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When a story falls in your lap

Feb 25,2013
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I've been a bit quiet over the last couple of days because I was at a conference in Victoria.

Anyway, something very interesting happened! (Well lots of interesting things happened, but I mean specific to the writing of fiction which is why we are here.)

 

Firstly a bit of background. My next project is a series. There will be five books. I have written a pretty good first draft of a manuscript, which will be book two. I have prepared outlines of books three through five and I have started the manuscript which will be book one.

The trouble with book one was, once I got started, the plot I had in mind was actually a sub plot. I ploughed ahead and figured that the main plot would reveal itself in time.

So then when I was at the conference on the weekend, one of the presenters told a story which was an absolute doozy! It has mystery, intrigue, conspiracy on a grand scale, and death threats, chases and escapes, dead bodies. It’s exciting. It’s perfect! And this light bulb went off in my head the way it does when you know you have hold of something good. I realised that parts of that story could be adapted to be the plot to match the sub plot I already have. I went back to my motel and wrote three thousand words. It was easy. It all just flowed. I have words, even now, in my head, lining up in the right order and bouncing up and down, like some impatient cheerleading squad, just waiting for an opportunity for me to write them down.

 

This is the challenge I have. The story is recognisably the story of this particular presenter. Anyone who has heard the story will know that it’s that story. I would be happy to contact the presenter and ask for permission to tell that story, with the appropriate acknowledgement, but I don’t want to tell that exact story. I want to be able to weave the story with the sub plot I have already written – which didn’t happen in the true story. I also want to be able to bend the story to suit the manuscript – leave out bits and add others, inventing people and situations, so that the ending of book one melds in with book two, which I have already completed.

 

What do you think I should do?

Should I plow on and see if the plot works first? What if I get all the way to the end and love it, then contact the presenter and that person decides not to give me permission to use the story?

Should I contact the presenter now and ask for permission? What if it doesn’t work in as well with the sub plot and book two as I imagine, and I end up not writing that story at all? What if the presenter wants me to write it exactly as it happened?

Should I cast about and wait for a different, more imagined story?

Should I write it and change most of it so that it’s not really anything like that story at all? How much do I have to change before it becomes ‘inspired by’, or its own story?

What would you do if a doozy of a story fell in your lap at exactly the right moment?

Feb 26,2013

"It has mystery, intrigue, conspiracy on a grand scale, and death threats, chases and escapes, dead bodies."

This is my kind of story :O Oh my. Please write this story. Somebody has to. I need to read it.

Well, you say you want to take bits and pieces out and mould it to your own story... does that really make it this presenter's story? I mean, usually I'd say ask permission, but it's not as if you're writing it word for word, so it's more like the presenter inspired you, not you stealing his/her story.

That being said, you said it would be recognisably that presenter's... hm. If you're not changing it a lot... permission. Better safe than sorry.

Feb 26,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Alyssa, as a previous commentator said, everyone tells a story in their own way. Stories are always out there, I bet you anything, your story will be enriched by, but not a copy of the original. A few years ago, I was told a story, which I found quite interesting. I wanted to use it and began to write it down, faithfully, I thought. When I retold the story to the friend who had told it to me she said "No, that's not the story, at all! That's what you've done with!" Be clear with yourself first. Get someone else to read what you've written, and give you their feedback. How much bearing does your writing have on the original story?
Feb 26,2013

The conference was about equine science and health, so the audience was mostly hoofcare professionals, equine bodyworkers and vets. As far as I know I was the only fiction writer there. The speaker was presenting the information after years of research for the first time, and seem very keen for us to 'run with it', since the implications of the research are huge!

It's a kind of "Erin Brokovich" story.

 

Feb 26,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

If you want to use enough of the bones of the presenter’s story that the source will be clearly identifiable then you’re right, it’s a courtesy to contact the presenter and let him or her know what your intentions are. However once a story has been publicly told, IMO ownership is immediately diluted. The only way to protect a story is not to tell it to anyone until it has been published and copyrighted. Sharing an excellent story with a room full of writers sounds like an invitation to borrow.In the end though, no one tells the same story the same way. By the time you’ve woven it into your novel, it won’t be that person’s story any longer. It’ll be your version of it.

Art is theft – Picasso.

Feb 25,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I agree. Definitely talk to the presenter first. It would be awful to make a great piece of work and not beable to share it. If your talk with him/her turns out poorly, then you know you will have to change it right from the start and work on some new ideas. Good luck Alyssa:)

Feb 25,2013
anonymous's picture
Anonymous

I think you should talk to the presenter up front and explain that you want to write your story 'based on' his reseach. You would need to stress that you do not intend it to be a exact representation of his experiences and that you do not want it to be recognisably his. That would make it just a courtesy to let him know.

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