Ripping Stories from the Headlines



Jordan’s excellent post last week, about basing characters on friends or family, reminded me of another writer’s hack–ripping plots from newspaper headlines. The following headline inspired a subplot for one of my books:

 “Nurse Killed Patient Over Grudge”

According to the news story, a nurse in a plastic surgery office had murdered a patient during a plastic surgery procedure. And the motivation?  It turned out that the victim had “stolen” the nurse’s boyfriend 30 years earlier, when both women were in high school. So this murder 30 years later was the nurse’s way of getting some long-overdue payback.

Talk about revenge being a dish that’s best served cold!

That headline spawned an idea that stayed with me, and eventually emerged as a subplot in one of my mysteries.


I was particularly struck by this particular news story, because it underscored how powerful the emotions of rage and jealousy can be. Who would have thought that a jilted girlfriend would actually murder the “other woman” who happened to turn up in her medical care, thirty years later? In addition to fueling a subplot for my story, the article also made me start reflecting on what was to become one of the themes in my books: jealousy and revenge.

What about you? Have you ever based a story on a real-life event, or something you read about in the news?


19 thoughts on “Ripping Stories from the Headlines

  1. Have you ever based a story on a real-life event, or something you read about in the news?

    When the creepily named “Department of Homeland Security” was organized in response to 9/11, the argument that citizen surveillance would only be conducted against “Muslim extremists” made my head spin. If it’s okay for the government to spy on Muslims, it can spy on anyone, but too many did not grasp this.

    My flash fiction piece “The Uprising” was my response.

    • You were ahead of the curve, Mike. We are all being spied on now, for the sake of “security”. Thanks for sharing that story!

  2. All three of my Ty Buchanan legal thrillers were sparked by a news item.
    Try Dying came from bizarre story of a man who shot his wife, then drove to a freeway overpass in Los Angeles, shot himself, and fell to the freeway below, hitting a car and killing the driver. I clipped that story from the newspaper and kept it for several years. It just kept saying to me, I want to be a novel.

    The plot for Try Darkness came from something I read in a legal newspaper about transients being bounced from cheap hotels in downtown L.A.

    Try Fear began when I read about 6’7″ man pulled over for drunk driving, wearing only a Santa hat and G string. I thought, this guy has to be a Ty Buchanan client.

      • Scott, If that story is where you got Trying Dying, I love the way you took the facts and added the twist.

  3. Almost all of my books are based on real stories in a “what if” combination of real crime stories that I imagined happened together. I like putting a spin on real crime to imagine the ripple affects of a teen’s reaction. It always amazes me the many ways human beings prey on each other.

    Your story shocked me. 30 years later? Then I remembered how one of my sisters had a high school boyfriend she put on a pedestal. After they broke up, he became the benchmark for all the men in her life thereafter. Even after he divorced his wife and they dated again, HE couldn’t measure up.

    The fantasies we build in our minds can seem so real, like an alternative life we think we should’ve had. So I can see how 30 years can seem like yesterday if that high school pivotal moment was significant enough.

  4. I haven’t stole an actual headline…unless it was subconsciously!

    Re the nurse story: “And the motivation? It turned out that the victim had “stolen” the nurse’s boyfriend 30 years earlier, when both women were in high school.”

    One of our critique group has a similar plot thread in her WIP and we were sorta chiding her that no woman would wait 30 years for revenge. I guess we have to eat our words. 🙂

    • That length of time really shocked me too, combined with the sheer coincidence of the victim wandering into that particular medical office, and the level of fury that must have festered over all those years, enough to motivate a spontaneous murder. Does all seem improbable!

  5. I based my first novel on a news story I saw about identity theft and public copiers. I am a public librarian, yet I had no idea how much personal information is stored on most public copiers. Think about how many people visit a library to get a copy of their drivers license, social security card, birth certificate, tax returns…the list goes on. They assume libraries are safe places with secure networks. Wrong-o.

    I used this news story as the idea for my premise. I imagined a hacker who partners with a library’s network technician to steal hard drives from public copiers and use them to profit from the stolen information.

    The scariest stuff is almost always true…

  6. Oh, yes 🙂

    My first published short story was inspired by my sister and an invention I learned about.

    My first published non-fiction book about book keeping contained among other characters a woman who had flirted with my husband. In my book she didn’t pay for her products and I showed how to send her letters to make her pay.

    In my second published short story a couple of years later the villain was another woman who had flirted with my husband.

    Using real life events and people is just one of those things that makes life more fun for an author, isn’t it?

    • Love that you got revenge on the annoying flirt. I would be tempted to make her very recognizable, and send the woman a signed copy of the book. But that’s just me. 😀

  7. Some of my novels are ripped from the headlines, but I’m careful to transform the characters and move them to another state. About that jealous woman: Men tend to kill the faithless lover, but women kill their rivals. Wonder what that’s about?

    • I’m always fascinated when women blame the “other woman” more than the man. I don’t understand that at all. The “other woman” or “other man” is usually a symptom of something that’s wrong in an existing relationship, not the root cause.

  8. I use news articles all the time, either to inspire characters, provide motives, or give me ideas for some new angle or research to follow. I go through the newspaper with scissors in hand.

  9. I was Googling cartels in Mexico simply to find a location to set a scene, when I discovered the cartels had been kidnapping American engineers to build them ‘private’ cell phone systems. And thus, Dangerous Connections was born.


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