Ethical inspiration

Is it wrong to take inspiration from tragic real life events?

Of course not!  What about Titanic?  Or The Impossible?

All dramatic situations in fiction are based on something rooted in fact.  Theft, domestic abuse, rape and murder are all unfortunately very real.  However, when someone, somewhere can put a name to the event (as with the above examples) it becomes an even more sensitive subject.

Today, while wolfing down my lunch, I happened across a new website and the story of a woman sat dead in her flat surrounded by unopened Christmas presents and the television still on for a full two years.  I was shocked. 
Even worse was that my first thought was what a great story that would make.

Shame on me.

There is a programme on this story which is currently being advertised.  The first time I saw this advert I thought it was for a new gritty one-off drama.

Some true life stories just lend themselves to a dramatic fictional tale.  Except, it isn’t fiction is it?  Does this fall under the saying of ‘you can’t make this stuff up?’

Often when I come across an interesting story in this way, I print it off and scribble ideas over it before putting it in an appropriate file for later use in a story.  It crossed my mind today to print off the story of this poor woman but I just couldn’t do it.

This woman was a person.  The woman had a family (who obviously thought nothing of her two year silence).  They wouldn’t know that I had printed off the news story and written ideas on how to adapt it to hide the reality and turn it into fiction.  But I would know.

Will this stop me from using this woman’s tragic demise in my fiction one day?  Probably not.  Perhaps it could be ethical to use elements of this news story in my fiction one day in the far off future, when enough time has elapsed…in which case the more likely reason for me not to parts of this story is because I’ll have forgotten it.

If you look in the bookshops and Amazon you will find so many books cashing in on tragic real life stories.  There is a real market for it but I can’t help but feel a bit sickened by it.
So when and how does it becomes ethical to use a real life tragic story in fiction?

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