14 November 2008
I've hung around in a few writing forums over the last two years, and one of the things that newcomers often say is that they really want to write a book but they can't think of anything to write about. That seems the wrong way around to me. The best writing is driven by a story the author really wants to tell, rather than being a bunch of words looking for an idea.
Still, everyone needs inspiration. My top tip is to read the 'And finally...' stories in newspapers. The stuff that actually happens in real life is far stranger than what you could possibly dream up, and just gathering ideas from these short reports is bound to make something spark. One of my favourite cuttings from the last two years was about a Chinese man who hired a woman to pretend to be his girlfriend so that his wife could beat her up, believing it really was the girlfriend. The cutting was only about 40 words, but there's three different characters hinted at there - such great potential for a piece of short fiction.
Here's another gem from today's news. According to the BBC, a German prisoner who was working in a stationery workshop mailed himself out of the prison. He climbed into a cardboard box, slapped a stamp on the top and then got freighted out. Once he was safely outside the jail, he cut his way out of the box and the lorry and ran away. If somebody had written that in a book, it would have seemed perhaps a little far-fetched. It goes to show that truth really can be stranger than fiction.