My sister sent me a story describing ghostly goings-on down the hill from her house and followed that up with a story that includes a video of ghost hunters investigating the “devil’s footprint” found at the same site. Although I’ve made some good fun of the video (e.g. the “shocking” failure of the camera batteries, likely due to purchase at the local discounter, Marden’s; the placement of the “footprint”, which suggested a very short person practicing their kickboxing moves), this does make an excellent setting for a story. It need not be the obvious ghost story (or reboot of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the opening segment of which it brings to mind), as the old meeting house turned church looks ripe for stories about a struggling rural town facing a fateful vote or the rummage sale where they accidentally sold the priceless (object of your choice) for 75 cents on the bargain table. I can just smell the strawberry rhubarb pie on the pastry table.
P.S. My sister strenuously objected to the use “middle of nowhere” throughout the video. Considering that this road connects to a busy artery running into the state capital and this is Maine (where true “nowhere” can be found in places with names like “T2R10” that have few paved roads and more moose than people), I’d agree. Furthermore, you’d want to make sure your rummage sale was well connected enough to attract the fateful buyer. Town size perception distortion is a favorite topic of mine and very likely to be my next post.
PostScript: While perusing “devil’s footprint” stories (of which I knew there were many, especially in New England) I found a longer and more coherent piece about my sister’s weird backyard.
I’ve written often in this blog about how the local newspaper can serve as a source for a story idea and have given some examples as well. Recently, my local paper mentioned an enterprising Maine writer, Horace Landry, who went beyond scribbling about what he read and took a crack at solving a real-life cold case. The paper also published a column about how Maine author, Paul Doiron, has stuck to using real-life to generate ideas for his writing and details the ways in which he has used them.
For example, many readers will be familiar with the story of the “North Pond Hermit.” This initially sounded like a great idea to me too but then I noticed how quickly local songwriters and pastry chefs jumped on the idea and began to wring it out. Furthermore, my husband, who has always had a deep love of the woods and strong desire to get away from the demands of modern society (I fear that includes laundry and dishes), rather did the story to death in my house. He did, of course, take note of the less glamorous features of the hermit’s life (such as the fact that he made his lifestyle possible by stealing from summer residents of the lake). Nevertheless, he still ruminates on the attraction of being a hermit to the point that I’d rather not write about it myself. Never fear, however, because Paul Doiron has molded the story into his own and you can read it on his author site.
The column about Doiron raises the delicate question of respecting the families and victims of persons whose lives become the subjects of fiction. This is an important consideration when culling stories from the press. Doiron speaks of using the press as a “jumping off point,” rather than a blueprint, and taking the story in different directions in order to blunt some of the trauma it could inflict. His version of the hermit, for example, is more thoughtful about items he takes. We owe it as writers to the people who give us our stories to be compassionate.
The good people at Cracked magazine have taken the guesswork out of your next attempt at an award-winning script. For starters, they offer their generic trailer for the stereotypical Oscar-bait film. For advice on naming characters, there is also their primer on four character naming conventions. For a somewhat more reverent take on character naming, Write Practice has 8 truly helpful tips. Between these two items (generic plot and character naming suggestions), you should be walking the red carpet next year with a hot date.