Many, many authors use real life situations to craft their stories. Names, locations, even some of the details might be changed, in order to keep people from connecting the story from the event. Other authors will use the event but incorporate fictional aspects that change it enough to make the reader wonder if this is related.
Many of my young adult coming of age books are based on real events, but as the saying goes “names and locations have been changed to protect the innocent.” That’s because, for me, the story I’m crafting is more important than focusing attention on an event the media has already covered extensively.
What are the benefits of translating real life into a fictional story?
First, the author has easy access to information they need in order to build their story. Interviews with those involved often reveal a lot about the individuals you might want to create. Tiny details you might not have thought of are right there to use in ways that will improve your story.
Second, despite all of our careful crafting, you will always touch at least one person and have them saying, “I remember that time, how scared I was, how I never wanted anyone else to experience this.” For that person, you the author, have given them hope others will see this situation and steer clear of the events leading up to it.
Third, as many authors know, real life is far stranger than fiction. That’s right. We really can’t make up these things. Or our minds won’t allow us to use some scenarios until we’ve verified that it really has happened and that we aren’t going to be crucified in the reviews for being so wrong.
One last thing to mention—while many authors do use breaking news to create a story, we are not doing so for titillation. There are no visceral feelings of comfort to know that the novel we were plotting when the madness occurred gave us necessary background material. None of us would wish those situations on others we know and love, yet we feel the compulsion to use the information we’re seeing in ways that will potentially help others in the future.