May 2012

Ideas for stories

May 31, 2012: Over time, any controversial figure can be rehabilitated if their talent or influence is sufficiently strong. Here, a prominent Israeli orchestra is adding anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner to its repertoire. Collective memory is short: if genocides aren’t actively remembered — such as the Nazi Holocaust and the Great Purge under Stalin — then even despots, tyrants and megalomaniacs can be humanised over time. Writing about dictators from a future perspective on several hundred years would be an interesting fictional exploration of human nature.

May 30, 2012: Historical stories benefit from archive material and documents released under the Official Secrets Act in the UK. For example, recent evidence shows that British mavericks helped Japan gain technical expertise to make and attacks on Pearl Harbor and Singapore possible in World War II. The National Library of Scotland is worried that digital content is not being stored in the same way, creating a ‘digital black hole’. This creates a gap that can be filled with fictional content; future generations may not learn the truth about decisions made in the present day, which could be a useful device for thrillers, spy novels and crime fiction.

May 29, 2012: British children are increasingly using American-English in their writing and general vernacular. This could be a precursor to a future where English gets homogenised according to which television programmes people watch… with the inevitable backlash of older people wanting to protect the language (much like the relationship between French and English). The subtle use of language in a story indicates the power relationships in the culture. This could be a useful cipher for novels and short stories set in the future.

May 28, 2012: Research is key to writing stories. For example, a novel that features the Neolithic community around Stonehenge would benefit from knowledge of acoustics and ‘music’ at the site, recently discovered by  academics. The inclusion of up to date research detail makes the story more authentic and may suggest useful plot points.

May 27, 2012: Science is often inspired by culture, especially fiction, to replicate inventions inspired in stories. This story describes how there has been a breakthrough in creating an invisibility cloak, an archetypal device that has been handed down from H G Wells to J K Rowling. It would be a neat twist for such an archetype in a story to be commonplace (e.g. everyone is invisible). How would such a society be structured? How would citizens relate to each other?

May 26, 2012: Reality can imitate fiction, and can be stimulate a twist on the original story. Today there really is a plague of rats in Hamelin, Germany.

May 25, 2012: Poking fun at officialdom is a comic trope, especially when it involves EU regulation on food trademarks like this one on chocolate bunnies. Taking red tape to extremes can be a backdrop to an underdog’s fight to survive in society.

May 24, 2012: This story about a British woman who contracted rabies while in India reminds us that disease epidemic lurks beneath the surface of 21st-century life. The effects of a widespread modern plague would be devastating to society and make for a viable premise for an action thriller. Imagine a terrorist armed not with bombs but with an incurable, contagious disease…

May 23, 2012: There is Jurassic Park-style potential to reports that scientists are about to test DNA samples purporting to come from bigfoot or yetis. Michael Crichton made a fortune from writing thrillers based on similar material.

May 22, 2012: Everyone has their moment in the limelight, 15 of them according to Andy Warhol. Inventors like Eugene Polley, the creator of the TV remote control,  die in relative obscurity. The stories of such people’s post-fame life could make interesting reads.

May 20, 2012: New technology throws up new types of law suit, in this case Iran suing Google for inaccurately portraying the country on Google Maps. This has comic potential as well as providing a dose of reality to futuristic science fiction novels.

May 19. 2012: Deaths can be may more memorable by including quirky details. In this case, the woman who died of exposure and alcohol-poisoning was a cheesemaker.

May 19, 2012: What seems extraordinary today can seem commonplace from the perspective of the future. In this story, rocket developers predict routine spaceflights to Mars. The mundanity of this prospect gives new angles for science-fiction, where the everyday life of the future can seem exotic and improbable to readers in 2012. Routine spaceflight, for example, immediately places a novel into a distance future without the need for lengthy backstory.

May 18, 2012: Keep an eye out for social trends. This story suggesting couples are getting married abroad to save money. Plenty of comic potential for ceremonies to go horribly wrong due to cultural misunderstanding.

May 18, 2012: Murder, miscarriages of justice and technology all feature in this bid to clear Dr Hawley Crippen of killing his wife, Cora. ‘Doubt’ is a great vehicle for carrying suspense in a murder mystery, whether to identify a killer of try to prove a convicted person’s innocence. Dr Crippen was the first person to be caught with the use of wireless radio; the novel Dracula makes copious use of diaries, letters and telegrams. How could social media like Facebook and Twitter become integral media for the plot of a murder mystery or thriller?

May 18, 2012: Life is stranger than fiction. Any strange occurrence you can think of has probably already happened. This story comprises a man who jumped into a rubbish chute to escape his girlfriend and got stuck. As long as odd events fit into your plot, they can embellish your writing with an entertaining richness that makes your work stand out from the crowd.

May 17, 2012: Celebrity deaths are news, in this case Donna Summer’s demise from cancer. Some deaths like hers are predictable, as displayed on sites like The Deathlist, and others are sudden. Another trend of the times is spread betting based on stock market and sporting action. Put the two together, and spread betting on celebrity deaths would be a compelling motive for murder — the killer would be ensuring that his/her bets made money.

May 16, 2012: In our media-savvy age, visual symbolism is a potent form of public communication. The Home Secretary, Theresa May,  was today forced to make a speech to the Police Federation against the backdrop of a controversial conference slogan. Successful novels should have in-built audio-visual cues laden with meaning that contribute to the growth of characters and how they deal with the situations they met.

May 16, 2012: Murder in the real world often gets committed for trivial reasons. In this story a young man gets stabbed for objecting to youths for throwing conkers. A banal killing can add colour and gritty realism to your thriller.

May 16, 2012; Political gaffes and missteps can have comic potential. In this case Michelle Bachmann, the former Republican candidate for the US presidency, has declared her pride at being an American citizen two days after being outed as seeking a Swiss passport. Hypocrisy, holding separate public and private views, and ineptitude can either be funny or sinister.

May 15, 2012: US scientists commit $1 billion to building a ‘ghost town’ to test new technologies. Plenty of scope for conspiracy thrillers and Truman Show-type  stories of people growing up in isolated an community.

May 14, 2012: We are all much more musical than we think. Imagine a future where everyone sings professionally and talentless contests are arranged to celebrate the worst musicians, signing people up not to release an album.

May 13, 2012: Future dystopias can be imagined by extrapolating from current technology trends. Facebook story allowing people to pay for improved visibility of their status updates is a short imaginative step away from dictatorships spreading propaganda via social media.

May 12, 2012: Cock-ups can have comic when language misunderstandings are involved. In this case, tourists booked a hotel in the wrong country, ended up gate-crashing on the island of Jute. This story has similar comic potential to the story of the honeymooning couple in 2002 who booked a flight to North Sydney, Nova Scotia rather than their intended destination: Sydney, Australia.

May 10, 2012: Top secret document released under 100 years rule, regarding the Ulster Covenant resisting Home Rule for Ireland. Great starting point for a conspiracy-theory thriller — secrets released into the public realm are discovered to have pages missing, which may have fallen into the wrong hands…

May 9, 2012: Norwegian war museum mistakes man for his great-uncle, a WWII war hero renown for the Dambusters raid. Cases of mistaken identity can be rich seams  for comic stories.

May 8, 2012: Man attempts to prevent divorce by arguing in court that his wife is mad. This reverse scenario to Fatal Attraction may be an interesting premise.

May 8, 2012: Couple unwittingly given used mobile telephone number on SIM card; previous owner, prostitute leading a double life. Great set-up: hero gets mixed up in plot simply by receiving menacing calls meant for the previous owner of a telephone number (e.g. spy; criminal).

May 7, 2012: Body mix-up over corpses buried in wrong graves, one of whom died in police custody. Great starting point for a murder mystery.

May 7, 2012: Russian oil giant Rosneft is signing deals with different national oil companies to explore the sea around the Arctic. The expansion of one large Russian company into virgin oil fields in an ecologically sensitive region has potential for a political thriller based on conspiracy theory.

May 6, 2012: Cern scientist sentenced for being a potential Al-Qaeda terrorist. Very 007. The next Bond plot could involve the archvillain threatening to blow up the world by releasing Higgs-Boson particles into the environment.

May 5, 2012: Think outside the box when imaging how people can behave. One person’s irrational behaviour is another person’s normality. In today’s story, a New Jersey mother was arrested for endangering her 5-year-old child at a tanning salon, where the little girl received severe burns.

May 4, 2012: Build contemporary detail into your stories. This trend for nightclub bouncers to check Facebook accounts of revellers to check their age could only happen in the 21st century.

May 3, 2012: Look for unusual angles on familiar crimes. Lateral thinking can go a long way. In this story from Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, Mechelle Looney (yes, really) a caretaker from a nursing home stole morphine pills from the drugs cabinet to sell door-to-door in the community. The context for the drug-pushing is interesting, here, as well as the collusion in the crime within the neighbourhood.

May 2, 2012: Take social trends to extremes and see how far you can go. Ideas may come to mind from the exercise. In this article, the concept of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ is taken to the limit in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, eastern China when  an elderly couple refused to move, to make way for a new motorway to be built. Such scenarios can form the main plot or be part of the sub-plot of your story.

May 1, 2012: Take an interest in collecting the stories of eccentric people. This article describes the antics of Ohio serial felon, Jamie Calloway. One of her most heinous crimes, apparently, was to have the word ‘GOD’ tattooed on her forehead.