Searching World News For New Story Ideas

searching newspapers for new story ideas

Studying current events beyond the borders of your own country can give you new story ideas and lift your writing in unexpected ways.

I’ve been working on a new creative project called Current Dissonance. It’s a newsletter on the Substack platform where I regularly post solo piano improvisations that I perform and record in reaction to news headlines from around the globe. As the world seems to find fresh ways to turn itself inside-out every day, it feels cathartic and peaceful to share these improvs; I hope the music can inspire similar feelings in those who listen.

In order to create Current Dissonance posts several times a week, I stay on top of news from around the world. As a result, and for the first time in my life, I find myself regularly scanning headlines from Australia, India, Japan, Pakistan, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, and beyond. Doing this has been a fascinating and inspiring experience — not just in terms of the music I create for Current Dissonance, but for my writing as well.

Although I’m just at the beginning of this project, I can already see how fiction writers of many different genres and styles could similarly benefit from reading global news updates — even if it’s only a two-minute headline scan once or twice a week.

Endless inspiration

The world is complex, beautiful, cruel, and often unfathomable. Mundane and extraordinary stories happen everywhere, all the time. And for fiction writers seeking creative fuel, those stories can provide endless inspiration.

Case in point — while scanning headlines for Current Dissonance, I recently discovered a news item about a tourist who faced deportation for dancing naked at a sacred site in a country far from here. At first, I thought the story was odd and funny, an example of people doing inexplicably strange things that they probably shouldn’t have done. But on closer read, there was more nuance. The man was performing a traditional Maori dance as a way to “just feel alive,” he was quoted as saying. He issued a sincere-sounding apology, both to the Maori people and his host country, for unintentionally disrespecting their cultures. He faced deportation all the same.

Free guide offer for Promote Then PublishThere’s a lot to unpack here, and with judgments suspended in all directions, the story presents a tremendous amount of material one could begin writing about. If I were to craft a short story either closely or loosely inspired by this event, how would I flesh out the dancer’s character and motivation? What in the minutes, weeks, and years prior to the incident led him to that pivotal moment, and what was going on in his head when it happened? How did his perspective change as a result of having performed the dance, and then being caught and punished for it?

A lesson in perspective

Looking past the story’s most obvious protagonist, what were the impacts of his actions beyond his deportation? Perhaps my short story could be written from the perspective of people of Maori heritage who saw a video of the dance and had their own nuanced reactions — or the authority figures tasked with evaluating the situation, ordering punishment, and executing the deportation.

I haven’t written this story yet, but I certainly plan to, and it’ll be fascinating to see where it goes.

In your own fiction writing, try scanning international headlines and see what images, fragments, figures, or full articles capture your interest and get you asking questions like the ones above. You never know what nugget of information will inspire your next great story.

A global perspective

The dance and deportation story is just one example of writing inspiration that can come from skimming global news headlines. I’ve also found fascinating articles about Mother’s Day (I had no idea which countries celebrated it and which didn’t), political responses to COVID-19 (uplifting, surprising, depressing, and/or infuriating, depending on the country and context), and nations taking on Bitcoin as legal tender (gutsy and either brilliant or foolish, depending on how you look at it).

Any one of these articles could launch myriad works of fiction, depending on the direction you want to take and what you as a writer bring to the subject matter.

As you read global headlines and look for ways to integrate their creative fuel into your writing practice, don’t forget that the benefits of maintaining an international perspective on current events can be far-ranging. Staying on top of what’s going on around the world can show you what humans everywhere have in common and what makes individual communities unique, how the same events can be interpreted fifty different ways in fifty different countries, and how others can have perspectives on key issues that you never could have imagined — perspectives that may be as vital and persuasive as your own.

Even if the connection is not direct, all of the above can make your fictional worlds more nuanced, your characters richer, and your stories more compelling. Good luck reading, exploring, and writing!

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