When a story falls in your lap
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?