In a previous piece, I wondered where stories came from, suggesting that it could be from anywhere, and that the important thing was to at least find a seed of an idea that could be subsequently nurtured into a story.
One of the examples I gave was Spanish film director Luis García Berlanga’s black comedy El Verdugo (‘Not On Your Life’, 1963), partly based on a real-life incident (of an executioner panicking because he had to do the job on a woman). Berlanga probably read about this in the newspapers, which is where we can all find stories; but this, of course, will not be … er … news to you. Such is the wealth of ideas that can come from this source, though, that it does bear stressing, I think.
These days we may well be talking about digital versions of the newspapers, which is a shame in some ways; in the ‘old days’ (not quite over yet while paper versions are still available) we would find a story, rip it out roughly, fold it and slip it into our Moleskin for future reference. I’m a bit long in the tooth, I suppose, sentimental and conventional, and possibly a full-on fuddy-duddy; I still like to collect stories in this way.
When we find the story on the Internet, we may print it out, save it in a file, or move it to something like Scrivener. A writer responded to my last piece to say that he has lots of one-line ideas backed up on Scrivener, waiting to find the stories in them, but once again … a tree lets loose hundreds of seeds, and by the law of averages some of them will find welcoming ground and take hold to become grand trees in their own right. (That’s enough of the ‘seed’ analogy already! – Ed.)
But getting back on track … newspapers (and magazines, why not) can be a veritable gold-mine of ready-made real-life stories and (oh go on, just once more) story seeds. In the former case, we might be able to keep more or less to the story as is and simply flesh it out, or take it in directions that the actual events didn’t go. In the latter case, we’re free to wander where’er we will. (In both cases avoiding copyright infringements and defamation, naturally.)
Just to give an idea of how rich the seam can be, here are three recent stories from the news that you may have heard about and that show how life, sometimes, can be as strange as, or stranger than, fiction. I’m sure that somewhere in the world, writers have already bashed out their own takes on these.
- The story of the 64-meter oil tanker that washed up on the shores of Liberia … without crew or lifeboats.
- The forklift truck driver trapped for eight hours under tons of … cheese.
- The 53-year-old woman from Cleveland arrested for breaking into houses and … cleaning them. (This is not actually a recent story, but I came across it recently.)
Three quirky stories plucked almost at random from the news. They’re odd in themselves, but beg to be adapted, developed and elaborated upon. And there are an infinite number of stories out there waiting to be found and worked.
So whether it’s a character you lift, a theme, a scene, a detail … or the whole story (not verbatim, I’d suggest), the news can indeed be an extremely rich source of ideas.
(to be continued)