Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ripped From the Headlines

"Where do you get your ideas?"

"How do you get your juices flowing?"

Common questions for a professional writer, and they have a million answers.

Last weekend I led a writing-prompt session at a conference. I decided to use the morning paper as my theme, hoping it would yield enough material to keep a group of writers busy for an hour. Busy, that is, expanding their creativity and learning just how painless it is to find good story material.

I picked up coffee and a paper on my way to the conference, then spent a half hour skimming through it and making notes. I'd never done this before, and was happy to find how ridiculously easy it was to come up with prompts.

BTW, a writing prompt is simply a little story opening or scenario, to use as a jumping-off place for a writing session. The point is, you don't have to fight to write.

In the spirit of turning swords into ploughshares, I ripped out a few pieces of dispassionate news and turned them into compelling prompts using my stormwriting cues of 'Yes, and—' and 'What if?'

There was an article in the sports pages about a local skating pair who was competing at the U.S. Olympic trials. What if, I thought, they're a married couple, and what if the man is having an affair with their coach? Yes, and just as they're about to take the ice, he asks for a divorce. (So yes, coming up with writing prompts is a creative endeavor in and of itself.)

That was the first scenario I prompted my little group of writers with, suggesting they too use 'Yes, and—' and 'What if?' to take it away. When it came time to share aloud (never mandatory) I was amazed at how varied their ideas were.

One wrote a scene where it turns out both skaters were having an affair with the coach; one wrote a rinkside scene in which the woman was totally relieved that this jerk is finally asking for a divorce; another constructed a quick skate-blade murder after the competition.

A classified ad for a lost camera provided fodder for another exercise: What if you find it? What if you look at the pictures on it? Yes, and then you have to decide what to do about it. Ready, go.

Every page of that paper contained stories and ideas for stories. The real lesson? Any writer can use the 
news. Simply:

1) Look
2) Look deeper
3) Identify a possible tangent
4) Write it!

Can you think of a writing prompt based on a current headline? Have you ever come across a particularly memorable prompt?

Tell us. To post your ideas / comments, all of which I read and try to respond to, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

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[photo of frightening Spanish conquistador weaponry by ES]

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