Friday, May 23, 2008

Story Starter from the Headlines

A successful lawyer in a posh law office located in the Empire State Building is in the midst of a conference with a client. He excuses himself for a moment and goes into another room of the 69th-floor office complex. As the client waits for his lawyer's return, the lawyer is busy opening a window in that other office. He climbs onto the ledge. He jumps.

Only a piece of his severed leg makes it all the way down to street level as horrified pedestrians look on, trying to make sense of the nightmarish scenario. Where's the rest of the body that should have been attached to that leg?

The rest of the lawyer's body remains hidden from view thirty floors over the heads of the shocked onlookers where it will remain on a landing until discovered by police.

It was an anonymous 911 call reporting a "body part in the street" that brought police to the scene. That a suicide had occured would not be immediately apparent.Meanwhile, several out-of-town tourists have taken snapshots and cell phone pictures of the bloody leg, its foot still covered by a sock. The shoe is nowhere to be found.

As news of the suicide filters up to the 69th floor and the identity of the deceased becomes known, his coworkers express grief and shock. There was no indication this was a man who intended to end his life.

The tragedy provokes many, many questions.


As a writer, what can you do with those basic facts? What questions are stirred up? Which questions would be obvious? Which not so obvious? What mystery and suspense can you create from this real-life tragedy (keeping in mind that you cannot tell a true-life story without consent of the real people involved)?

When using real-life headlines as a starting point for a story/novel/screenplay, you can use the basic facts of a bonafide news event. You simply cannot use real names of real people, especially if they are private individuals and not public figures. So create your own characters and explain what just happened and how a lawyer's strange suicide becomes the inciting incident for a whole sequence of events that you, Writer, will create.