“Where do you get your ideas?” is one of the most common questions a writer hears. The answer is: everywhere! Once you start writing regularly, you find yourself with more ideas than you can write about at any given time. But one source of story ideas is to take something from the news and re-shape it for the beginnings of a story. Here are some examples:
Last month, a high wind from an arriving storm knocked down the rigging of an outdoor concert stage at our Indiana State Fair. The band was being held backstage until the winds died, but that didn’t help the fans. Tragically, seven people from the front-row area were killed by the stage collapse, with dozens more injured. At the same time, individuals acted heroically to hold the collapsed rigging up and get injured people out to medical care, saving lives in the process.
If I were looking for a new story idea, I might try some different story-starters based on this.
- Why is my character such a fan that he/she is in the front row? How far did she come for the concert? What sacrifices did she have to make to get there?
- Who is she with? Does one of them get hurt? How does the other react?
- What if my character is far enough back to be unhurt, and is one of those helping hold the structure off an injured person? What does he see? How does he feel? How does that affect him later? Nightmares? Appreciation for life?
- What if he didn’t go help because he was afraid? What if he were in the stands and was helpless?
- What if he watched the incoming storm path on his cell phone and left? What if he had a feeling he should leave early (or not go in the first place), but couldn’t convince his friend to pay attention to the feeling? Does he feel guilty? Smug? Thankful to God for the prompting? Angry that God didn’t prompt his friend the same way? How does it affect him the next day/week/month/year?
- What if my character were home and saw the injured friend on the news clips? What would he do?
That’s a pretty serious topic, but you can use less tragic news stories as well. How many “what if” or “what next” story ideas can you get from these?
- A tipsy man decides not to drive drunk, “borrows” an unlocked bike, and demolishes someone’s clothesline filled with clean laundry.
- An advice column includes a letter about a family member who steals things, but puts them back the next day.
- The police shut down a noisy party with underage drinking at the home of a town council member.
- A family sues a neighbor for building a two-story house that blocks their view.
You get the idea. Take virtually any news story, think of anyone who might be connected, and start asking “what if.”
So here’s the challenge: take a look at today’s newspaper, pick a story, and write a list of possible fiction ideas from it. Then share them in the comments section below.