The world can be a depressing place. The newspaper and television news programs are full of bad news. But the news is also a good place for finding some very interesting gems that could possibly become a kernel in a future story for a writer. You just have to be curious enough to want to delve deeper; the trick though is to delve into your own imagination to supply the backstory and details.
I once read a story about a woman, Ann Lee, who lost her four year old daughter because of the actions of a drunk driver. The Chicago Tribune published a very poignant article about the loss of the four year old. Four year old Whitney lost her life when Brandon Blenden plowed into the back of Ann’s car. Every day this mom is surrounded by reminders of what this man stole from her and her family. In addition to that, the judge ordered Blenden to send a check a week ($1) and in the line where many of us would write groceries, daycare, or phone bill, he must write “for the death of your daughter, Whitney.” This story on its own is profound. No need to go digging for extra, but suppose you did. Suppose you were feeling at a loss for what to write about next. Hmm. Maybe your curiosity leads you to wonder what happens to Ann five years after the loss of her daughter. Maybe you give her a new daughter (Bridget) whom she is so protective of because she is still suffering so deeply over the loss of Whitney. Before long, the people from the news story have new names (Ann becomes Stacey) and they become characters in your own scripted plot. The kernel of the true story sometimes is enough to spark the imagination of a curious mind. A woman loses her daughter in a drunken driving accident…and you take it from there. Your imagination can add so many layers and turn it into something that your readers would love from the very first line.
A dollar. That’s what the courts determined the memory of her daugther was worth. A dollar. A constant reminder of what was forever lost.
That’s just one example of where that story can go.
Another example of an intriguing news article: The story of the eight year old South African boy who reportedly saw his grandfather’s ghost. The ghost told him to marry a 61 year old woman who is already married. Fearing trouble that could come from disappointing or upsetting the spirit of his ancestor, the boy convinced his family to allow him to participate in a symbolic wedding.
I read that story recently and the comments attached to it. There was much anger over the symbolic ceremony. Quite honestly, a lot of the readers clearly hadn’t read the story to get the full story behind the teaser. But that’s not the point. At least, not here.
My mind grabbed hold to that juicy bit of story and thought how interesting that would be as a short story. How it should still be set in South African. It would give a writer a chance to research customs and rituals people in South Africa believe in and still hold dear. That would provide some rich details for the story. Then, I imagined a scene where the little boy comes face-to-face with the ghost of his grandfather. What must he have been feeling inside? What was their conversation like? Was it just a feeling that came over him or did his grandfather speak actual words? Maybe some details would need to be changed so that it doesn’t appear too much like the newspaper article. Maybe instead of a boy, we have a girl protagonist. Boy wouldn’t that add another layer of conflict?
The great thing is that this doesn’t have to be the main story line of your plot. It could be just one layer. Maybe the story really is about a 25-year old South African who participated in a symbolic wedding at the age of eight. Maybe some new insight has come to him. Maybe the woman, who is now also deceased, visits him at night. The possibilities are endless.
I have a file folder where I print or clip newspaper stories that intrigue me. Stories that pique my curiosity. Curiosity benefitted me greatly as a newspaper reporter. It was the thing that motivated me get the story behind the story when I was trying to report on something for the paper. It was the thing that made me question why.
I once passed this old neglected apartment community on a major street in our city. It was run down and had obviously been neglected for many years. I did some research and discovered that the owner lived in Atlanta and was behind on property taxes. I tracked down contact information for him. He wouldn’t talk to me. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. My initial curiosity led to a story about the history of the apartments and the owner.
That curiosity I onced used to depend on to help me come up with stories to write for the paper now helps me see beyond the surface of those stories that interest me and imagine brand new worlds, brand new conflicts and goals for those characters. In my hands, they become characters in my own newly imagined world. Sometimes it all starts with something I read or hear.
As they say, Truth is definitely stranger than fiction. Sometimes, though, that can be a very good thing for a writer.
Peace and Love,