Following a brain popping sojourn at the Edinburgh Fringe I had to whoosh to Kent for the wedding of two of my favourite people on earth. A perfect day, finishing a perfectly inspiring couple of weeks. I’m on my way back to Norwich and saw this headline advertised in a railway station and it made me think of how wonderful a source of story ideas newspapers are.
I worked as a journalist for many years and believe that the paper press is the richest source of inspiration available to writers. For starters, take this headline, and without reading the story what do you think could lie behind it? Or, you could just take an existing story and change the setting/gender etc… to make it your own. Ideas will come to you as you work on it.
Alternatively, you could apply the ‘what if’ question to a story’s possible outcome. The‘what if’ question prompts you to consider alternative endings. A good example of this question is Stephen Fry’s Making History, in which he explores a world where Hitler was killed in WWI but an even more dastardly figure comes to prominence, and wins.
The small ads section can spur the imagination. Hemmingway once said his best work was one he wrote in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. It’s clever as there is clearly a heavy back story here but Hemmingway, being Papa, does not spell it out. My point is that you could operate in reverse, search the small ads and then write its back story. Think of the tale behind a novel that ends with that small ad.
Then there are photos. Ignore the captions/related stories. Look at the photos and guess what is going on. Develop an identity for someone in the background of a picture. Give them a problem. Imagine how they are being affected by the main event in the photo. The key is to go for the more obscure shots. Obviously, if it’s a picture of 9/11, the chances are you’re not going to come up with anything too original but if it’s a picture of a man biting a dog, you may be on to something.
Go hunting, Newshound!
August 25th, 2013 at 22:02
Sue, Thanks for the writing ideas. I’m giving up playing Spider Solitaire to try them….just saying, Claudia
September 1st, 2013 at 12:17
Actually, 9/11 photos could prompt a great deal. Have you seen (which is frightful in both senses of the word) the image called Falling Man? It was taken by a friend of ours. One could write a whole story about being the person who took the photo that no one, anywhere, ever wanted to see. Including him.
September 22nd, 2013 at 09:59
Hey, I’m glad to finally meet someone who knows the person who took that photo. I remember reading an in-depth analytical piece in a newspaper a couple of years ago on the Falling man: what he was thinking as he went down, speculation on who he might be, his coolness in the face of a crumbling burning tower. Amazing.
September 2nd, 2013 at 02:15
I read the news today too and wished I hadn’t. But I want to thank you for following my blog, papermudandme.wordpress.com which is mostly about my books and about my pottery. Thanks again. – Aloha from Hawaii. – pjs.
September 3rd, 2013 at 17:14
I envy your time at the Fringe, sadly I couldn’t make it this year.
About your post, it does strike a cord. It puts me in mind of the ‘alternate endings’ theme where the viewer has the option of watching a different outcome to a film’s conclusion (28 days later, Blade Runner, et al), but it’s good you’ve expanded on the idea somewhat, of taking the story in a different direction right from the start. Thanks!
September 7th, 2013 at 14:57
You can not go wrong with a Beatles song phrase as your title. I stopped by for a visit at the encouragement of someone who follows you. I think I will come by again. Now, I will go about humming this clever Beatles’ song the rest of my morning….”now we know how many ‘holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” All the best, BTG