You have to be careful when taking your plots from the news. If the story is currently dominating the headlines, you run the risk of your story being passé by the time it comes out, unless you can write it really fast. That never stops me from perusing the newspapers and magazines for plot ideas. Most of the ideas I get aren’t from the headlines anyway. I like those little items that are often buried on the interior pages of the newspaper. They set me thinking, and then I’m free to extrapolate a bit, playing the “what if” game and figuring out how I can shape what I’ve seen into a story. Other times, something minor might pique my interest and I know I just have to include it. Let me give you an example of this. In my latest Executioner novel, Missile Intercept, I have Mack Bolan taking on some foreign bad guys, most particularly, the Cubans, the Iranians, and the North Koreans. While I was doing my research I came across an interesting bit of information in a National Geographic magazine on Havana, Cuba. It concerned las derurumbes. That’s the term the Cubans give to those buildings in the bay area that are in such a sad state that they tend to crumble without warning. The sea air has rotted the timbers and the Cuban government has no money to repair them. So they just collapse. This fascinated me and I put it into the book. It actually becomes an integral part of the plot. Bolan decides to hurry the process up to create a diversion so one of his team can be rescued. I also came across another interesting tidbit about the “Grand Marshal,” as he is called in the land north of the 38th parallel. (I was forbidden to mention his name in the book, but that was all right with me since I think his days are probably numbered, one way or another.) Anyway, the article had to do with the Grand Marshal settling a dispute with one of his uncles. The unfortunate relative was strapped to a chair and in true Grand Marshal tradition, an anti-aircraft gun was then used to do the deed. Matt Dillon would have been turning green with envy at the firepower… Imagine, an antiaircraft gun… Kind of like using a sledgehammer to swat a gnat. But it’s the stuff that a writer’s dreams are made of... I always loved that ending line in the movie version of The Maltese Falcon. Bogey’s voice had just the right amount of insouciance as he uttered it. It was also unique to the film and not the book. There are those who claim that John Houston merely lifted the novel’s dialogue to write his screenplay, which for the most part you could say it true, but “The stuff that dreams are made of” was pure Houston. And pure artistry as well.
But back to searching the news. I found an interesting article the other day about some dinosaur tracks that had been recently discovered, and I immediately got an idea for a new story. I even came up with the title: “Carnivores and Herbivores.” Now all I have to do is figure out the plot and write it.
A while back, I did quite a bit of researching on human growth hormone and steroid usage for my Executioner novel, Payback, which featured a genetically enhanced supersoldier who ultimately discovered that the chemically induced enhancements that had made him into a virtual Captain America had also given him cancer. At the time, the papers were dealing with an Olympic doping scandal. It set me wondering about just why such a high-caliber athlete would risk his or her health using these dangerous compounds just to have a chance at winning the gold medal. It gave me an insight into the mindset of such a person, and this factored into my character sketch of the supersoldier. Unfortunately, it’s a timely story and doesn’t show any signs of going away. I just saw a follow-up article the other day about the Russians being accused of doing something like this regarding this past summer Olympics.
One of the trickiest parts of writing the Executioner is that, as the writer, I have to stay ahead of current events when coming up with plots. I call this keeping ahead of the reality curve. Since many of these novels have an international flavor, and also have to be turned in pretty far in advance, it becomes a matter of trying to anticipate any changes that may or may not occur between the time the manuscript is turned in and its publication date. I guess that’s one of the advantages that sci-fi authors and writers of historical novels have. The latter have the advantage of knowing how things turned out and the former can make up anything they want.