On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where you find fresh story ideas?

I am often asked by students how to find fresh story ideas. The answer, of course, is this: everywhere. Newspaper or magazine articles, friends, other people's blogs, just look around you.

Ah, but where do you find fresh ideas? That, my friend, takes a little more effort. Sometimes it simply means looking beyond the obvious.

Take, for example, a story I heard on the news this morning. A soldier who had been on his second tour in Iraq comes home dressed as Santa Claus to surprise his family. Perfect premise for a story, right? But everyone does that--unfortunately, there's plenty of fodder for that one! (Insert political statement here.) But there is another, even sadder angle. As the soldier, who had been away since May, hugged his happy wife and daughter, both of them crying and laughing at once, tears welled up in my eyes. Then I heard a small voice, ignored by the hordes of press snapping pictures: "Who is that?"

It was the voice of the soldier's four-year-old son, who did not recognize his father. I felt my blood turn to ice.

And there's your angle.

How many children are growing up with a parent overseas in the military? How do they watch the news? Or discuss the war in school? What does that fear do that will affect the child's future? Take the story as a whole and you have a thoughtful article. Look at it from one perspective and you have a short story or even a novel.

As a writer, you must look at the details. Probe the outer edges of a story, a relationship, a mind. There are only so many "plots" in the world, but there are billions of people, and each one has a unique perspective. Find it and tell it, and you can't help but connect with your reader.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Talk About Fallen Angels!

In the course of my research for an article, I examined a Web site for the company I was featuring. Imagine my surprise when I found grammar and punctuation errors on the site! This was a professional site for a major corporation, yet there was the glaring misuse of apostrophes, a sin intensified by erroneous agreement and even a typo!

How does such a discovery affect me as a consumer?

I guess there is a negative impact. Whether I am surfing for a summer camp for my kids or looking for someone to remodel my home, I would be less inclined to delve further or put money into a company that didn’t care enough to proofread its site content. It makes me somewhat sad to think that the desire for perfection in writing isn’t strong. While I always stressed to my students that “good enough isn’t,” too often--it is.

However, on the positive side (and I do tend to mine for silver), I felt somewhat elevated by this discovery. Hey, I could write for a major audience, and with greater accuracy! It sort of made me feel a little less lowly as a writer, knowing that others, higher up, make mistakes as well. It sort of leveled the playing field and renewed my desire to keep plugging away, not just to write, but to write well.

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