime fiction all the time. I mean I’ve covered big news stories like Son of Sam, O.J. Simpson, Ted Bundy, Casey Anthony, Jon Benet Ramsey and…well, on and on.

So when people ask me the “where do you get your ideas?” question, it’s easy to respond by saying: “Hey, I just go to work in the newsroom every day.

The common term for this kind of fiction drawn from real life events is “ripped from the headlines” – which, of course, was first popularized by the success of the Law and Order TV series which has told these kind of stories on the air for years.

Me, I’ve done a lot of the same things with the actual crimes I’ve covered as a journalist – using the real life facts in these sensational stories in an effort to come up with an even more sensational crime novel.

Son of Sam was the easiest to do that with. Because he’s the ultimate real life serial killer. Pretty much every serial killer fiction book has drawn on some aspect of the San of Sam story from when he terrorized New York City for a year and a half by randomly shooting people – mostly young women – on the streets or in parked cars.

I’ve used the Son of Sam story for inspiration in several different books I’ve written about serial killers.

But celebrity crimes – like the O.J. Simpson case and John Lennon’s murder – have given me material for thriller books too, providing the opportunity to mix murder with high profile stars and entertainment figures.

Of course, you have to do much more than just recite the facts of a famous case to succeed with a “ripped from the headlines” story of your own.

I actually have a pretty simple approach for doing that.

I call it the “What If? question. In other words, what if Son of Sam didn’t really kill all those people alone – or maybe didn’t actually do any of the murders and the real killer or killers went free? What if John Lennon somehow survived the shooting by Mark David Chapman and is still alive somewhere? What if the O.J. murder case didn’t turn out the way it did, and we find out shocking new secrets about the deaths?

 I’ve used variations of all these cases to come with my own “ripped from the headlines” versions of all these news stories I’ve covered – and plenty more too – for my novels.

And it doesn’t always have to be a big lead media story like this to produce a crime fiction idea for me as an author.

I once read a small story in the back of a newspaper about a kid in New York City who had been shot in some sort of gang dispute a long time ago, and forced to live the rest of his life in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. Then, many years after the shooting, the bullet – which doctors had never been able to remove from his spinal cord – somehow came loose and traveled to his heart, killing him. I was fascinated by the idea: a murder that took years and years to accomplish. And now the person who shot him would not just be guilty of assault, but charged with murder after all this time. It seemed like a terrific plot line to put in a book, which is what I did!

Another time I saw a small news item about a homeless woman found dead on the streets of New York City. There were no known details about who she was or how she’d gotten there. I decided to do a “what if” about her as the basis for a book. What if she once had dreams that never came true? What if she knew shocking secrets about people in her past life? What if someone murdered her and made it look like just another homeless death to make sure she never revealed her secrets to anyone? And, just like that, I was able to turn this seemingly insignificant real-life story into a ‘ripped from the headlines” piece of thriller fiction.

Then there was the real life news story of Aileen Wuornos, one of the few female serial killers in modern crime history – who murdered seven men while she was working as a prostitute in Florida. For me, this story was the springboard for creating a different kind of fictional female serial killer – a beautiful, sexy, woman who executed rich and powerful men she wooed into bed just for the thrill of it. My female serial killer was a lot different than Aileen Wuornos. But, once again, it was a news headline that gave me the inspiration for the book. 

 There are so many stories out there in the news like this.

 So many ideas just waiting for someone to turn them into a terrific crime fiction thriller.

 I’ve been lucky working in newsrooms where I got see so many of these big stories first-hand.

 But they’re out there for everyone – everywhere – to jump on and turn into their own crime fiction thriller!

About the Author

I am a New York City author who writes mystery thrillers under the pen name of Dana Perry – and also as R.G. Belsky. My new thriller for Bookouture is SILENT ISLAND, the first in a series featuring homicide detective Abby Pearce. Previous titles of mine were THE SILENT VICTIM, THE GOLDEN GIRL and HER OCEAN GRAVE.

Contact me at [email protected]

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Dana Perry

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