June 2012

Ideas for stories

June 30, 2012: Genetics can provide interesting leads for story ideas. It seems there may be truth in the myth that the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon may have been lovers. The self-discovery of characters’ ancestry can be compelling plot points that drive the narrative forward.

June 29, 2012: The juxtaposition of characters from different class backgrounds or socio-economic groups can have potential for interesting fiction. The news that the Duchess of Cambridge is going to sleep rough on London’s streets for an evening is full of possibility for imaging what happens next.

June 28, 2012: Scientists have apparently developed a vaccine against addiction to nicotine, to make it easier for smokers to quit. The unintended consequences of quantum leap steps in scientific understanding can lead t big changes in society, which can be usefully explored by fiction writers.

June 27, 2012: Sometimes body language and gestures can say everything. The handshake between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth II today in Belfast was historic, but is also evidence of how backstory can be encapsulated in a single, significant moment.

June 26, 2012: Everything you ever thought about the influence of the press on politics is true, and more, if the threats made by News Corporation to the Liberal Democrats are genuine. Read the papers, surf the internet, smell the coffee, and write about what’s really going on. If you can think of it, it’s probably happening.

June 25, 2012: The auction of George Washington’s personal, annotated copy of the US Constitution at Christie’s in New York for around USD $10m highlights the importance of getting access to personal papers if you want to write about historical figures. There is nothing like primary sources for getting insight into a person’s character and personality.

June 24, 2012: Plot points in your story can be checked against reality, to see if a particular event is possible. In this news item, a woman climbs an electric pylon while high on drugs. Unusual occurrences stand out, so try to incorporate strange happenings in your writing, to make your story more memorable.

June 23, 2012: Be on the lookout for new genres of monster. This National Geographic theory of how Easter Island moai statues were ‘walked’ into place has a hint of Frankenstein’s monster mixed in with a dab of Egyptian mummy. Monsters play on human fears; news stories can be a source of relevant material.

June 22, 2012: What happens to celebrity lookalikes when their famous double dies? This story tells how a Pavarotti impersonator now works at a railway station in Lichfield, Staffs. Good narratives make the most of such intriguing premises.

June 21, 2012: The fuss over the tax affairs of comedian, Jimmy Carr is a good example of cause and effect, a staple of good fiction writing. Prime Minister, David Cameron criticised Carr’s tax dodge, saying it was ‘immoral’. This is a self-inflicted own goal, as it invites the press to dredge up the tax affairs of Tory politicians and party donors.

June 20, 2012: Facebook has bought Face.com, a facial recognition company. An extrapolation of this curve leads to all kinds of privacy concerns in future society. All grist to the ideas mill for the fiction writer.

June 19, 2012: The death of cricketer Tom Maynard in an incident involving a London tube is shocking for two reasons. It gives a face to the impersonal ‘person on the line’ euphemism and it jars with the story of a talented sportsman with a career in front of him. Events like this are difficult to encompass into fiction convincingly, as they happen suddenly without prior cause. They are the nuclear weapon of story writing; they come from nowhere but their effects are profound. If you wish to include sudden death or injury in a story, concentrate on the reaction of the surfing characters. Tragedy has ongoing consequences for the living.

June 18, 2012: Plots can develop according the law of unintended consequences. In this case, the PR efforts by Argyll and Bute Council to prevent 9-year-old Martha Payne from uploaded photos of her school dinners ti a blog backfired spectacularly (also known as the Streisand Effect). The attempt to censor Martha’s NeverSeconds blog simply drew attention to the site, which went viral around the world. The blog is also brilliant at providing a window into the mind of a young child.

June 17, 2012: Daredevil stunts still have the ability to amaze. Danger and glamour converge to provide spectacle, as in Nik Wallenda’s successful tightrope walk across the Niagara Falls. Showmanship can light up a story and create dramatic tension.

June 16, 2012: This story takes Government paranoia in Bolivia about official corruption to new levels: pens fitted with cameras and voice recorders monitor customs interactions. The gadgets characters use in a story as a matter of everyday life as a good indicator of the values and customs of wider society at any given point in history.

June 15, 2012: Social media can make mundane stories go viral, which offers new opportunities for fiction to explore. In this story, Orkney Library offered a prize if it reached 6000 Twitter followers. When the prize was revealed to be a book that had not been borrowed for ten years and a packet of instant food, followers were not impressed, calling the booty the ‘worst competition prize ever’. The prize sheds light on the priorities and humour of the people of Orkney; the wider point is that social media interactions can provide useful insight into characters’ personalities.

June 14, 2012: Relationships are endlessly fascinating. This story describes the love affair between a customer and her tattooist. Unusual liaisons can make for interesting back story.

June 13, 2012: Single acts of irrational behaviour can scupper careers, like this bizarre case of a doctor looking up the skirt of a woman in a supermarket. Fiction can explore the reasons behind such errant acts; stories are all about exposing characters to the pressure of life situations.

June 12, 2012: Body language is vital to communication, even in this story about gorillas. Gads, clues and plot points can be carried by effective use of signs and non-verbal language.

June 11, 2012: Well-intentioned technological experiments attract spam and hackers; human nature online replicates the real world. An attempt to engage open source help to analyse Government data at Data.gov resulted in spam emails and comments plugging designer jewellery. Whenever an opportunity for public interaction is provided, spam will try to monopolise the space.

June 10, 2012: Historical fiction needs to take care that inferences taken from contemporary science are in keeping with the knowledge and understanding of the time. A report of the sexual behaviour of penguins written by a member of Captain Robert Scott’s polar expedition was considered too depraved for widespread publication 100 years ago. Only now is this behaviour understood. An appreciation of how results of scientific experiments can be explained differently over time give an  insight into historic social mores and public opinion

June 9, 2012: ‘Fish out of water’ ideas for stories can be gleaned from the news. In today’s article, a woman with dementia was given an £18,000 loan by the Lloyds TSB bank. The the real world, the customer has won compensation. The placing of characters in unfamiliar circumstances is the stuff of story: you can play with the kernels of reality to develop your own narratives.

June 8, 2012: Technology gaffes can have consequences. In this case, the mobile telephone number of the killer of Floridian teenager Trayvon Martin has been assigned to a new customer, who is now receiving death threat calls. Such events can act an inciting incidents for pitching your fictional protagonist into an adventure.

June 7, 2012: A new technique is being used by radio telescopes in Australia to search for broadcasts made by aliens. No signals have yet been picked up. Such experiments are rich seams of ideas with a science-fiction theme. As extra-terrestrial life becomes more real to us, authors can assign human characteristics to aliens for comic effect or to explore the nature of  life. For example, how would human beings react to broadcasts received from aliens; and how would aliens react to programmes they receive from us? Writers such as Philip K. Dick and Brian Aldiss explore these kinds of themes; so can you.

June 6, 2012: The names you use in your story for characters and geographical locations can add an extra layer of meaning and symbolism. This article reports a new twin-town relationship between Boring, Oregon in the USA and Dull, a village in Perthshire, Scotland. Authors like Charles Dickens and Evelyn Waugh used this device throughout their work, particularly with comic characters.

June 5, 2012: New light is shed on the character of historical figures by the letters they write. This article describes how Napoleon Bonaparte wrote letters in English to a tutor teaching him the language while he was in exile on the island of St Helena. Such letters can be the key to new insights of a historical character’s personality, and may trigger ideas for stories.

June 4, 2012: Similarly, research findings can improve police detection procedures. In this story, the fact that women ‘glow’ when in the proximity of men may lead to improvements in lie-detection devices.

June 3, 2012: Advances in medical technology are worth keeping an eye on. This story explains how paralysed rats learn to walk again. The results can be extrapolated for fictional purposes for humans: a plot might turn on such a medical breakthrough (e.g. a character relearning to walk may be a clue in a murder mystery).

June 2, 2012: The real world is full of unpredictability: in this case, a pop-music festival raising money for charity has gone bankrupt because people didn’t buy tickets. Interesting fiction arises from tracking character reaction to events; random happenings in characters’ lives can more plot forwards and provide compelling twists.

June 1, 2012: The richness of a character can come from the juxta position of seemingly unrelated detail. This story describes how a former Glaswegian shipbuilder turned ‘curry king’ restaurant entrepreneur is running a large event to teach people how to meditate. Different elements to help to prevent a character being reduced to a cipher.