Saturday, May 12, 2012
A Spark to Ignite Ideas
John R. Lindermuth, Guest Blogger
I spent most of my working life on small-town newspapers, covering most every reporting beat and in several editing slots. A portion of that time was on the crime beat, which ultimately led to an interest in writing mysteries.
It wasn’t until the 20th century with the advent of radio, television and the Internet that newspaper circulation began to decline and the daily paper became a less important source of information for the public. I would argue though, the newspaper remains a prime source of ideas for the writer.
Once at a seminar for reporters we were asked to define news. Initially many of the participants suggested news was comprised of major events in a given time period. The consensus, after further discussion, boiled down to the fact news is anything which interests people. Look at your daily newspaper and you’ll see that is true.
Newspapers cover a broad range of activities of interest to a variety of readers. Newspapers reflect society. They reveal the daily concerns—local, national and international—of the people, their diversions, social attitudes and prejudices. That encompasses a mother lode of emotions. And emotion is the springboard for prompting story ideas.
Sure, you might get a hint of some of these same ideas from TV. But I contend it’s like the difference between an appetizer and a meal, a headline and a story. Only a newspaper account can provide the detail, the framework for building a realistic plot.
Since retiring in 2000 I have been librarian of our county historical society where I assist people with genealogy and historical research.
I like the solving of puzzles, the detective work necessary to tracking down that elusive ancestor and discovering why he did this instead of that. It can become an absorbing addiction. I also continue to write a weekly historical column for the paper. Both of these activities led to exploring old newspapers on microfilm. This experience has broadened my understanding of just how vital a tool newspapers can be for insight on what life is like for people in a given time and place.
Patricia Highsmith is said to have begun keeping her “cahiers (idea journals)” at the age of 15, jotting down germs of inspiration from her daily reading, which included the Herald Tribune newspaper. Mary Higgins Clark remarked in an interview, “I always use something in the news that is potentially a good story. If I see an interesting case I will just pull it out.” Simenon is reputed to have begun each day with a fixed routine which included coffee, cigarettes and several newspapers.
Look at any one newspaper and I’m willing to bet you can come up with a dozen or more story ideas in a single day. Even the most commonplace of crimes can be spun out of the ordinary by the imagination. We all need that spark—the thing some call inspiration—to ignite it.
J. R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaper editor who currently serves as librarian of his county historical society. He has published 10 novels, including four in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. A new Hetrick novel is scheduled for publication in August.