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Stranger than Fiction…

By Ched Rickman · April 27, 2010

The truth is stranger than fiction.

A lot of people say that. You want to know why? Because it’s absolutely true. Take, for instance, the 1948 Donora Smog. Donora was a small mill town not far outside of Pittsburgh. One day in October, 1948, what scientists have come to know as an “air inversion” struck the town. It was an unseasonably warm pocket of air that was bottled up within the valley the town was lying in. Don’t ask me how this shit even happens, but a meteorological homeostasis established itself, whereas the air in the area remained stagnant and unmoving. So no biggie, right? It’s just air for God’s sake, y’know? Oh, well there was the sulfur dioxide that routinely escaped from a nearby zinc and steel plant, which got mixed up with the air pocket and you know what happened to that town? It got attacked by a cloud of killer smog . Killer. Fucking. Smog.

20 people died. Over half of the 14,000 person town fell ill. And ten years later, mortality rates were still significantly higher in Donora than in other parts of the nation. How did it end? Four days after it began, it rained, breaking the weather pattern and releasing the town from it’s smoggy hell. Yeah, rain. The only way to stop this was a divine intervention. Oh yeah, and when, you ask, did it finally end? HALLOWEEN.

But that’s not even the best Halloween story I’ve got. You ever hear about the Battle of Beersheba? Probably not. It occurred in 1917 in World War I, in Egypt. It’s been called the “last successful cavalry charge in history.” Yeah, you read that right. Cavalry charge. As in, men on horses with swords. In the 20th Century. You know the most intriguing part of that? “Successful.” Now, this isn’t exactly the equivalent of riding Clydsdales into Basra circa 2004, but this is World War I, a conflict still regarded for its industrial advances in the field of KILL. These guys are on horses, waving swords and bayonets, while chainguns, bombs and crashing airplanes are blowing up all around them, and they took the fucking trench . I can only assume these guys were a) harder than Teddy Roosevelt and Kiefer Sutherland and b) scared shitless. But you gotta admit, that sounds like a pretty awesome story. Keep in mind, it’s totally true. And it happened on HALLOWEEN.

World War I alone has brought us some of the greatest human drama ever. And I’m not talking some bullshit Atonement drama. I’m talking the Christmas Armistice of 1917, where Brit, French and German troops on the front lines of the Western Front stopped fighting, walked out into “no man’s land” and played soccer and exchanged tiny gifts with each other. They even sang “Silent Night.” In the middle of a WORLD WAR.

Or how about these jokers in Europe who made the Large Hadron Collider? The thing that, while probably nothing to worry about, might rip a whole into time itself, nullifying everything, even this blog. They arrested this guy a few weeks ago trying to break into the place. He said he was from the future and was sent back to stop the Collider experiments in order to save the world. He was probably on acid, but still, weirdo shit like this happens all the time.

I saw on a charity website today, a headline, no bullshit, verbatim: “It’s Magic: How one horse helped a mute woman speak.” I’ll just let you ruminate on that.

So what’s my point, besides showing off how much knowledge I possess [EDIT: how lucky I got linking through Wikipedia]? My point is there are so many undiscovered or under-investigated real world stories that essentially have already written themselves. Look up the 1925 NFL Champions. Go ahead, google it. That would make a great movie wouldn’t it? Yeah, it would. They’re already making it, so find a different awesome sports story to write. And find one that doesn’t need to be embellished or faked like Remember the Titans. Or Rudy. If you’re writer’s blocked or looking for a new project, or looking to challenge yourself in a format you’ve never tackled, flip through an encyclopedia or find someone old to tell you a story. Or don’t even tell the real story, but allow the real stories to inform your fictional take.

You want to write something from your life, from the heart, a work of art, do you? You’re not into biopics or historical fiction, you want to inspire and engage your audience? Yeah, you and every other douchebag in this town who thinks they’re going to shake this business up with only their unrivaled imagination and gumption. I’m not saying you can’t do it, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to adapt a real story, craft some witty, imaginary conversations and stamp “A TRUE STORY” on the title page. If the flick gets made, then you can write your life’s work on a roll of toilet paper and they’ll fast-track it.

I’m just saying, the truth is stranger than fiction. But there’s plenty of truths out there that haven’t been told and maybe should be. So find one that appeals to you, and see what you can do with it.

But what the fuck would I know, I’m just an actor.