Using the News to Spark the Muse

Ripped from the headlines…

“Alien monster eats Prime Minister’s Brain!”

“Woman Gives Birth to Rottweiler Quintuplets!”

“Nostradamus Predicts End of the World is Near!”

I’m the first one to admit that novel ideas can come from anywhere: dreams, conversations, a song—you name it—it’s all fodder for the creative muse. As an unapologetic news junkie, I tend to look at the headlines first. My imagination takes off from there.

A news story in 2010 about the illegal drug trade in Mexico and how it was affecting the civilian population got me thinking: how could I bring awareness to the escalating violence south of our border, but also entertain readers? That idea became the Kate Jones Thriller Series. Kate gets in over her head when she chooses the wrong boyfriend and has to escape. The story follows her on the run through Mexico with a bag full of money she purloined from—you guessed it—the ruthless leader of a drug cartel.

In the latest installment of the series, Yucatan Dead (#6), Kate gets a chance to fight back with the help of a group of commandos working against the cartels. I’d finished the first draft of the book before I ran across an article detailing the vigilante groups now emerging in Mexico that are doing just that, which helped lend a bit more depth to the idea.

For a different series featuring another character, former assassin Leine Basso, the inundation of reality shows on television and their mostly scripted ‘authenticity’ produced a vivid and seriously whacked dream I had, which then became the basis for Serial Date. What would happen if a reality show about ‘serial killers’ and the women who date them caught the eye of an actual serial killer? Wouldn’t he want to be a consultant on the show? I mean, he’s the real deal, right? I then saw something on the news about an assassination attempt, which gave me the protagonist. What better heroine to go against a serial killer than an assassin? Lots of gray lines there to play with.

Bad Traffick, released last December, was the result of watching a documentary shown at my local community college about the rise of child sex-trafficking in the United States. I’d been aware of the problem, but hadn’t realized how pervasive it had become. As many as 2.8 million children run away each year in the US. Within 48 hours, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) Bad Traffick follows Leine Basso into the brutal world of human trafficking as she tries to save twelve-year-old Mara from the fate of so many young girls on the streets today.

I’ve also written several short stories that were sparked by headline news. It’s a deep well from which to draw, and many times the real events turn out to be more interesting than fiction.

I think I feel a dystopian, end-of-days short story coming on about an alien woman pregnant with Rottweiler assassin-puppies who craves the brains of politicians…

Where do you find your inspiration?

A version of this article appeared March 1, 2013 on Buried Under Books. It has been revised and updated for Indies Unlimited.

Author: D.V. Berkom

DV Berkom grew up in the Midwest region of the US, received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes in the male point of view whenever she gets a chance. Indies Unlimited: Amazon US author page link: Website:

19 thoughts on “Using the News to Spark the Muse”

  1. DV, another great resource is where one lives. just walking the streets watching people can be inspirational. I’m from NYC and I can tell you there is a plethora of sights and sidewalk shows from which to glean.

    1. Good point, Aron. My hubby and I just got back from a walk where our local police stopped to warn us that an armed man with multiple felony warrants was loose in the neighborhood. Needless to say, my mind started spinning with all kinds of outcomes…

  2. I don’t pay as much attention to the news as most; I have a belief regarding giving things energy and some of the crap that goes on in the world I just don’t want any responsibility for. Having said that, without cutting yourself off from society completely, some things do sneak through; with me it’s usually via my wife, Zoë, who is an avid news junky. My inspiration can come from anywhere but usually comes via an emotional trigger and, certainly, that sometimes comes through a news item; I may write the idea or concept down straight away, but it could be years before I get around to utilising it.

    Great post, DV; for us, the topic of inspiration is never far from the table.

    1. Emotional triggers are the best kind of inspiration, TD. It’s a good idea to always have a notebook handy for when they happen. I have a folder filled with napkins, receipts, deposit slips–anything I can write on when I can’t find the notebook…like you said, the idea may not be used for years, but it’s there.

    1. …and real life are full of coincidental events that are just not plausible in a story. The difference between real life and a fiction novel is that this last has to make sense 😉

    2. Absolutely, Lynne and Massimo–fiction has to be more real than reality. But, as long as you set it up from the start, you can make a lot of stuff believable.

  3. Great post DV. As I write sci-fi a lot of my inspiration comes from odd snippets I read in science mags which often give me the ‘biology’ for some of my alien critters. It’s amazing how many truly weird creatures we have right here on earth!

  4. I find inspiration in the headlines as well. Some of the more interesting stories have little extra reporting, which allows the imagination to run free and fill in the blanks of what could have led to that, or what could happen if things go wrong.

  5. My local paper has the headline “Curry capers as reporter tries “UK’s hottest”” I’m sure that’ll spark my imagination! Surprisingly, I have never thought of this before. It’s a great idea, Dv. Thank you.

  6. Great post, DV. Occasionally, a news story will catch my eye. I like the weird, small-town type. I haven’t yet written about them, but I will one day. As Massimo said, some of them are too unbelievable to put into fiction. My favorite was a story about a local woman who was having a property dispute with her neighbor, a lawyer, which escalated into her hitting him with a dead skunk.

  7. I get lots of ideas from tv and movies. Watching Jurassic Park for the umpteenth time gave me the spark of an idea to have shapeshifters who shift into both genders. That’s where Dangerous Shift came from.

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