The Lazy Writer's Research Tool
By Mary Cook
If you sit watching that little box long enough, something will strike sparks off your brain cells. Who said television was a time-waster?
Let news coverage be the springboard for features or opinion pieces. Sometimes local news programs throw out little gems that you can follow up on and offer to national newspapers.
Use this resource to find websites for US newspapers: http://www.50states.com/news/.
Real life events can also be used as outlines for short stories or even a novel. Just make sure they're not libelous!
Turn some of life's mysteries into fiction for Over My Dead Body at http://www.overmydeadbody.com/wguide20.htm.
These are a treasure chest of characters for your fiction writing. Observe the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of John and Jane Doe.
Try to build up a picture of game show contestants' lifestyles and write plots for them to act out.
Espresso Fiction aims to cater for all tastes and age groups with its short fiction: http://www.espressofiction.com/information_writers.php.
Did you guess the ending? If so, perhaps it wasn't written well enough. The best ones keep you guessing until the end.
Retell in your own way any plot that you think is well crafted. If you're unimpressed by a shaky plot, revamp it and make it your own. If a character travels to Nashville, send him to Osaka instead. If the main character is male, make him female. It's a painless way of carrying out a sex-change. They can't touch you for it!
Try Zoetrope: All-Story (http://www.all-story.com/submissions.cgi). This publication accepts both short stories and one-act dramas.
Perhaps you think you could write better television dramas yourself. If so, check out this website: http://www.tvwriter.com/.
Even if you're not interested in sports, listen to the commentators. Sports professionals, fans, and athletes speak their own language. With this in mind, try writing for a language publication such as Verbatim (http://www.verbatimmag.com/writers.html).
On the other hand, if you're a sports enthusiast, television coverage could provide much of the knowledge you need to write for some of these publications:
Her Sports: http://www.hersports.com/contribute.html
Running Times: http://www.runningtimes.com/contact/guidelines.htm
Try watching some old movies, particularly those in black and white. Learn about the period in which the film was made or set.
If you've done your research or if you're old enough to remember black and white first time around, try writing something for a nostalgia website such as Rewind the Fifties (http://www.loti.com/writers_wanted.htm).
Lifestyle programs and documentaries:
History, natural history, archaeology, cookery, and home improvement projects can all provide a springboard for wider research.
These are markets you could consider: Archaeology (http://www.archaeology.org/write/guidelines.html) and The American Gardener (http://www.ahs.org/publications/the_american_gardener/guidelines.htm).
Travelogues and holiday programs:
No, you can't do it all from your armchair, but you can get an idea of what a place is like and whether it's worth writing about. The little man in the box can also tell you what places to avoid, short-circuiting any horrors that might make your trip less than fruitful.
Try out your travel articles on some of these markets:
Travelers' Tales: http://www.travelerstales.com/guidelines/
Family Travel Fun: http://www.familytravelfun.com/writersguidelines.html
National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler/writer-guidelines.html
Open Spaces Magazine: http://www.open-spaces.com/submissions.php
Do they make you laugh? If not, put yourself in the picture. Now insert some one-liners of your own and seek out markets for short humor pieces.
Readers Digest (http://www.rd.com/submitjoke.do?trkid=laughlines_jan_06_arch)is one of the most lucrative markets for jokes.
Or perhaps you think the comedies would be funnier if the situations were different? So rewrite them as you'd like them to be.
If you can't live without your daily fix of "soaps," you're in line to make money.
Try honing your critical skills by writing articles about television and its resident celebrities for general interest publications such as Parade (http://www.parade.com/images/WritersGuidelines.pdf).
Then expand your horizons by offering to review dramatic productions, concerts or exhibitions for newspapers.
Now the adverts have come on. There's just time to go to the bathroom and make a few notes on what you've been watching. But don't stray too far from the set. Some of those adverts are intriguing snippets of drama-- and you might be able to adapt them for your own purposes. Flash fiction is good...
Check out Vestal Review (http://www.vestalreview.net/Issue29/guidelines.html).
Television: tool or time-waster? You choose!
Mary Cook is a UK-based freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has worked as an overseas correspondent for the Tokyo-based Hiragana Times, and as a spoof agony aunt for an adult newspaper. Her main writing interests are humor, horror, self-sufficient living, and the writing craft. Her e-books, Top Tips to Enjoy Your Retirement and Top Tips to Please Your Partner, are available at www.toptipsto.com.
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