the death of a woman named Joyce Carol Vincent. The article originated at The Guardian and has gone around the world. Please read it and find out why. I’ll wait here for you while you do.
I know I’m not the only writer who saw news of this sad event in any number of media outlets around the world, but the story has really stuck with me for any number of reasons. Lots of questions the story raises scream out for answers, and those answers could provide the solid base for the storyline of a crime fiction novel. Here are a few that I have:
- Why was Joyce Carol Vincent estranged from her family?
- Seemingly, her public and private lives were very different. How did this dichotomy begin and persist?
- Was she murdered, was she ill or did she take her own life?
You can see from just those three questions that it would be easy to drop one or more of them into a plot and craft a compelling story. If you have a policeman character, it could certainly work very easily. How about an amateur sleuth? Joyce could be an old school chum or a former girlfriend. I’m sure everyone can see other opportunities. One occurred to me that I could use: Joyce was the former student of a music teacher (my protagonist) who became estranged from her for some reason, and he/she eventually wants to find out what happened to this brilliant, budding musician.
The point I’m trying to make here is that story ideas are all around us, yes, but sometimes we have to take something that might make us a bit squeamish – as if we’re picking over the bones of the dead. I know I would feel a bit, well, ashamed to be using the tragedy of this woman’s fate for what in actuality is a commercial venture.
But let’s face it: whether it’s made up from whole cloth, or the novelization of a real event, we crime writers earn our living by writing about the fallout from the end of a life. Whether it be violent (generally) or something more gentle, it is still about death. Whether the deceased is based on a real person, or completely imaginary, if we’re successful in our words, the reader will feel something emotionally.
And we will have done our job. The unease about how we go about accomplishing that is something else entirely.