Creative people are always looking for inspiration, and writers are no exception.
We look to the people in our lives, to nature, and to the books, music, and films that we love. We call on our muses, we doodle, and we daydream. We record our dreams, meditate, and contemplate. And we do all these things in an attempt to find creative writing ideas that inspire and motivate us.
But we really need look no further than our local newsstand, where creative writing ideas aplenty can be found.
Open up a newspaper, turn on the news, or surf over to your favorite news website. Guess what you’ll find? Stories. Lots and lots of stories. And lots of writing ideas.
Characters and People
The news is full of colorful characters, from the lowliest criminal to the most glamorous business executive. Local heroes, big-time politicians, sports stars, and pop-culture celebrities all mingle together in the pages of your daily rag. Be sure to check the society pages and the obituaries, and let these inspire your character creations. If you’re looking for really far-out figures, try one of the tabloids or scandal sheets. You can turn these people into characters in your fiction or you can zero in on them as real individuals and write a piece of nonfiction — an essay, an article, or even a biography.
I’m one of those writers who can whip up a character in no time, but coming up with a plot wreaks havoc on my creativity. Newspapers are filled with all kinds of interesting plots and writing ideas for fiction. Look to small-town papers for quaint stories that are usually overlooked by mainstream media. Large, urban papers will carry national interest bits. And many periodicals off the beaten path contain tales of the unusual, paranormal, and fantastical, which can be pretty useful for writers of science fiction and fantasy.
The newspapers are full of quotes, and where there are none, you can surely make up your own. Since dialogue is driven by character and plot, you can simply delve into the goings-on of any news story and start imagining what these people would say to one another.
Setting and Imagery
Don’t forget about the photos and other images! You can turn to a magazine if you’re seeking a location. National Geographic or any travel magazine will give you a sense of setting and compelling imagery that can provoke a poem. You’ll pick up interesting phrases like “down by the levee,” or “at the railroad junction,” which you may have not otherwise considered.
Are you writing a period piece? The local library is stocked with archives of old newspapers and other publications that you can review and photocopy. Not only will you find creative writing ideas for character, plot, and setting, you’ll also pick up lingo and other period details.
Creative Writing Ideas Are All Over the News
When you want to sit down and write, don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Make it happen. The news is jam-packed with creative writing ideas, and all you need to do is season it with a little imagination — your next piece of writing will be simmering in no time.
Here are a few final tips:
- Get writing ideas from the news online, in print, or on TV.
- Check magazines and periodicals.
- Watch documentaries.
- Take a trip to the library and dig through the archives.
- Stay on the lookout for images you can use.
Where do you turn for creative writing ideas? Share your tips in the comments.
And keep writing!
I have not looked in the newspaper to look for ideas, but I’ve definitely based my writing on current events and pop culture. Oh, actually, my sister was in AP Government class and one of their group project was to act out a sketch that’s based on current social and economic issues. I came up with the idea of “Lord of the Chair” for them. The story was about this mysterious CEO chair that made whoever sat on it turned evil and greedy, and the fellowship was supposed to take the chair to some mountain to throw it away. This was back when Enron first happened.
I think TV writers for police procedural shows particularly like to look in the news for characters and plot lines. I’ve seen episodes of Numb3rs, CSI Miami, Law and Order: SVU, and Bones that are based on recent crimes. South Park is another show that use current events for their stories a lot.
Oh yes, the entire Law and Order franchise is “ripped from the headlines.” I love it when current events are fictionalized with a spin. It’s a good way to understand various perspectives on what’s happening.
I love to read the newspapers to get ideas for plots! Truth is often stranger than fiction and one of my favourite things to do is to scan the ‘for sale’ ads, and then try to work out exactly why the owner wants to part with the item they’re selling. Even the obituaries can give great story ideas, if you don’t mind being a little morbid.
For me some of the best idea generators are the little 2″ filler pieces on the interior pages of the paper — the three paragraph articles about odd, amazing and or bizarre goings-on around the state. They give just enough detail to kick my imagination into high gear, but not so much as to bog me down.
I get my characters from combining people I know in interesting combinations.
I get my plots from combining newspaper articles.
That’s awesome, Meredith. I get my characters the same way — taking traits from different people and combining them in interesting ways. I think those bizarre and amazing stories in the news provide some of the most compelling ideas for fiction.
After my last road trip, I really learned to appreciate history and settings. I’ve started to research my own neighborhood … I didn’t realize how much past, I never really knew, and how much it shaped the present that I know now.
I remember in grammar school we had a section on local history, which was pretty interesting. History, like the news, provides lots of fodder for creative writing ideas.
I love reading the obituaries for ideas for characters. They are full of fascinating tidbits and things I would never think of on my own!
I bet obits are great for getting character ideas! Good thinking, Charlotte!
I forget exactly where I picked up the idea for my novel, Sleeping Dogs, that’s being published in February. But it was a remarkable story about nuclear weapons lost during the Cold War around the U.S. I started doing research on the idea and was startled to find how much information there was. Gradually I was able to work characters and a plot in (thanks to the help of my mentor, John Grisham) and write a novel. Good ideas can come from anywhere, just have to keep your antennae tuned to them.
Thanks for sharing your real-life experience with pulling writing ideas from the news, Tony. I love learning about where authors find their inspiration.
Great ideas! I harvest blackout poems, also known as erasure or found poems, from the news. I try to turn the negative into the positive/uplifting with them.
I haven’t done much with blackout poems yet, but that’s definitely on my to-do list.
People, places, plotlines–yes, one more venue for writers! I have more often mined the news for political posts but overlooked it for what you have highlighted. But then, it’s not a lot different than just picking up on what one sees when out and about. The only thing is, for the last two years we’ve not frequented so many sites in person nor traveled much. Thanks!
Thanks for sharing your experiences, John. It’s always interesting to find out what other writers are doing and how they are getting new ideas for writing projects.