We live in the “Information Age,” and as writers, we can use this to our advantage. Every day, thousands of news stories are posted online or written in newspapers and magazines, and you can use this to your advantage.
The news can be a fabulous jumping-off place for some great ideas. Hallie Ephron, in her book Writing a Mystery Novel, has a good exercise called the “What if – suppose” exercise. What she recommends is taking an item from the news and adding the question, “What if?” and then answering that with “suppose.” Completing this question and answer will then give you a solid guide for writing your story.
She writes mystery novels, but this strategy can be used for all kinds of stories. Let me give you an example from the current news.
News Story: NASA’s rover named “Curiosity” is currently roaming the surface of Mars. It is expected to begin drilling to collect a sample.
Story Idea: Suppose a whole fleet of rovers is currently searching Mars to find evidence of life. What if one of them drills and hits a metal plate through which sounds can be heard and the sounds are not random pings or bangs, it sounds like language . . .
This is a science fiction example, but you can use serious news stories for mysteries or realistic contemporary stories and for positive fun ideas. Even though its important that your characters have crises and disasters as that’s what keeps the story suspenseful and interesting, its also possible to get good ideas from happier news stories.
One great source for this is one of my favorite websites, www.goodnewsnetwork.org. Every week I get an email with the top ten positive, feel-good news stories that website owner has compiled from around the nation and the world. If you go to the website, you can sign up for the email and read the headlines of the stories.
To apply the “Suppose . . . What if?” strategy to one of these stories, this is what you might come up with.
News Story: Blind mice have sight restored after developing cells are transplanted into their eyes.
Story Idea: You could obviously write a humorous revision of “The Three Blind Mice” who undergo surgery, or you could apply the strategy: suppose a group of blind teens volunteers to be the first human trials of the eye transplant surgery. What if the surgery works but they can now see more than anyone else? What if they can now see . . . angels? auras? death? Whatever you can come up with.
For today, to take action on this idea either watch the news or go to a news site and scan through those stories. Choose one story and apply the “suppose . . . what if? . . .” strategy to it.
Then, post your idea either in the comments below this post or in the forums.