My daughter and I were recently engaged in a conversation about where to find inspiration for an audience reared on “reality television,” and a not-so-new idea emerged: base your fiction on news stories. And, yes, it is an old idea. Dragnet did it, but by saying so I am establishing that I somewhat chronologically gifted. Kathy Trocheck, whose work I enjoy, has based a number of her books on real crimes in the Atlanta area.
So, what would make good fiction? One idea that I am seriously contemplating, since I enjoy writing psychological fiction, is exploitation of the elderly. Yes, at first, that makes me say, “Yuck!” I very much love my elders and would never take from them. But, why is it that people, usually relatives, will fleece their elders? Come on, you have read the stories, too. There’s the story from New York, where a guy dressed up as his mom so he could cash her social security checks, and he did so for six years before he was caught, collecting more than 44K. Six years seems like a long time, but a guy in Texas did not notify the Social Security Administration for 26 years that his mother had died.
But, that’s not stealing from the elderly, some might say—that’s stealing from the government—which is different, because they have plenty of money. Okay, this post is not about politics, so I will let the reader be the judge on those sorts of cases. However, a novel about a guy figuring out how to look like his dead mom, styling his wig, meticulously making up his face, and so forth, does present an interesting premise. Was it desperation? Laziness? Or something more sinister?
More to my taste, however, is the scenario where a trusted loved one, usually a son or daughter, begins taking small items, or small amounts, and then it becomes a habit. Or a game. So the villain, and this character would most definitely be a villain, ups the ante, so to speak. Recently, I read a news story where the alleged “good son” stole 240K from his mom, over a period of years. He is charged with theft and exploiting the elderly, and officials described the situation as a crime that is on the increase. Of course, I don’t know the particulars of this case, as it has not yet been tried, but there are many, many such cases, and this is an important social problem, thus it is a great idea for a novel. The key to a great plot is a believable villain, and a victim for whom the reader has sympathy, so that’s where I must begin.
And, if I can pull it together, will this one be my ticket to the best seller list?