So I received a text the other day from a friend. He says, "Oh my God, you have to write about this!" And he goes on to tell me about a story he'd just read in the StarTribune, our local newspaper, about nutjob who was going to mail one of his ex-girlfriends an intimate toy that was loaded with gunpowder, buckshot and BB's. Then he was going to blow it up at an "opportune" time. WHAT? No way! You've got to be kidding!!! In the newspaper? Really?????? I Googled it, and sure enough, my friend was not messing with my mind. This time.
Never in my wildest imaginings have I or any of the writers I know come up with something that horrifying, intriguing, or twisted. Which brings me to the point of this post. I was at a gas station in my home town of Siren, WI tonight. The clerk saw the word "writer" on my t-shirt and engaged me in a short conversation. He's a newspaper journalist for the county paper, and would like to delve into novel writing one day. He asked me where I get my plot ideas from...and isn't that just the question?
That interaction made me remember that I'd attended a great session at Bouchercon this past October on just that subject. There was a lineup of I think five authors, and the moderator had passed out a different section of the newspaper to a number of the attendees. One person got the sports page, one the business section, another the front page, and so on.
The object was for the audience member to read the first paragraph of any story of their choosing, and the authors had to brainstorm a plot out of that paragraph. And I'll be darned if they didn't manage to do it for each section, even sports and business. It sure made me look at the newspaper in quite a different light. I'd always kept an eye out for unusual stories, but to take ANY one of the pieces on the page and twist it into a murder mystery was something I hadn't considered.
So the next time you sit down with your morning coffee and your favorite paper, pick out a story, read that first paragraph, and see what you can come up with. Even ask your wife or husband or partner to brainstorm with you if they're around. I guarantee you'll come up with something. If it's useable or not, who knows, but what a simple exercise to get that writer's brain all juiced up. Since reality is so often loonier than fiction, run with the truth once in awhile. Who knows where you'll end up, and it'll probably be a hell of a ride!