Need Ideas? Read A Newspaper

Newspapers are dying. The ones that still exist have shrunk to a size more akin to a tabloid publication than a daily newspaper.

Yet, I still subscribe to a couple of newspapers because they give something online periodicals don't.

Genesis of Ideas

Every writer has an Imagination File. Even though I keep ideas in a computer file, I also have a plain old shoebox where I drop things I've ripped from newspapers or magazines. I guess that is a habit I picked up from my mom and my grandfather. Both had the habit of clipping things out that interested them.

These clippings make me realize how much people miss by reading their news only online. I urge you to start reading your local paper. Pick up those counter-top newspapers and skim them too. You never know from where a great idea may come.

Why Read Locally

Online publications mainly cover broad topics of general interest to a worldwide audience. There's nothing wrong with this kind of coverage, but you won't find the kind of stories on Yahoo or MSN home pages that tickle your imagination.

When I read local papers, I'm always reminded of an old television police drama my dad liked called The Naked City. (Of course, in the South everyone called it Nekkid City.). The salacious, at that time, name isn't what I remember most. It was the voiceover that began every episode: "There are 8 million stories in the naked city."

That's what local periodicals give you: tons of stories that expose the foibles and people of your city and/or state. I went back through my inventory of articles and books I've written to prove my point and show from where my ideas came. Here are a few of the clippings from past years that inspired me.

Inspiration Struck

From the Franklin Sun, the small weekly paper from the parish where my mom lived: An old, apparently used at some point, coffin was found in an abandoned house that was being torn down.

From a Sugar Land paper: First African American principal, Billy J. Baines, now 77, was honored by the Fort Bend Independent School District by having a middle school named for him.

From Houston Chronicle: Robert Dale Howell put to death. He was the 18th inmate (when this article came out) to die at Huntsville. He was 50; no public campaign was ever waged on his behalf to save him. (It seems the "abolish death penalty" groups aren't impartial in their support. They seem to go for the high-profile cases, and this guy had no PR at all attached to him at trial or afterward. He had killed before and got away with it. Apparently, the only reason his defense could come up with for why he should escape the needle for having killed his crack dealers in a crack house was that "yes, he killed them, but he didn't rob them afterward.")

From Houston Chronicle: Work crew finds skull near terminal site. Anthropologist called in. (Interesting. This was in an area that is now Port of Houston property on a dead end road. There was a serial killer working the area just to the west and south of there. Several bodies were found in League City from the 1980s on. No one was ever arrested. I remember reading about all those unidentified bodies they found in the field near League City and wondering why no reference was ever made to a serial killer. Finally, about twenty years later, there was a big splash in the Houston Chronicle about serial killers working the Texas area, and it was mentioned. Several documentaries since then have also featured this.)

From Bingo Gossip -- oh, this one is good -- a counter-top newspaper picked up at a BBQ joint in Luling, TX. Paraphrased letter to the advice columnist Nosy:

Dear Nosy, My husband and I are newlyweds married 3 months ago when I found out I was pregnant. I met him after he'd broken up with his girlfriend who is also pregnant. She's getting ready to have her baby. He wants to borrow money from me to go spend 2 weeks with her. I understand he doesn't want to miss the birth of his child because he missed the first one when he was in jail. I love him but I feel uncertain about all this. What should I do?

Personal Ads

Then there are the personal ads in big city newspapers. Those are a goldmine for writers! I have a clipping from a newspaper that I actually found stuck in a used book I bought several years ago.

J.E.P. ALBUQUERQUE, CHA-CHA-CHA Lessons Needed. Hurry, he is dying. Call Julia @ (555)123-4567.

Oh, man! Doesn't your imagination just go wild with plot scenarios for that ad? Yes, the fake phone number was in the ad. I've finally sketched out a plot based on a personal ad.

Interestingly enough, the genesis of the idea for this blog post was the current audio book darling hubby and I are listening to: Personal by Lee Child, a Jack Reacher novel, which begins with Reacher reading a personal ad in a military newspaper.

Takeaway Truth

If you're short of ideas, just read a few newspapers -- especially the personal ads!

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