Writing Ideas Straight from the Headlines

I’m pleased to host MAGGIE KING today. Whether you’re a reader, a writer, or both, you’ll enjoy this post . . .  and maybe never read the news the same way again!

Maggie is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

Writing Ideas Straight from the Headlines

I’m often asked where I get my ideas. They come from everywhere, especially the headlines. I don’t even need to know the whole story—headlines by themselves are great writing prompts.

My “idea file” is stuffed with newspaper clippings with intriguing headlines. Here’s a peek at a few of my favorites:

FBI: Cruise Ship Passenger Killed Wife Because “She Would Not Stop Laughing at Me”

In July, a Utah man was charged with killing his 39-year old wife aboard an Alaskan cruise ship. When asked by a witness why he had attacked his wife, he responded: “She wouldn’t stop laughing at me.”

I’m bursting with questions after reading this article. What kind of life did this couple lead at home in Utah? Did the wife often laugh at her husband?

Their stunned neighbors described them as the “perfect” couple, celebrating an anniversary at sea. They gave no hints of the horror to come. Really?

The answers to my questions don’t really matter, because I can spin my own story around this tragedy.

People don’t like to be ridiculed and traveling can be fraught with tension. Laughter has been the motive for many a murder. In the story I’m currently writing, the victim was given to freely laughing and may, just may, have laughed at the wrong person.

Consider this headline from the Ask Amy advice column (advice columns are a goldmine of ideas):

Neighbors’ Partying Creates a Disturbance

A couple moves to a beautiful new house in the winter months. Come summer, the neighbors are having raucous parties until the wee hours. What should the couple do? They don’t want to alienate their new neighbors.

In real life, this couple probably would balk at actual murdering the offending neighbors. But in murder mystery land it’s as good a motive as any. Enough sleepless nights will put anyone in a murdering mood.

Also from Ask Amy:

Boyfriend’s Social Scrutiny is Troubling

A woman’s insecure boyfriend was sure she was having an “emotional” affair with a male friend, who happened to be gay. The boyfriend created secret social-media accounts to monitor the woman’s daily activity. He also monitored the friend’s activity. In addition, he even felt threatened by his girlfriend’s female friends.

The woman concludes with “He’s wonderful in so many ways.” Hmm.

Oh my, does this give me ideas. Who will be the victim(s) here?

Clancy Sigal, Novelist Whose Life Was a Tale in Itself, Dies at 90

Novelist Clancy Sigal died last month. He went to jail at age 5. His mother, a Socialist union organizer, had been arrested in Chattanooga, Tennessee for violating social and legal norms when she met with black and white female textile workers. Hauled away to the jailhouse, she took Clancy with her.

As an American Army sergeant in Germany, Clancy plotted to assassinate Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Later, he landed on Hollywood’s blacklist. During a 30-year self-imposed exile in Britain as an antiwar radical, Mr. Sigal was the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing’s lover and often flirted with suicide.

This man’s life could fill several books.

A few more headlines:

Illinois Man Killed by Cyanide Poisoning after Striking It Rich in Lottery

A Woman Ponders Grounds for Divorce

Using Work to Avoid Life after an Act of Infidelity

Virginia Man Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy Case


As writers, we can come up with our own headlines, creating a stockpile of ideas. Writing coach Ann Kroeker challenges writers to compose 50 headlines in one week. For more information, see her post at http://annkroeker.com/2016/05/15/50-stop-waiting-last-minute-writing-inspiration.


Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: maggie8208

Buy link for Murder at the Moonshine Inn: http://amzn.to/2dtozWa


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10 Responses to “Writing Ideas Straight from the Headlines”

  1. Linda Thorne says:

    Great idea, especially if you are putting out a lot of books and stories (like you are). I’ve got more ideas than I can put into writing projects right now, but when I’m looking again, headlines would be a good place. I remember Marilyn Meredith saying she got her idea for one of her books when she read a newspaper article about a car found in a driveway with the motor running and the driver missing.

  2. Maggie King says:

    Joanne, thanks for commenting. Our well of ideas will never dry up!

  3. Good post! Loved the headlines. I’ve heard this before, but forgotten. I’m often at a loss for short story ideas. Now, here I go to find some great headlines.

  4. Hi Maggie,
    Great post! I’m bookmarking it for future reference. I especially like the first headline about the cruise passenger. So many possibilities there!

  5. Maggie King says:

    Thanks for your comments. Headlines, contemporary and historical, are a goldmine of ideas—and writing exercises.

  6. L. D. Knight says:

    Great post re ideas for writing. They are all around us! Thanks.

  7. Amy M. Reade says:

    Maggie, I love your idea of brainstorming ideas from advice columns! I hadn’t thought of that one. There’s so much fertile ground there…

    Great post!

  8. Camille says:

    It occurs to me that this is a great writing exercise for a class, also. I’m going to use this idea in my next one – hand out a page from a paper to each student and have them construct a scene. I will give you full credit!

  9. Great post, Maggie. And, if you run out of contemporary headlines, I find equally as many ideas reading newspapers from the past. The lives of our ancestors provide a bountiful field of idea prompts.

  10. Maggie King says:

    Camille, Thanks for hosting me today. I look forward to meeting your readers.