As a former journalist, I still love the news. If you cut me, I bleed newsprint.
Weird news is always interesting to read, with human beings and animals constantly finding new and unique ways of getting global attention. Usually for plumbing the depths of stupidity.
Nothing illustrates the why and how of weird news like Florida Man stories, named after newspaper headlines that start with “Florida man” and end with stuff like “snorts meth and robs 7-Eleven wearing nothing but My Little Pony T-shirt,” then in the story you find out after he ran off from the gas station, he hid from the cops in a nearby pond and was eaten by a one-eyed alligator who lost the eye in a famous battle with a drunken stripper back in 1985.
You think I’m exaggerating and mixing in plot elements from Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen novels. But I’m not. Go ahead, google “Florida Man” and read a few.
So it’s always fun when my medium-sized, square state tries to compete with Florida Man.
Doesn’t happen often. Florida Man is powerful, and my state is a great place to live.
But it happened recently.
That’s one take on the story, a good, straight headline.
Here’s why I like it, and also why it doesn’t quite meet Florida Man standards.
You only need a single element for a story to be news. In this case, a man burglarized a home.
That’s it. There’s conflict there, some kind of backstory–is he stealing things for drug money or is that home a specific target? There’s also suspense about the outcome–will the cops catch him?
The second element is the thank you note, which lets this story go viral. Who leaves a thank-you note? Was it done out of kindness, or did the burglar know the victim? Are we talking a 40-year-old professional criminal starting to feel remorse or a 9-year-old budding psychopath who’s watched too many episodes of HANNIBAL?
Our story’s third element adds value. He doesn’t run from the cops, or drive off to start a car chase. He tries to out-swim the cops. Funny to picture and if there’s video footage, that’ll go viral, too.
But it’s missing a fourth element, the special sauce of Florida Man stories: gonzo nuttery.
How would this story end if it happened in Florida?
That’s the fun part. He would have jumped into that canal and been eaten by an alligator, sucked into a bottomless sinkhole, or swim all the way to the Cayman Islands.
That fourth element can’t do all the work. It needs a character in conflict, a mystery about motives, and a head-scratching gesture. You need those three foundations for your final Florida Man Cherry on the Top of this Ice Cream Sundae of Madness.