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!