I don’t usually make up very much when I write. As a rule, I just rearrange and manipulate versions of actual events. I often write about true historical events, since I write a historical series. But more often the events that inspire me are those that I have heard or observed, things that once happened to me, or to people I know.
Is there anything new under the sun? Can characters and events be imagined in a void? Did Charles Dickens’ characters spring fully formed from his forehead, like Athena? Did he pluck them from the ether, or are they all based on people of whom Dickens knew, and then exaggerated? Were there living, breathing, people who we have to thank for giving Dickens the notion to create Uriah Heep, or Fagin, or Miss Haversham?
And what about events? Has there lived an author who created a totally original reason for murder - that is, a reason that has never, ever, been used to justify murder - or a method of killing that no real-life killer has employed? I have read that there are only seven plots, and that all stories are nothing more than variations of thereon. (If you are curious, Dear Reader, the purported seven plot lines are: human vs. nature, human vs. human, human vs. the environment, human vs. technology, human vs. the supernatural, human vs. self, and human vs. God).
Is it so? When I think about my own books, and most mystery novels, the basic plot is some form of human vs. human, with bunches of the others thrown in, in one fashion or another.
Rick wondered if it is kosher to use an actual event as the backdrop to a story, but I wonder if it is possible not to do so, in one way or another? The events may or may not be recognized by the reader as having really happened, but what else can the author use for inspiration but reality? And how else could we speak to our readers, how else could we communicate but though the common ground of shared experience?
I’ve always thought that a great author was a great observer and interpreter of the way things are. Not someone who makes things up, but perhaps someone who sees what is in a whole new way.