Monday, July 30, 2007

Seven Ways to Generate Plot Ideas From Magazines

Here's a short article I wrote some time ago that might inspire some of you:

Seven Ways to Generate Plot Ideas From Magazines

So, you’re stuck for an idea to write a short story? There’s an easy way to come up with some great plot ideas by hopping across to your local newsagents, or leafing through an old magazine. Women’s magazines are the best for this, if you are targeting that type of a market. By looking through one of my old magazines that cost the princely sum of 68p (less than a dollar), I’ve come up with the following ideas:

1. Reader Real Life Stories

A double page feature entitled “My wife was 6 months pregnant with our twins when she left me for another man.” We often hear of married people running off with one another, but rarely when they are pregnant with their husband’s babies. Another real life story has the title: “Is this the worst slimming club in the world?” It goes on to explain that the members of the club have failed to lose weight and most of them have actually put it on. When it’s someone’s birthday they bring in pork pies, scones and cakes. No wonder they can’t lose weight! There could be a great humorous story there!

2. The Health Pages

Here we have a case history with the heading: “I’ve had 18 strokes and I’m only 24.” What must it feel like for someone to have a brain haemorrhage at such a young age? To end up in a coma for days and now to live their life in a wheel chair?

3. Horoscopes

It’s all in the stars. There are 12 plot ideas here from Aquarius to Capricorn! Chose your own birth sign reading and write it up as a plot idea. If you don’t like yours very much there are another 11 to choose from. For example Leo reads:

“Full of bright ideas, you’ll be dashing around, keen to make your mark. But the Full Moon at the lowest point of your chart hints that you need to draw back from too much work. Slow down and enjoy just ‘being’ for a couple of days. You’ll receive a surprise invitation.”

What plot idea could you generate from this horoscope reading? How about someone who works for an advertising agency who is a very creative person? She has been working hard on a particular project and is ‘burnt out’. She is ordered to take time off from work by her divorced boss, who pops around to see her with 2 tickets for a night at the theatre. Will there romance in the air?

4. Blurbs

These are great for inspiring ideas. A blurb is a couple of sentences that describe what a short story or article is about. For example I found these embedded within articles and features in the same magazine;

“It finally sank in - I’d been deserted.”

“After weeks of misery and indecision, the Peacocks are finally a happy family...”

“The words can also signal commitment and that can scare some men.”

“I fell in love with a cottage and three weeks later I’d moved in.”

“I nearly died laughing...”

“Hurting myself made me feel better, but who would understand why?”

There are six possible short stories from these blurbs, there were many more I could have chosen from the magazine.

5. Problem Pages

The problem pages from a magazine are great for plot ideas as they involve conflict. There are 5 readers problems on the page in front of me: a woman who doesn’t fancy her husband anymore; a woman who has 2 failed marriages and met a man who was 12 years younger; a mother who can’t stand her son’s girlfriend; a widow who is about to marry for the second time but has doubts; a woman who had a date with her postman but now he has cooled off. Any one of these problems would make a good story.

6. Short Story

We all know that we can’t plagarize another’s work, but how about reading a short story, then writing another from a different character’s viewpoint? Names and settings need to be changed, but with a little skill you could come up with an entirely different story. For example, a story where a mother in law is being difficult, seen through the eyes of her son’s wife, could be turned around so that it is viewed through the eyes of the mother in law.

7. Writing from photographs

They say that every picture tells a story. How about looking at the photographs in a magazine to see if you can come up with a plot. For example here are some photographs I see in the magazine in front of me:

A teacher leaning over a desk to talk to 2 boys in what looks like a science lesson.
A young girl sitting on the beach. A boy and girl sitting behind her are talking to one another.
A woman on a swing.
A man and a woman carrying a desk into a removal van.
A woman sitting in a field where 2 young boys are playing football.

So we could have at least 5 possible story ideas here:

A teacher who is thinking of giving up the profession maybe? A young girl who feels excluded, as her best friend now has a boyfriend? A woman sitting on a swing thinking back to her childhood? A couple who are having to leave their home? A single woman who has to look after her nephews for a week as their mother is in hospital?

The permutations are endless. You could switch points of view, come up with different ideas, and so on. So next time you are stuck for a story idea pop over to the newsagent or get out all your old magazines and get writing!

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