Inspiration: Do You Draw From Real Life Events?

I’ve been following Britt’s blog posts about the missing Dutch students in Panama. It is one of those compelling stories that draws us in.  Our blog webmistress, Linda, has posed a question to us about whether or how much we use real life events in our novels.  An interesting question.  How much is too much?  Are some things so sensitive we shouldn’t think about including them.

For my part, I find kinds of bits and pieces of things find their way into my novel and short stories.  Some are inspired by things I see or by things people do.  However, they always seem to end up changed in some way that reflects my own twist on those things.  And unless I want to write true crime, I don’t know that I would use anything really close to an actual event.girl writing

I realize someone else might be more comfortable with this concept and might use a real event as the basis for a crime, thriller or mystery novel.  I guess the other factor is I am a pantser and I know that my characters aren’t going to conform to a set pattern or events – so even if I wanted to, I doubt I could write fiction that tracked anywhere close to the actual event.   But I like the questioning and thinking about it.

My novel has a real place as the setting.  The characters are all combinations of people I’ve met, known or dealt with – none are real and none are only just one person.  I seem to get inspired by lots of things – as I assume other authors do as well – a statement on the subway that makes me laugh, or a picture that strikes me for some reason, or something I read in the newspaper that makes me think about a topic in a different way.  I use all of those but even with the newspaper item; I doubt anyone would understand the connection until I explain how I was inspired – what I use is always transformed in some way.

I have always wanted to write about growing up in Texas and some of my experiences.  I recently wrote a short story called “Rite of Passage” as my first real foray into the area.  I used my own experiences growing up, changed all the characters to fictional ones that could exist in the small town I lived in but the events never occurred as far as I know.  I found that rather than re-creating my experience, I wanted to re-create the atmosphere and the struggles kids of a certain age go through for my readers – so it was true at some basic level but other than the setting, the entire story came from the characters as I wrote.

So what about you?  What inspires you?  Have you ever used a real life event – your own or someone else’s- to inspire a short story or novel?  Would you ever consider using a real life event for a mystery or other fictional story?