Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What Are Your Headlines?

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Apparently Mark Zuckerberg became a father this weekend, for the second time. Yahoo deemed this newsworthy, and as I read this headline and a few others, something struck me that relates to storytelling.

Who cares?

I'm not suggesting nobody cares, what I'm asking is who is it that cares? Certainly it's a life-changing event for the parents of any new child, so they go at the top of the list. Next in line would be their families, then friends, then associates, and so on. At some point fans of the co-founder of Facebook presumably care, as do writers for Yahoo.

Meanwhile, North Korea was testing hydrogen bombs.

There you have one news story with limited impact on the average person's life, and another news story with considerably greater potential. Which of these stories, if you were to put them in your novel, would keep your reader up at night turning pages?

Fact is, either one is fair game, since a comedy-drama can easily exploit the challenges of something as normal as parenthood, while the threat of nuclear war is a spy thriller staple. Perhaps even better, combine them: if the undercover agent's wife or daughter has just given birth, does that not raise the stakes for the hero?

The point is, every life event, however big or small, can have a role in a story if it furthers the plot or adds a layer of interest. Like reporters always looking for a scoop, storytellers need look no further than the daily events around us to find plausible plot points and twists.

As you look back over your own life, there are certain episodes that stand out in your mind more than others. These headlines of your life are step one if you're writing a memoir, but any one of them makes you uniquely qualified to fictionalize it as an event in your novel. You had to live through it; why not capitalize on it?

It's good to think of the significant events in your novel as if they were headlines, and to make each one newsworthy. Some may be a personal crisis just for the hero while others may be the basis for widespread panic. Give your characters captivating headlines to live out, and your audience will stick around to read all about it.