Wednesday, February 3, 2016

When the Idea Well is Dry...

By Morgan Tarpley
Extra Extra! Read all about it! Here’s a fact. There is never a shortage of story ideas - just the need for inspiration to think of them.
And I think one of the absolute best places to get a dry well of ideas flowing is through the news. I should know because not only am I a fiction writer - but I’m a journalist, so the news is my business so to speak.
I try to keep up with the comings and goings of U.S. and world news as best I can, scanning headlines and articles throughout my workday for inspiration to write my weekly column/editorial and for story fodder. There have been so many fascinating and horrifying stories I’ve discovered over the years that I wanted to save them to fuel possible fiction ideas.
I did so by creating a folder in my email account for these ideas and emailing the link to myself, then placing the email in a folder. I suppose I’ve been building an idea well in a way.
Yes, I’ve heard the arguments of everything we read or see in TV or in movies is just ripped from the news headlines. But honestly what isn’t? I mean there aren’t really truly original ideas anymore, but we as writers can put a spin on any idea and it’s original to us, with our unique style and voice. So why not get ideas from the news?
I’d like to share a few articles that have caught my eye lately. And who knows maybe it’ll get the writing ideas flowing!
This article raises the question: what is your nationality when you’re born in the sky? And it follows a young woman born in an airplane who set out to find others who were in her situation.
This article centers around the amazing and horrific story of a young woman who was raped at age 11, became pregnant and chose to keep the baby.
This article features contrasts of selfies taken by women in the U.S. vs. China and the differing standards of beauty in both countries.
And my personal favorite of the four is a heartbreaking read that would make for such a moving book/movie - ‘I Found My Dad…Too Late” from a 2007 issue of Cosmopolitan (and republished recently by Country Living Magazine online)
“I've always known I was adopted. My mom and dad explained that although my birth parents really loved me, they hadn't been ready to take care of a baby. I had a happy, ‘normal’ childhood with a loving family, but a huge question mark remained.
“In Saint Paul, Minnesota, where I grew up, adoptees don't have access to their birth parents' names until they turn 19. So I spent my childhood wondering what they were like. The social services agency provided some info about them at the time of my adoption, so I knew general details, like their ages (19 and 21) and hair color (both brown). The older I got, the more anxious I was to know where my ancestors came from and where I got my looks. Because I was raised as an only child, I especially wanted to find out if I had siblings…
“In 2001, during my junior year of high school, the principal announced over the loudspeaker that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. Everyone was upset, but I felt a strange, overwhelming sadness deep in my gut that I couldn't explain. When I got home, I blurted out to my mom that I thought one of my birth parents had died. I'd never had such a strong intuition before. My mom reassured me that the odds of this being true were tiny. But that scary intuition still haunted me.
“In the weeks that followed, I was too spooked by my hunch to watch any coverage of 9/11, but it was impossible to escape. Tom Burnett, one of the men who helped thwart the hijackers' plans to crash United Flight 93 into the White House or Capitol, grew up nearby, so his photo and story were everywhere. I tried to tune it all out. I just went on with my life, hanging out with friends and writing for the school newspaper.
“When I turned 19 in January 2004, I requested a copy of my birth certificate. Six weeks later, my mom called to tell me it had arrived and confessed that she'd opened it. When I asked the names of my parents, she insisted we would discuss it when I came home that night for spring break. Her curt tone surprised me; she'd always been very supportive of my search. ‘Is it someone famous?’ I asked.
“‘Kind of,’ she replied. I also asked if one of my birth parents was dead, but she repeated that we would talk when I got home. I hung up and started sobbing. I suddenly knew that my dad was the Flight 93 hero from the news. I just kept thinking That Tom guy is my father. My gut feeling on 9/11 had been right all along. When my parents showed me my birth certificate, they were shocked that I'd already figured it out. They tried to comfort me, but I was too upset. I'd waited so long to meet my birth dad, and now it was too late…”
[Note: It goes on to say that she ended up meeting Tom’s parents (her grandparents) but didn’t have a good reception with them though she did with his widow (her stepmother) and her half-sisters.]
Wow! What a story. It’s sad but it gets you right to the core – right where I hope a book will.
So have you seen any news stories that have gotten that idea train moving? What are they? Have you drawn a specific writing idea from a news article, etc. before? I’d love to hear about it! Thanks! And have a great day!

Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a contemporary-historical (dual time) novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, genealogy, photography, and singing. She resides in Louisiana with her husband.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog ( You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Goodreads.


  1. Morgan, I agree with you wholeheartedly and it's one of the reasons I scan the newspapers each day & subscribe to a number of magazines. TIME, in particular, is chock full of interesting tidbits. I'm drawn to the influence of Israel and the various global power plays by US, Russia & China. TIME regularly features articles on these players.

    Fascinating post, Morgan. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Thanks, Ian! :) And yes TIME has some interesting tidbits for sure!

  2. You've written a great post. Newspaper and magazine stories can get our mental juices flowing. Since I mostly write historical fiction, I get more inspiration from people's personalities. When King Solomon said, "there's nothing new under the sun", he was talking about people and their motives, not technology.

    1. Thanks, Karen! :) King Solomon was right to say that. It's so true.

  3. A great post! I shared with ACFW's Beyond the Borders. :)

  4. What an interesting article, Morgan. My problem, though, is not a dry well, rather lack of time to follow the ideas I have. My ideas, though, do come from research--I always find that researching one story leads to several more I want to write.

  5. I agree with Donna--the problem is time to follow up on all the ideas. I also agree with you that things that really happened will always be a source of fiction ideas. That's what makes them realistic and believable.