August 2012

Ideas for stories

August 31, 2012: Jailbreaks need the same degree of thought as working out the mechanics of a whodunnit. They can be metaphors for psychological breakthrough as well as physical. Avoid cliché and have a purpose for the escape and you’ll have the kernel of an exciting and quirky thriller.

August 30, 2012: Midlife crises and breakdowns can manifest themselves in mysterious ways. Witness the university professor-cum-graffiti vandal, who etched rarified words and phrases on to cars in his Newcastle neighbourhood. The disintegration of the psyche of a protagonist or supporting character is a staple of popular fiction; find a new way to express this, and you’ll have readers eating out of your hand.

August 29, 2012: Wanting a piece of a celebrity is all very we’ll, but would you pay GBP £10,000 for a soiled pair of Elvis Presley’s underpants? No, well someone will. Fame has its indecent, seamy side. You should explore this aspect of humanity if your story deals with the reality behind the glitter-ball world of fame..

August 28, 2012: Some everyday biological phenomena are unexplained and so retain an air of mystery, especially when they can place a person’s life in danger. This story describes how a sleepwalker dreamt, twice, that she was drowning, to discover that she was out of her depth in a river. If you find a new twist on a common behaviour like sleepwalking, without resorting to cliché, and you’ll have found a way of touching your readers’ hearts.

August 27, 2012: People have different cultural ways of celebrating rites of passage, in this case a distinctive Indonesian ceremony to celebrate the life and death of family ancestors. The translocation of such ceremonies to alternative cultural settings can add flavour and intrigue to a story.

August 26, 2012: Silly season stories always include a big cat sighting article that turns out to be a false alarm, in this case the ‘lion’ turned out to be a large household pet. Such detail can be useful for colour in fiction, especially when it foreshadows important events later in the story.

August 25, 2012: Keep on the look out for unusual ways people die. This tragic story tells the tale of a recent bride whose dress got heavy by soaking up water from a river. She slipped from rocks and fell to her death. Deaths are flash moments that stay in readers’ memories.

August 24, 2012: Lost in showbiz. Baywatch celebrity abandons her attempt to find Noah’s Ark after injury and fear of abduction. The star trope is to try to achieve something wacky and then (mostly) to give up the attempt giving  a feeble excuse. Two bites of the PR cherry. The celebrity-style narcissist is a personality type that appears in many novels.

August 23, 2012: Man borrows pen from an in-store customer to write a hold-up note. Says it all, really.

August 22, 2012: Find out what your characters think about the opposite sex, and you’ll have opened a windows into their souls. The views of Todd Akin on rape say more about his qualities as a man than his fitness for office as a politician, but human quirks always outweigh partisan spin. Get to the fundamental beliefs of a person, and you’ll have material for reveals at the climax of a story.

August 21, 2012: Characters are driven by what they believe. It turns out that cows do not lie down when it’s about to rain. This is simply an urban myth. The truth is relative, and fiction relies on keeping motives hidden from readers until the climax of the story. The most convincing characters are also the most complex and rounded.

August 20, 2012: The psychology behind crime can illuminate a character. Imagine what was on the mind of Russell Neff when he broke into a home in Salisbury, Maryland, USA. He stripped to his underwear, cooked himself a chicken pie and was licking the TV remote control when the police arrived. High on drugs? Perhaps, but what were his thought processes?

August 19, 2012: The energy crisis has reached new heights. Air France passengers were asked to cough up cash for re-fuelling at an unscheduled stop in Damascus, Syria. Imagine the implications of having to pay for fuel on every air trip? A very different world beckons.

August 18, 2012: There’s a competition for everything these days. In Finland, the World Mobile Phone Throwing Championships are contested every year. Silliness and stretching natural human impulses to breaking point (e.g. throwing a cellphone in frustration) are natural allies to good storytelling.

August 17, 2012: Mistaken identity can be a trigger for a protagonist to start his or her journey through a story arc. This story tells of how a bar owner was wrongly accused by the NYPD of running an illegal drinking den, leading to court action. In fiction, the consequences of such events can be invented by giving your imagination full rein.

August 16, 2012: Fiction often hangs on what desperate people do in trying circumstances. In this case, a prisoner sent his own severed finger in the mail to the French Justice Minister in the hope of being transferred to a different jail. Echoes of The Godfather, perhaps?

August 15, 2012: What’s in a name? Everything. Consider the residents of Shitterton in Dorset, voted the most embarrassing place name in Britain. Are villagers embarrassed by the name or do they bask in the reflected glory? Names are useful barometers of the attitudes and opinions of groups of characters within a story.

August 14, 2012: The language used by extremist groups is instructive. It tells you the state of current social mores: racist views, as here for example, are couched in spin to make the arguments seem more reasonable. Discourse like this shows off writers skill at layering dialogue with different tones of meaning, including irony, euphemism, litotes and subtext.

August 13, 2012: Silly season stories can be a boon to the fiction writer. The extrovert Major of London got stuck on a zip wire attempting to garner publicity for himself and the Olympics, a gaffe that went viral as the escapade seemed to sum up his character. Think about how events can match your characters’ profiles.

August 12, 2012: Make use of all technologies to tell stories in chronological sequence yet reveal elements in flashback. The closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics included remastered footage from beyond the grave of John Lennon singing ‘Imagine’. Video, photography, podcasts, email, websites, MP3s, letters, diaries, scrapbooks and social media are all ways in which information can be relayed outside the present time.

August 11, 2012: Build on innate human fear for effect. This story highlights the plight of a Japanese woman who lived with a spider nesting in her ear for five days. Natural phobias can be heightened for effect.

August 10, 2012: Memorable characters exist at the extremes of social norms. This doctor researching near-death experiences tried out water-boarding torture on his 11-year-old daughter and got jailed for his experiment. Imagining how such an event could have happened is a fruitful exercise for fiction writers.

August 9, 2012: Keep an eye out for news stories about spies. This article about a spyring leading to prosecution on August 9, 1985, provides details of how three ex-naval officers spied for the Soviet Union. The art of fiction is to explore the causes of and reasons behind the treachery, as well as putting flesh on the bones of the biographical history.

August 8, 2012: A random day 0f celebrity birthdays. Characters can feel a connection to famous people, basing elements of their personas on the tenuous link that they share a birthday with a star. Celebrities born on August 8 include actor Dustin Hoffman, Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, U2 rock musician The Edge, tennis champion Roger Federer, and Beatrice, Princess of York.

August 7, 2012: People spend hours on labours of love, in this case a Lego replica of the Olympic Park in London. An art or craft could be a hinterland hobby that adds colour to a main character.

August 6, 2012: Political protests can take strange forms. A diplomatic incident occurred in Belarus when two bloggers dropped teddy bears from a Swedish light aircraft in a pro-democracy stunt. The organisers were arrested and the Swedish ambassador expelled. Bizarre. Getting to understand the culture behind such actions can reveal ideas for livening up your fiction.

August 5, 2012: Why not turn news stories into incidents that suit your own purposes? This story suggests that seven Olympic athletes from Cameroon have absconded to seek asylum in the UK. But what if their disappearance was more sinister? Let you imagination run riot.

August 4, 2012: Try to find new angles on how your characters travel. This story worried people in a plane who looked out of the window to see a note stuck to the wing that read: ‘We know about this.’ Details that allow for open-ended plot development can make your story shine.

August 3, 2012: Give your characters an inner life: maybe a terrible secret, a double identity or a skeleton in the cupboard. This story tells of a University pf Kentucky employee who doubled up as a bank robber to make ends meet. Find interesting ways of revealing the duplicity and you’ll be on to a winning plotline.

August 2, 2012: Consider what happens to your characters after the arc of your story has ended. It can sow the seeds of sequel novels and provide ideas for the plot of the work you are completing now. This article discusses the product ranges being launched by the Chilean miners rescued from almost certain death in 2010. Consumers want to get close to the miners’ experience and taste their brush with mortality. How does the commercialisation of the rescue shed a retrospective light on the human story of their original rescue?

August 1, 2012: If you include photoshoot-style events in your fiction, consider how you can make them go wrong in interesting ways. Boris Johnston, the Mayor of London, got stuck on a zip wire trying to capitalise on the Olympics to boost his political popularity. Instead he simply managed to increase his reputation for eccentricity and silliness.