One the most common questions writers are asked is where do you get your ideas from? The answer is anywhere and everywhere. Anything can spark an idea, a clipping in a newspaper, an overheard conversation or perhaps a well-known mystery, legend or theory. These ideas give writers a lot of wiggle room as the line between fact and fiction is blurred. I’ve listed ten of my favourite urban legends, mysteries and conspiracy theories that could be used as inspiration by fellow writers or are in some way writing related.
1) Celebrity is still alive/secretly dead
This is quite a common theory and can be linked to many celebrities both living and deceased. Fans spot the deceased sometime after their death, living a quiet life. Why would a celebrity fake their death? There are a number of reasons. To avoid a public scandal, to escape debts, to avoid the curse of fame and fortune… As well as these infrequent sightings by fans it can be argued that close friends and family members hint at said celebrity’s survival. For example when the singer Tupac was killed his previously recorded works were released posthumously. One of the songs when played backwards (a process known as back masking) is meant to say “I’m alive and I’m missing you.”
The polar example of the above is the Paul is Dead theory. This theory states that Paul McCartney a quarter of the band The Beetles actually died in 1966 and has been replaced with a lookalike. The proof? In the song Strawberry Fields Forever the final words are “I buried Paul” sung by John Lennon. Another clue is the ironic album cover of Abbey Road. The band seems to be walking in what some have said to be a funeral procession and Paul is out of step with the others band members hinting at his death.
It’s hardly a watertight case. The final words in Strawberry Fields Forever are actually “cranberry sauce” and the process of back masking has been disproven. (Think of it as Doctor Who’s psychic paper. You see what you expect to see. If you’re listening for a message in a babble of noise then your brain will eventually hear one.) The Paul is Dead theory has been highly ridiculed; even Batman and Robin had a say in the matter.
Paul himself poked fun at the theory by naming one of his albums Paul Is Live but this only added fuel to the conspiracy theories fire.
Still, what if a celebrity suddenly returned from the dead? Or is revealed to have been dead for several years?
2) Unknown House Guest
Some of the best legends have a grain of truth in them. In 2008 a man in Tokyo, living on his own, became suspicious when food continued to disappear from his fridge. There was no sign of anyone entering the home via the doors or windows and the man had no obvious suspects. To solve the mystery he set up CCTV inside his home. When he returned from work and watched the tapes back, an urban legend was born.
A homeless woman had taken up residents in his cupboard and had lived there for at least a year. She had first snuck in when the man had forgotten to lock the doors and had been using the toilet, shower and helping herself to food while the man was at work or asleep. The worse part was that as the man sat watching these tapes, the cupboard sheltering the woman was mere feet away from him.
3) The Big Cat theory
Are there wild animals such as panthers and pumas living in Great Britain? At first glance this theory looks ridiculous but then the evidence begins to stack up. These animals can be dated as far back as the middle ages often found in poems and tales. In the 1760’s William Cobbett recalled seeing an animal resembling a big cat at the ruins of Waverley Abbey in his book Rural Rides. In 1827 The Times reported a lynx being spotted in the UK. The most famous of these big cats is the Beast of Bodmin, a large black cat like animal that prowls Bodmin Moor attacking local livestock.
A Canadian lynx was shot in Devon in 1903. It was examined and the scientists revealed that the creature had spent a large amount of time in captivity although the location remains unknown. In the 1980’s a Puma was captured in Scotland and given to a local zoo. In 1989 a jungle cat was discovered after being hit by a car in Shropshire and in 1993 a leopard was shot on the Isle of Wright after living off ducks and chickens. As recently as 2001 a lynx was captured in north London and sent to a zoo.
So, how did these cats come to Britain and where are they now? One answer is that aliens captured the animals in the wild for research and then returned them to earth but in the wrong location. Another, more reasonable, theory is that when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 came into effect the owner of these animals released them into the wild rather than pay a tax. If this is true, how are the animals still alive and why haven’t we found their bodies? In 1988 royal marines were sent to several big cat hot spots to search and capture the creatures but returned empty handed.
In doing research for this theory I discovered that there was a legend of a local big cat called the Beast of Bexley that prowled the streets and urban wasteland in my local area. I’ve not seen it myself.
4) Bermuda Triangle
Ah, the Bermuda Triangle, the conspiracy theorists playground. If you haven’t heard about the triangle it’s a patch of sea located between Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico in which a large number of ships and planes have disappeared. There is still no proven explanation as to why things keep disappearing in this area, theories range from aliens, sea monsters, under sea gasses and human error. Some of the most famous disappearances are…
The USS Cyclops. The USS Cyclopes vanished with 309 crew on board and is the largest American loss of life at sea, not involving combat. It’s one of the Triangle’s most notorious mysteries.
The Carroll A. Deering. The Carroll A Deering was found aground and without her crew within the Triangle. This case is arguably the biggest maritime mystery and as yet remains unsolved. There were rumors that the crew planned to mutiny against the captain but that doesn’t explain their disappearance.
Flight 19. Flight 19 was a collection of five aircraft totaling fourteen airmen that became lost in the triangle. Soon after this they entered radio silence and was never heard from again. The planes of the rescue team sent to find them exploded in mid-air. Both wrecks have yet to be found.
5) Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is real
A few hard core fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code along with his other works, The Lost Symbol, Inferno and Angels and Demons believe that Brown is trying to tell us the truth behind Christianity. They believe that the plot of The Da Vinci Code (Spoiler alert: Jesus’ great descendants are living in modern day France) is real. The book calls into question several aspect of Christianity and is mostly set in an accurate world with the allowance of Creative Licence. Dan Brown and his publishing company have gone on record to say that the book is a piece of fiction and shouldn’t be taken too seriously but this hasn’t stopped fans from confusing truth from reality.
6) Who really shot JFK?
John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 pm. One bullet struck him in the throat, another in the head. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder but maintained the defense that he was a patsy for a third party. Before he could confess to the crime or be taken to trial he was murdered.
Officially Oswald is the shooter but the theories surrounding the assassination are numerous. Was there a cover up? Was the real shooter working on behalf on the CIA or the KGB? Another theory blames the Israeli government another Cuban leaders. If Oswald wasn’t acting alone did he have a second shooter? Other passengers in the open topped Limo were injured which questions the trajectory of the bullets and how many shots were fired.
There are also some eerier similarities to the murder of the first American President Abraham Lincoln.
- Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy who told him not to go to the theatre. Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln who told him not to go to Dallas.
- Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre; Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in a Lincoln automobile, made by Ford.
- After shooting Lincoln, Booth ran from a theatre to a warehouse; after shooting Kennedy, Oswald ran from a warehouse to a theatre.
- Both victims were accompanied by a couple and the male companion of the couple was also wounded by the assassin.
7) Area 51
Aliens are at the very heart of the Science Fiction genre. The idea of life among the stars has fascinated us since the dawn of time. One of the biggest theories about alien life is an American military base nicknamed Area 51.
What is Area 51? We know it’s a top secret military base that no one apart from very few are allowed to enter. Around twenty planes using the call sign JANET arrive every day dropping off a work force dressed in casual clothes. That’s about it. The US Government didn’t even acknowledge its existence until 2013. Strange happenings have been reported in the site. Locals have seen odd lights in the sky above the base and heard unidentifiable noises. There is suspected to be a system of tunnels under the base but that hasn’t been proven. Wreckages from apparent alien spacecraft as well as bodies are apparently stored there along with forbidden technology.
One of my favourite theories about the base claims that Area 51 is a cover up to divert the public eye from the real secret base… Area 52.
8) Subliminal Advertising
Subliminal Advertising is when a message, a phase or a word flash across your screen so fast your brain doesn’t register it. This, in turn, affects our wants, needs and desires. It started when a man named James Vicary claimed he had placed the words “Drink Coca-Cola” and “Eat popcorn” in a film shown in the US and that sales of Coca-Cola and Popcorn had skyrocketed when the film had ended. There was a public backlash when this was published, Vicary apologized and an investigation revealed that the messages had no effect whatsoever on the viewers. Despite this the idea has lingered. Subliminal Advertising been banned in the UK since 1957 but how many messages has your brain seen.
This theory states that world leaders, political figures, religious leaders and anyone else with power meet in secret and are in fact lizards who rule the earth! Is there any truth in this? No, probably not but it would make a good story. The lizards are either alien lifeforms who look like the creatures we know as lizards or they have lived underground in secret colonies for years and have dug their way to the earth’s surface. Either way they’ve donned human identities, established power and are secretly ruling us. So how can you tell if someone is a lizard? They don’t emit any warmth, they don’t blink as often as we do and if you manage to draw blood from them it will be green instead of red and their skin will peel off. Nice.
Bonus theory: Stephen King killed John Lennon
Yep, this is an actual theory. Instead of Mark David Chapman being the culprit this theory states that Stephen King, the best seller author, shot John Lennon. The evidence? Mark David Chapman and Stephen King both wear glasses and kind of look alike. That’s hardly concrete. What about motive, means and opportunity? King has none of them, he wasn’t near the scene of the crime, he had nothing to gain from the murder and had no history with Lennon. So is there any actual evidence? Nope.
10) Who was William Shakespeare?
We know very little about William Shakespeare. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in 1564. In 1592 he was actor in London . He wrote 37 plays and over one hundred and fifty sonnets. He died in 1616. We have very few things written in his own hand and most of that is unreadable. How could a single man complete so much work? Some people say that Shakespeare didn’t exist and that the little evidence of him is faked. A group of Elizabethans wrote his work a group that included Sir Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh and Edward De Vere the last of which was the subject of the film Anonymous. It’s interesting because we can’t prove it’s him and it’s likely we won’t ever have an answer.
Those are my top ten Urban Legends, mysteries and conspiracy theories that I think can fuel a writer’s imagination or are related to writing. What do you think? Do any of these theories surprise you? (either because of the evidence or lack thereof) Do you think another theory should have made the list? What was your favourite theory? Leave your comments down below.