Reading The Newspaper Can Spark Ideas For Your Novel

I started reading the Wall Street Journal when I opened my own law practice because I wanted to better understand my business clients. But I discovered it helped my fiction writing too. Its articles sparked ideas for plot twists and character backstory.

That’s why now that my work life focuses far more on writing than law I still read it every day — in print.

Why read the news rather than watch it and why read in print?

It’s old school, but there are good reasons.

Beyond The Headlines

Television news tends to focus on headlines. Particularly whichever ones will grab the most viewers and evoke the strongest emotions.

Strong emotions are good for fiction, but they need to arise from the characters and the plot.

Because I don’t write “Ripped From The Headlines” novels, emotions aroused by a sensational news story or outrage over one political figure or another don’t help me come up with good ideas for fiction.

The types of articles that make their way into my novels tend to be on page 3 or 12. Or maybe in a separate special section. They’re not the ones that shout at the readers on page 1 or the top of the news hour.

Today, for example, on page 2 I saw an article about how law enforcement used genealogy websites to track down a man suspected of being the long-sought-after Golden State Killer. The murders occurred over 3 decades ago.

While I’m not writing about that same type of crime, I am working on a murder mystery — The Charming Man (Book 2 my new Q.C. Davis mystery series).

Almost all the action occurs within a Chicago apartment complex, River City. The characters are isolated there during a blizzard.

Inside River City

In the first book, The Worried Man, protagonist Quille talked to a lot of suspects and witnesses in person as she investigated the death of the man she loved. She used her training as a lawyer and former actress to study body language. Because she’s trapped in River City in The Charming Man, though, she can only talk to so many people.

She needs other methods.

When I saw the article it occurred to me that one additional way Quille could research her suspects’ family connections and pasts was through genealogy websites.

Articles that helped me flesh out ideas for my first Q.C. Davis mystery included ones about medical fraud, political corruption in Cook County, and the effects of suicide on family members.

As another example, years ago I saw a Wall Street Journal article about scientists isolating a gene that could allow certain species to live 1,000 years.

The question of whether such a gene could be inserted into a human intrigued me.

At the time I was working on The Unbelievers, Book 1 in my Awakening supernatural thriller series. The article prompted me to include a prophecy about The One Who Will Live Forever.

In an early draft, that prophecy referred to a child my protagonist had conceived in a supernatural way. Genetic testing revealed that the child had that 1,000 year gene.

That gene didn’t make it into the final version of the book. It turned out to be a distraction — one too many threads for the reader to follow.

But the prophecy remained, although with a different meaning. Had I not read the article I probably wouldn’t have thought of it at all.

The Beauty Of Print

I like to read articles in an actual print newspaper rather than online. Reading that way helps me generate more ideas and be more creative.


  • Relaxation/Creativity

I associate reading online with analytic thinking. That’s because the bulk of the legal research I do is through online databases.

While research and analysis are necessary for plotting, when it comes to generating ideas, I need to relax and let thoughts come freely into my mind. That’s a different kind of thinking.

Reading in print helps me access that part of my brain.

  • Focus

Studies show that when we read online our minds tend to look for the next link to click. That makes it harder to concentrate on the words in front of us.

Reading on paper makes it easier for me to focus.

  • All The Pages

I like to page through the entire paper, glancing at all the headlines.

Often the articles that catch my eye are ones I’d never see if I were on a website. I rarely click beyond the first few webpages. The rare times I do, it’s to follow links in an article or to further read about a particular topic, not to eyeball what else might be on the site.

For that reason, it helps me to look at a print newspaper where I glance through all the pages at least once.

What about you? What’s your favorite way to generate ideas for your stories?

Until next Friday —

L.M. Lilly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *