Many, many years ago, in a mythical time known as 1998, I sat at the family computer, typing up a story. I was drawing inspiration from my new passion of the moment: R.L. Stein‘s Fear Street books. Okay, I was ripping off a Fear Street book…Switched, to be precise. Our computer was located in the family living room because we hadn’t had internet access very long, and my mom had just seen The Net and was super vigilant about my internet and computer usage. I’m typing away, and Mom comes up behind me and starts to read over my shoulder about my main character whose mother is deceased and whose lawyer father was super strict. (Think Clueless. I had no original ideas.) My mom was offended. She’s not dead!
This was the first time I realized that just because I’m writing short stories, not everybody realizes that I’m writing fiction. When I started writing my Huntington-based zombie apocalypse novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2012, I was shocked by the number of friends that asked if they were in it. “It’s FICTION!” I wanted to scream. It’s a common misconception though, I think. I mean, ideas have to come from somewhere, right? At least that how I imagine the other side of that argument would go.
On the other side of the coin, I have encountered many works that claim to be “based on” or “inspired by” a true story. Generally, when something is based on a true story, most of the details are accurate. For instance, most of the story in We Are Marshall is true. There was a plane crash in 1971 that killed a large number of the team and staff of the Marshall University football team. Jack Lengyel was hired on as the new coach. The team faced extreme challenges. Now, that whole bit about the grieving father and the fiancee waitress…that part’s all Hollywood, but most of the movie’s story-line is correct.
“Inspired by” a true story can be very different. The 2008 movie The Strangers claimed to be “inspired by true events.” I personally thought the movie was incredibly boring and could have gone by the alternative title of “Liv Tyler Crawls Around While A Guy in a Mask Stands Behind Her Menacingly.” I guess that’s a bit of a mouthful. I was discussing the film with a friend, and she said “But it’s inspired by a true story! Doesn’t that make it so much spookier?!” Okay folks, here is the “true story” behind The Strangers: The Cabin 28 (aka Keddie) Murders. Four people were found murdered in a cabin they were renting, and the case has never been solved. Like not even a little bit. It appeared to possibly be a home invasion, but even that is speculation. That’s the whole premise. The Strangers’ director also stated that some of the inspiration came from his childhood when a stranger came to his home asking for someone. Later, he found out that empty homes in the neighborhood had been robbed.
I want to argue that if The Strangers can be called “inspired by true events” based on those grounds, than just about everything I write can be “Inspired by a true story.” But what exactly am I getting at? Today’s micro-flash fiction story was inspired by true events. Those events are as follows: I was in a sales meeting once. I found it aggravating. I had a thirty-three word micro-flash fiction prompt for that night’s Wicked Wordsmiths of the West meeting that I hadn’t written yet, and suddenly I knew what I wanted to write about. I proceeded to jazz it up and turn it into something completely fictional.
But what does my mom and the Fear Street rip off have to do with this? I have held this story back until now because I was afraid that my employer would read the blog and not understand that it’s simply fiction. That’s all it is. FICTION. I have since started a new job, and I feel pretty confident that I have written a large introduction to reinforce that THIS IS FICTION. THIS DID NOT REMOTELY HAPPEN OR ALMOST HAPPEN. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The Sales Production Meeting
“Just two sales. Could you do that this week?” her manager asked.
She felt her jaw clench as her restraint fell away. She jammed the scissors deep into her manager’s neck.