I once watched an interview with film writer and director Woody Allen in which he shared the inspiration for the storyline in several of his films.
Although his style is clearly influenced by live theater and Greek mythology, he said that the stories themselves are often results of his elaborate imagination doing its work with a newspaper headline that grabs him. He said that he will cut out headlines that are bizarre or intriguing and drop them in a drawer. When it is time to think about writing his next film, he will open the drawer, pull one out and see what creative direction it takes him in.
I think this is a great tool to keep handy in a writer’s back pocket – an assembly of newspaper and magazine headlines at the ready when the muse does not choose to share her gift of gab. Personally, I especially love stories that are statistic-based (they always make me wary), local “feel-good” and historical news, slanted commentary and events so bizarre you can’t possibly make them up.
During a road trip with a friend several years ago, we picked up the paper in every small town we stopped in to eat or fill up on gas and we had a blast learning the local news. We got to know about the crime beat, local heroes and events. One story that sticks out in my mind was a survey, presumably by that local paper, showing that 80% of women admitted to throwing a shoe at their husband during an argument. Neither the sample size of the survey nor the questions were revealed, but that news item kept us talking for a good hour, and it’s stuck in my mind for a full decade!
writing exercise: Pick up a current newspaper (or troll the internet news) and search for good headlines that could inspire at a later date. Clip them out and/or make a list of the best. If you would, please share the headline and the newspaper source as your writercize comment! Don't worry about the story itself, or whether you agree with the statement - look for something that could inspire a story or phrase one day.
Click “read more’ for writercizer sample response.
writercizer sample response:
(from Tillamook PUD Ruralite - the only "real" news source I have at my finger tips right now)
Mow Fun: Philanthropic speed freaks race their lawnmowers for worthy causes
The Soggy Days of Summer
a few from trolling the net on 8/12/11
"Mitt Romney gets it right: corporations are people too" (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Arctic Sea Ice Could Make a Comeback Tour" (Discovery News)
"SF muzzles cell service during protest" (cnet News)
"Jodie Foster helps in search for alien civilizations" (Christian Science Monitor)
"New exoplanet makes our color black seem like a pale shade of gray" (The Inquisitr)
"Electronic skin tatto has medical, gaming, spy uses" (AFP)
"In Manhattan, preschool interviews induce anxiety" (NPR)