The newspaper muse (writing exercise #8)

It’s been over six months since I did a writing exercise in here. I don’t know how that happened, but it’s changing pronto.

Don’t forget, you can comment with your own exercises and we can all workshop together!


For a long time, I have been concentrating on my food writing in this blog, and that won’t change – however, I am finally at a point in my life where I am ready to jump back into fiction writing. This is a three step process for me.

One, my novel needs to fly or die. I wrote it in three months and have been fooling around editing it for two years now. I’m having a good friend give it a read-through for me, I will make final edits, query publishers (I already have queried one), and then I’m moving on.

I do already have an idea for my next novel, but realistically that won’t get started until after I get married (August 2nd, only three months away!).

Two, I need to write short stories more often and  submit them to contests, preferably ones that offer a cash prize.

Three, I intend to go through all of the writing exercises. Picking up where we left off, here we go.

As a reminder, with these exercises, I do them free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness from the top of my head. I don’t over-think them. I write it, then post, and you can too.

Page 27 in the book.

“The exercise: Collect Ann Landers columns, gossip columns, and stories from Weekly World News or True Confessions that seem to you to form – either partially or wholly – the basis for a story. Often, these newspaper accounts will be the “end” of the story and you will have to fill in the events leading up to the more dramatic event that made the news that day. Or perhaps the story leads you to ask what is going to happen to that person now.

“Clip and save four or five items. Outline a story based on one of them, indicating where the story begins, who the main characters are, what the general tone (that is, the emotional timbre of the work) will be, and from whose point of view you elect to tell the story. These articles can be used for shorter, more focused exercises. For example, describe the car of the person in the article, or the contents of his wallet. Or have the person from the article write three letters.

“The objective: The objective is threefold. One is to look for an article that triggers your imagination and to understand how, when you dramatize the events, the story then becomes your story. The second is to increase the beginning writer’s awareness of the stories all around us. And third, to practice deciding how and where to enter a story and where to leave off.”

Their student example is too long to replicate here, but a writer used an article about a Japanese moving company that specialized in moving people at “odd times of the day” – this service was used by girlfriends leaving boyfriends and those escaping debt collectors. It’s undoubtedly a good one.

I’m choosing for my article “Beefcake Beatdown” from the National Enquirer.  

The short version is, a man decided to rob a group of male Las Vegas strippers of their stage costumes and props. The guy was caught, and the (very manly) strippers beat the crap out of him.

Here is my writing blurb inspired by the beefcakes:

I find out that my brother had been arrested for robbery from the five-o-clock news, of all things.

The television is on, as it usually is, in the living room. I am half listening from my station at the kitchen counter, chopping what will be dinner in an hour. The baby is napping. The husband is en route home. It’s business as usual.

“. . .thanks Bob. And in a bizarre robbery earlier today, a Mr. Edward Munch entered the Matchstick Men House, a male strip club, and proceeded to. . .”

At this point I drop my Ninja chopper on my big toe. Refusing to make noise that would wake up the baby I try to cover up my cry. It ends up coming out like the low throaty growl of a threatened dog. I take a second to get my bearings and race to the living room.

“. . .has been detained to Count County’s courthouse to await trial. Bob, what do you think would compel someone to steal costumes and props and what-have-you, from a male strip club? I mean, I’m just baffled.”

“I agree Jane. This will surely top the Weird News of the Day column on our website, Perhaps the man lost a bet, or maybe he couldn’t afford to get the outfit he wanted to surprise his girlfriend?” (Hearty chuckles follow from both news anchors.)

“Can you imagine what his family must be thinking right now?”

The house phone rings at the exact moment my cell phone indicates a text message. At the same time, gurgling noises begin floating up from the baby monitor on the kitchen counter. Ignoring the noisy gadget, I pick up my cell phone resting next to it.

It says, “Samantha don’t you dare bail our stupid stupid brother out.”

“Hello?” I say into the house phone I pick up with my free hand.

“Sam? It’s Eddie. I’m in big trouble.”

Bing. Another text message: “Sam, omigod ur brother is on the news!”

“Do you have $1,500 for my bail?”

Bing: “Sam, WTF.”

“Sam? Are you there?”

From the baby monitor: ear-piercing squeals like my son is being murdered.

“Sam? I promise I will pay you back next week. Two weeks.”

Bing: “Babe, did your husband find out about us? And send your brother to my work?”

“Okay, three weeks at the most.”

Bing: “He stole all our stuff. I beat the shit out of him.”

The front door opens and shuts. “Honey? Are you here? Don’t you hear Jackson wailing?” Footsteps go up the stairs.

“Sam, for Christ sake I only get one phone call, say something!”

Bing: “I might get arrested for assault. Can you bail me out?”


Comments? Did it go on for too long? I did switch from past tense to present tense – thoughts on that?

1 thought on “The newspaper muse (writing exercise #8)

  1. This is really good sjebuct matter. It sparks thought in the reader and it is written clearly so it’s easy to read and grasp. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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