News Clippings: Fodder for Story Ideas

August 27, 2009

Responding to a question from one of the blog readers, who wondered about the newspaper clippings he noticed on the story structuring board photo in this article: Yes, those clippings are related to the current story  development. Here’s a close-up of what he saw in that photo:news-clippings

The four or five news clips presently pushpinned along the fringe of the corkboard are…

Just the tip of the iceberg!

Over the past 15 years, I’ve developed a fairly substantial collection of news clippings, which I started on the advice of one of my USC screenwriting college professors, Paul Lucey, author of Story Sense.

The general idea is to capture and catalog things you read in the news that, for whatever reason, capture your creative fancy in case it might help when brainstorming story concepts or solutions to story problems. How so? For example, the clipping might:

  • Become the real-life event around which you create a fictional character affected by that event
  • Be so bizarre as to not be directly useful itself, and yet might inspire the “what if” creative juices
  • Be the actual basis for a story, especially if clipping is about a major event (a political scandal, a prison riot, a terrorist attack, etc.)
  • Help you enrich the dialogue based on a quote from the news article

About the clippings now on my corkboard:

These are articles I pulled from my files or from recent news stories that I thought might be useful to keep handy as I’m working on this in-progress screenplay. For example

  • One is a recent LA Times article about the role that Brazil had in supporting President Nixon’s interest in overthrowing the Chilean government’s leadership.
    Why I clipped it: Since one of our story threads involves the US government and its interests in preventing the use of the Caribbean as a transshipment station for South American drug smugglers, I saw some real-world similarities in this article that could help me construct a credible US involvement story thread.
  • Another clipping is from a circa 1990 Reader’s Digest article about Mary Thompson, a mother and a volunteer anti-gang activist in the community who, as the police eventually learned, was in reality the gang leader, neck-deep in gang activity herself, and ultimately convicted as an accomplice to murder — a hit that she had ordered.
    Why I clipped it: What impressed me about the article is how she had masked her evil activities from the community for years by coming across as simply a loving mom and community organizer. I’m not likely to model any character after her directly, but the article is more a reminder that I can avoid creating stereotypical criminals types by using the wilds of my imagination.
  • In another clipping on the board from last Sunday’s LA Times, I was only interested in a single sentence that caught my eye. The article was about a possible change in the election laws being considered by the Supreme Court right now that would remove corporate spending limits in campaign funding. A Washington lawyer who is opposed to change says that this could “… take us back to the era when people referred to the senator from Standard Oil,” implying that elected officials could become heavily swayed by a single corporation that is a particularly generous campaign sponsor.
    Why I clipped it: Since I’m creating a couple of politically corrupt parliamentarians for this story, and we may even have a parliamentary session scene or two, I love the idea of creating a line similar to this as a way to have one politician imply the dishonesty of another politician in the room without outwardly accusing him.

Getting’ digi- with it…

Of course these days, most of my news article “clippings” are digital — copied from an online article and pasted into a Microsoft OneNote notebook. The newspaper clipping file folders in my filing cabinet are still useful to me, but it’s tons easier to locate a collected article using a computer search.