I’m often asked where I get my story ideas. They come from everywhere, especially the headlines. Along with the current news, advice columns are a goldmine of ideas. So are obits. I have an “idea file” stuffed with newspaper clippings with intriguing headlines. I don’t even need to know the whole story---headlines by themselves are great writing prompts.
Consider these headlines from the Ask Amy advice column:
Boyfriend’s Social Scrutiny is Troubling
A woman’s insecure boyfriend was sure she was having an “emotional” affair with a male friend, who happened to be gay. The boyfriend created secret social-media accounts to monitor the woman’s daily activity. He also monitored the friend’s activity. In addition, he even felt threatened by his girlfriend’s female friends.
The woman concludes with “He’s wonderful in so many ways.” Hmm.
Oh my, does this give me ideas. Who will be the victim(s) here?
Neighbors’ Partying Creates a Disturbance
A couple moves to a beautiful new house in the winter months. Come summer, the neighbors are having raucous parties until the wee hours. What should the couple do? They don’t want to alienate their new neighbors.
In real life, tempting as it may be, this couple probably would balk at actual murdering the offending neighbors. But in murder mystery land it’s as good a motive as any. Enough sleepless nights will put anyone in a murdering mood.
Using Work to Avoid Life after an Act of Infidelity
A woman has an “emotional” affair. When her partner confronts her about it, she blames him, telling him he wasn’t around to talk to her. Then she gets a promotion and uses work responsibilities to avoid dealing with her partner.
Lots of story potential here, from varying perspectives: partner, employer, former (or current) lover, “emotional” or otherwise.
From the news
FBI: Cruise Ship Passenger Killed Wife Because “She Would Not Stop Laughing at Me”
In July of 2017, a Utah man was charged with killing his 39-year old wife aboard an Alaskan cruise ship. When asked by a witness why he had attacked his wife, he responded: “She wouldn’t stop laughing at me.”
I’m bursting with questions after reading this article. What kind of life did this couple lead at home in Utah? Did the wife often laugh at her husband? Their stunned neighbors described them as the “perfect” couple, celebrating an anniversary at sea. They gave no hints of the horror to come. Really?
The answers to my questions don’t really matter, because I can spin my own story around this tragedy.
People don’t like to be ridiculed and traveling can be fraught with tension. Laughter has been the motive for many a murder. In the story I’m currently writing, the victim was given to freely laughing and may, just may, have laughed at the wrong person.
Escaped prisoner who swapped places with twin is recaptured in Peru
A prisoner allegedly drugged his visiting twin brother and changed into his clothes before walking out of prison. After 13 months, he's been recaptured.
Obits: Mine someone’s life for ideas
Clancy Sigal, Novelist Whose Life Was a Tale in Itself, Dies at 90
Novelist Clancy Sigal died last July. He went to jail at age 5. His mother, a Socialist union organizer, had been arrested in Chattanooga, Tennessee for violating social and legal norms when she met with black and white female textile workers. Hauled away to the jailhouse, she took Clancy with her.
As an American Army sergeant in Germany, Clancy plotted to assassinate Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Later, he landed on Hollywood’s blacklist. During a 30-year self-imposed exile in Britain as an antiwar radical, Mr. Sigal was the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing’s lover and often flirted with suicide.
This man’s life could fill several books.
A few more headlines
Illinois Man Killed by Cyanide Poisoning after Striking It Rich in Lottery
A Woman Ponders Grounds for Divorce
Virginia Man Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy Case
As writers, we can come up with our own headlines, creating a stockpile of ideas for stories, podcasts, and blog posts. Writing coach Ann Kroeker challenges writers to compose 50 headlines in one week. For more information, see her post here.
Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.
Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.