Current Events-Adding the Next Layer by Tara Randel

Vector newspaper icon -
As I was reading the newspaper this morning, I got to thinking about how world events impact writers as we plot a story. With all the major headlines, and our ability to get news 24/7 on many different types of reading devices, getting information about current events for our stories is just a keystroke away. (Yes, I still sit down every morning with an old-fashion print newspaper. It’s my quiet time before I start the day.)

Certainly what is going on in the world tends to work well in suspense and thrillers. Any book that features characters in the military or police agencies may mirror what we read in the newspaper. Yet when the author adds actual world events, it makes the story immediate. We can imagine ourselves in the line of fire in a sandy desert somewhere or in a foreign city running for our lives because of certain secret information in our possession. I’ve never been in any kind of dangerous occupation, but I love edge of the seat stories that keep me turning the page to find out how the characters will get through danger and stay alive. 

I tend to write stories about characters who live in small towns. How do current events fit in? What about a world-weary traveler returning home after months of working in a refugee camp? Now all he wants is to experience peace. A wounded soldier back from deployment. How does he cope with what he’s seen and done? Or perhaps the photojournalist trying to deal with upsetting memories because of an assignment. A character who has had enough crime in the big city and wants to retreat to simpler life in a small town.

What about the news of a smaller scope? Local or regional. Not big enough to make the front page, but compelling enough to make a writer wonder, what if, and run with an idea from there. Again, with our access to the internet, there are all kinds of news and special interest stories out there to catch the eye of a writer for use in a future story.

Now, let’s take the current events and apply it to our characters. This gives us another layer of depth in an already emotional story. How have these events shaped heroes or heroines? Will the events they’ve experienced determine the decisions they make? What a way to build conflict.

The possibilities of adding the pressure of happenings in our small towns, big cities and worldwide are endless in story creation. Adding current events is the bridge of our imaginary characters to real life.  Done well, these events add another dimension to the world the author has created.

So, I have to ask, as a reader, do you like current events in the books you read? Is it too much invasion of the real world? Does it add a layer of immediacy you crave? I’m curious to hear what you think.


  1. What a timely post. I'm almost done with Gone Girl and throughout the whole book I've been thinking, "This is the fictionalized Scott Peterson."

    Right after 9/11 a few authors used the events in their story. I couldn't read them. It upset me too much.

  2. Great post Tara! I think if the events are generalized and fictionalized they would work, but I wonder if real-life big headline stories would date the book? I know I've been asked whether or not I'd like to remove certain elements in my book such as t.v. references, etc that would 'date' it, but not sure if it matters to the people reading it now...Something to think about for sure.

  3. I think current events tuck your story into time and place and add a certain validity to the situation. My husband, having been a reporter, is a news junkie. CNN is on whenever the Hallmark Channel isn't, so I'm always absorbing what's going on. I get to hate it because of the innumerable details fed to us in the interest of filling 24 hours a day with news. But, you never know where you're going to find the substance for a novel. I am currently working with a hero home from Afghanistan - as many of us have done. My source was the young man across the street who used to sit on my sofa with the remote, watching television and eating my cookies when his parents were held up at work. He did three tours. Those involved in the news and current events are good sources, too.

  4. I generally have a news channel on TV and I sometimes catch myself yelling at the screen because they have so many instant experts on who are really playing a guessing game. I love the intrigue with the current lost airplane. I've talked with other writers about it and everyone has a different idea---so that's how fictionalized versions of real stories are born. But headline news affects everyone in time. I like books with a touch of realism, but then I also like pure fantasy too.

  5. I’m a really big fan of romantic suspense, and I much prefer it when real world issues are used to create the suspense. At the moment the trend seems to be towards made-up bands of secret security companies (more often than not with some sort of paranormal gift), but a really well-researched book that reads like it belongs in the real world – that’s what I love.

    As for small town romances, I definitely think the wider world can have an effect on the things the characters do. I don’t need everything to be sweet and perfect, just as long as the two main characters find a way to be happy within it.

    I still *love* to read a print newspaper, but depending on what’s going on in the world I can also be glued to live updates on the internet (my family is Ukrainian, so you can probably guess this is a ‘lots of news’ time).

    1. Goodness, Sonya! Do you have family there now? I pray they're well.

  6. Tara, great post! It's making me think (which is a goo thing)... I'm a bit of a news junkie myself, and what's trending in the news definitely impacts me, and I believe society as a whole, so I like the idea of taking specific current events and letting them take their toll on characters as well--in both good and bad ways--adding depth and layers and motivation, etc. I think it lends 'freshness' as long as, like some others commented, it doesn't date the story too much...?

  7. Great post, Tara! Current events is important in contemporary romance to add the extra level of intimacy and realism needed. You've really gotten me thinking

  8. As a reader, I generally prefer fictitious events. They can be based on real events, though. As a writer, when I make up a small town, I always read the newspapers of real towns nearby to get ideas I might be able to use in my made up setting.

  9. Great feedback everyone! Just goes to show that the word of a writer is filled with lots of choices for our books. And, readers are very smart!

  10. I don't think of it as invasion! I like how current events add realism and perspective to the story.


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