More on the subject of: How do writers get their ideas? The answer is, we look around. To illustrate that ideas are as close as the morning newspaper, I’ve randomly selected the March 25, 2013 edition of the Washington Post. Let’s look for ideas in each of the sections of the newspaper:


1. National News Section

On page A-6, there’s a story about a former White Supremacist out on parole killing the Colorado prison warden as retribution for breaking up a White Supremacist prison gang.

This story could write itself. You need a protagonist—maybe the police detective or the warden’s son who’s a former Navy Seal. We’ll call him John. In investigating the shooting, John discovers the White Supremacist network has tentacles into all major prisons in the country. John discovers a plot to assassinate former prison wardens who segregated White Supremacists during their tenure. It turns out, the governor of (pick a state. Lets say Virginia) is a former prison warden, and he happens to be running for his party’s nomination for the Presidency. The plot is being orchestrated by a mysterious leader on the outside. John needs to identify the leader. There’s a ticking clock. (There always needs to be a ticking clock.) John has to go undercover into a prison to find out the details of the plot before it’s too late. Oh, and to make it interesting, let’s make John an African-American.

2.  Metro Section

On page B-4, a tragic story appears telling of a marine tactics instructor who shot and killed two Lance Corporals, a young man and young woman, at the Quantico Virginia officer candidate school before taking his own life.

Again, the possibilities for a story are near endless. We could go the love triangle route. Or the love triangle could be camouflage for something much more sinister. Maybe the instructor had been a test subject for a new, secret drug meant to enhance the stamina and ferocity of our fighting men and women. Except something went wrong and the side effects caused by a combination of the drug with a common substance (e.g. alcohol, shaving cream, coffee) turns the man into a crazed killer. The military brass who were in charge of the secret program are covering their butts. In the meantime, select military personnel all over the world are going tilt, killing randomly. Our hero, John, must uncover the secret, figure out the common catalyst and track down the 3 star general who is behind the whole thing. Oh, and maybe the bad guys inject john with the drug, so he has to fear that any common food or substance with which he comes in contact could turn him into a killer, too.

3. Style Section

Page C-1 contains a feature article on Dr. Ben Carson, famed Hopkins neurosurgeon and new darling of the political right.

What a great character. A poor black kid from the slums of Detroit rises to become a world renown healer of our sickest children. Let’s say our story begins with an automobile accident where our Dr. Ben is killed. The nation and the world mourn. But our hero, John, inadvertently discovers the crash may not have been an accident. Who could’ve wanted Dr. Ben dead? Liberal extremists? A deranged parent of a child who, despite Dr. Ben’s best efforts, dies on the operating table? A jilted secret lover? A small African totem found in Dr. Ben’s pocket leads John to Nairobi, Kenya where Dr. Ben had established a children’s clinic. There he must face the wrath of a 21st Century witch doctor who captures John and transports him to a desolate part of the country where he’s subjected to the shaman’s diabolical whims.


4. Sports Section 

Page D-1 contains a story about former Baltimore Raven linebacker, O.J. Brigance who is suffering from ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS is a horrible disease. I’ve had a friend suffer through it and die young, unable to breathe. So how to cultivate a story from this disease? The key to ALS is the victim’s mind remains sharp; it’s the body that fails around him. In the later stages (as is the case with Brigance), communication is through a computer reading eyeball movements. So what if our ALS character, Mary, knows a horrible secret? She’s a former secretary to the CIA Director. The Director is a right-wing zealot who finds the President weak and indecisive. He devises a strategy to create an ersatz conflict with North Korea. The President hesitates to engage. The Director goes public with his saber-rattling. The President fires him, as he planned. Our hero, John, learns of the plot to have a CIA mole cause the Koreans to fire a nuclear missile at California. The Director is willing to sacrifice a million or so Americans to motivate an enraged public to oust the President and elect him. John needs the location of a secret memo outlining the Director’s plan. Mary knows where it is, but she can’t speak and she’s past the stage where she can even use the eye computer to communicate. And the clock’s ticking.


These were just first ideas from a single random newspaper. Life is planted thick with story ideas and the daily newspaper is an easy way to find them.

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