Writing Excuses 4.11: Brainstorming From Headlines

Let’s mix things up a bit, shall we? Your Writing Excuses hosts are going to brainstorm for you, and we’re going into it completely cold. By “cold” we mean to say that we have no idea what fodder we’re getting before the cast starts.

Producer Jordo reads quirky news headlines. Brandon, Dan, and Howard take these headlines and brainstorm them into plot, setting, and/or character ideas. And yes, if you want to use one or more of these yourself, go right ahead.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Writing Prompt: Brainstorm your own from this headline: New Zealand Woman Sells Souls To The Highest Bidder… but don’t spoil the process by looking up the actual article.

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36 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 4.11: Brainstorming From Headlines”

  1. Hey! I had this crazy idea about doing a Blogfest based on the headlines! You stole…borrowed…had the same idea I did which is no way original or unique….ok, I suck.

    Carry on….


    Oh and Elantris rocked.

    Just so you know.


  2. Hey I’m number two… wow… anyway love listening to you three and enjoy all of your writing… waiting for Serial killer…. glad to be able to support you three…

  3. This was a fun episode, and one of the ways I also get story ideas.

    I like to take a simple headline and start asking what if… “Town Evacuated After Tractor Trailer Overturns.” First question could be what was on the truck that would make it necessary to evacuate the town? Was it carrying something dangerous like toxic chemicals or nuclear waste? Alternatively, maybe it had some military/government secret like the remains of a crashed UFO. There would be thousands of ways you could build a cool story with something like this. Keep your eyes open when you watch the news and always search for story ideas, you never know what you might come up with.

    Thanks for mentioning Jim Butcher; he is my number one author. Harry Dresden rocks!

  4. The dog/diamond story is a Hollywood story, just watch Snatch. :)

    Thanks for the cast. This exactly the stage I’m working on with my second novel. I’ve been using headlines to try to develop a better conflict and a plot for my second attempt.

    It seems that each step I take to teach myself to write well, I encounter new barriers. Listening to this podcast is very helpful in dealing with each new problem as they come up.

  5. Okay this cast was by far the coolest and funnest yet. I could have easily listened to another 15 minuets!

    I get dibs on the story about the paintings. (I can add it to my million of other story projects) Coming up with stuff is pretty easy. Coming up with something GOOD is harder. And finding the whole conflict and ending always gives me trouble.

  6. Alas, I have already heard of the story of the New Zealand woman who sells souls, and already know what it’s all about. Coincidentally, I had already come up with a story that was along similar lines, and I had come up with it over a year ago!

    But I’ve never used headlines to plan books before. Of course, there are ideas everywhere. What people are wearing, dreams and nightmares you’ve had recently, experiments with genre mixing–they’re all good. Almost anything can become an idea factory if you think about it creatively.

  7. Somehow I never thought of using modern news headlines as a way to come up with concepts for stories/to add to stories, maybe because my primary interest is epic fantasy and similar, so I just assumed they wouldn’t sync up well.

    Instead all my ideas seem to come from totally unrelated conversations (like the current one I’m working on, that started with a discussion about Tarot in someone’s LJ…)

  8. I’m reading a book with a bunch of Issac Asimov short articles, and one of which he talks about the words he’s credited with inventing (Robotic, Positronic and Psycohistory). The reason I bring this up is because Dan might just go down in History as the man who invented the word ‘Paintmancer’.

    I enjoyed this one partly because it shows that I’m not the only one who’s mind can go off in crazy directions from tiny little tidbits, and creates an entire universes around them.

  9. I loved the writing prompt in this one. I did not cheat, but I did have fun writing it. I wrote it as a newspaper article.

    Awesome podcast. Sounds like something I need to do with my writing friends sometime. If I had any writing friends near me that is.

  10. Absolutely hilarious! I love it when you guys riff together. I think I would pay money to watch you all do gaming.

    If you use any of these story ideas, please let us know. Same thing if Jim Butcher has Harry Dresden battle the Mona Lisa. :-)

  11. The conversation about the snake in the painting made me think of that movie about the witches that steal children and turn them into mice.

    Oh yeah, and I finished the Mistborn series and I really enjoyed it. Now I can honestly say that Brandon’s writing advice is probably sound. :)

  12. Great episode!

    I like the paintings idea and the undead elephants. Makes me think about some Alternate History / Fantasy… Maybe Hannibal Barca crosses the Alps with undead war elephants and uses them in his battle against Rome ^^

  13. I get dibs on the story about the paintings. (I can add it to my million of other story projects) Coming up with stuff is pretty easy. Coming up with something GOOD is harder. And finding the whole conflict and ending always gives me trouble.

    The way I like to think of it, picking ideas is easy, complicating them the right amount is harder, and picking which possible complications are the best is harder still.

    That said, the figuring out is easy compared to the execution. :)

  14. Also, I should point out that a Paintmancer would be someone who tells the future using paint. Technically someone who channels magical forces through paintings would probably be a Painturgist. ;)

  15. Hey, that was great! Man, I’d read about the Paintomancer.

    Enjoying Mistborn, Mr. Sanderson.

  16. BTW, that old lady taking the French dance clubs by storm is (I kid you not) Mamy Rock!

    “But, fortunately, appearances can be deceptive, and this old lady has become an international DJ sensation, in demand in clubs throughout Europe, especially in France. Certainly, Laurent Garnier, Jeff Mills or Carl Cox must be shaking right now. These prestigious DJ’s have to compete now with a tough rival: Mamy Rock, Miss Flower’s alter-ego. With spiky silver hair and scarlet lipstick, gold bomber jacket, baggy tracksuit bottoms, bling jewellery, and trademark giant black sunglasses, Flowers plays down the new-found fame of her twilight years.”

    Link: http://www.parisapartments.me/mamy-rock-in-paris/

  17. So, a Paintmancer is like what’s that guy’s name off of Heroes. Isaac, was it? I can’t remember, I only watched the first season.

  18. @Matthew Watkins: I wouldn’t call him one, his power wasn’t to cause change with his paintings, it was simply how he showed his visions of the future

  19. This episode of Writing Excuses is definitely one of the best I’ve heard. Very funny and informative as well. :) I think the next time I read my newspaper I’ll try the same method to throw out some ideas in my writing. I usually do this same kind of thing with songs/song lyrics and titles when I’m searching for prompts to write on.

  20. I’d like to suggest that “paintmancy” violates the phonotactic constraints of the suffix -mancy. There properly ought to be a vowel between the root and the suffix, generally /ou/.

    @Patrick: Technically, that’s exactly what paint(o)mancy is; divination is only foretelling.

  21. Okay, I have to try this.

    “Wily coyote evades NYC police capture for 2 days.”

    It’s a shapeshifter, maybe a Native American, who’s in New York to recover some important artifact that’s been stolen from his people. Somehow he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now the police are after him. He’s been hiding out somewhere, but they finally catch up with him . . .

    I’m going to go write now. Maybe I’ll work the woman in New Zealand selling souls into the story somehow.

  22. Well, first you have Sydney Zoo meet an elephant…. :-)

    And I guess the diamond issue is a good reason not to jilt the dog.

    Love the podcast. Wish I could write (anything but academic papers).

  23. I loved this one. I laughed a lot.

    For some reason, whenever I listen to one of these and then write something afterwords, it sounds like Brandon Sanderson is talking the words in my head.

    It makes homework more enjoyable.

  24. @Eileen: By a cop nicknamed Roadrunner? (haha, couldn’t resist)
    @Matthew: I think that’s it though. I read somewhere that coming up with idea is easy. They’re everywhere. Complicating them and making them unique, and strong enough to carry the whole story (and reader’s attention), now that’s difficult.

    I would love know how to do that.

    This episode went by so fast, I had to catch myself. Thanks.

  25. I thought up this writing prompt: make up wacky headlines that appear in an alternate reality newspaper and the main character (who is from our world) keeps getting sucked into the stories. Kinda like Early Edition with a massive twist.

  26. Howard, you want more zombie elephants? Plus how to hunt them with a harpoon gun. Monster Hunter Vendetta, coming September 2010 from Baen books. Woot! How’s that for spam? :)

  27. I kind of put the elephant one on file… just changed it to “Undead Baby Elephant Born Again in Sydney Zoo”. I wonder if it can be taught christian or kosher tricks?

  28. My first (bizarre) thought was that the snake appearing in the Elizabethan painting was Snake Pliskin, Kurt Russell’s character in the “Escape From…” movies. Which is an even weirder story than if it were a reptile, and one which I’m not even going to attempt to justify or write.

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