Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona
Photo Credit: Doree Weller
I laugh sometimes when I watch movies, and the disclaimer comes up at the end that any resemblance to real people is unintentional.
I think that most writers are inspired by true events at some level. I walk in the mall and see someone dressed in a certain way and think, “Hmm, I wonder if…” I read the news and think “What if they…?” A story grows from that tiny seed. I’m not a visual person, so when I describe characters, I use other people as models, mostly actors and actresses, but still…
I starting thinking about this after the recent controversy between Stephen King and the BTK killer’s family. The BTK killer’s daughter was angry by what she saw as exploitation by Stephen King in being “inspired” by those events. He responded and explained that his recent movie, “A Good Marriage,” was inspired the the events, but that the story isn’t about the killer; it’s about a “brave and determined woman.”
I can’t even begin to imagine what the BTK killer’s family went through, but I do understand that drive to understand. Most people avoid what scares them, but writers will often get inside things that scare them, that seem foreign or alien, and ask questions, make assumptions. In the best stories, the characters drive the story, and most of the time, they go unexpected places and get there in unexpected ways.
I have a story that I’m currently working on, and the story was inspired by a PostSecret. The story was meant to be a short story (under 2,500 words), but because the characters wouldn’t allow their story to be told that quickly, the story is currently topping 11,000 words, and I now have to decide if I want to go back and edit the beginning and hope that the story is told, or if I want to expand the story and just make it into a short novel. I didn’t plan for it, and I tried to keep the story shorter. As a result, I now have to do a lot more work than if I had just listened to the characters in the first place.
I sympathize with the family, but I believe King meant no harm. Those of you who read my blog on Feel Good Fridays might be confused by my attitude on this, because I’m all about giving positive things most of our attention. And while that’s true, I never meant to suggest that we should ignore things that go on in the dark. The things that go on in the dark can be scary if we don’t shed light on them, if we try to pretend they don’t exist. I try not to live in fear, because I truly believe that fear gives power to things, and that exposing them takes that power away. Early man sat around the fire and learned that stories could chase away the dark more powerfully than fire. They told scary stories for the thrill, yes, but also because telling scary stories is like whistling in the graveyard. It’s a talisman, bravado, but also a way to understand and take some of the mystery away.
So gather ’round my fire, and I’ll tell you a story.