Quick Links

Newspaper Editors

Developing the Idea


Stories begin with an idea. That raises the question of where ideas come from.

They can come from someone else, of course, but writers who develop their own ideas tend to execute them better.


They are more enthusiastic, more inquisitive and have more of a sense of ownership (it should be quickly stated, however, that the fleshing out of an initial idea can best be achieved in collaboration with others: Two minds are better than one).


You arrive at a good idea by answering the following questions:

  • What interests you? What creates emotion: makes you mad; makes you happy/sad; makes you inquisitive??

  • Who interests you?

  • What do you want to look into more or learn about?

  • How good is the idea: Will it contain information? Will the information be significant enough to be of interest to others?

  • If you sit down and try to answer questions like the above, you probably will come up with some possibilities for stories to write. But generally ideas are generated more spontaneously. A brainstorm. You see, hear or read something that triggers another idea. A conversation gives you an idea.

  • The problem is that ideas tend to go in one ear and out the other. Ever wake up in the middle of the night with a great solution to a problem and then wake up the next morning and forget what it was?

  • Ideas, for many of us, are like jokes: We tend to forget them.

  • Most writers carry a little notebook or keep a journal. It is a way of capturing the germ of an idea that can be built on.

  • Don Murray, the author and writing guru, never goes anywhere without his daily journal, an 8x11 spiral notebook in which at various times during the day he jots down thoughts or descriptions of what he literally sees or things he sees in his mind's eye. Here's how he describes the evolution of an idea:

  • "My columns usually begin with the ordinary. My eye catches a glint from an insignificant element in my life or the lives of those around me, and I see it suddenly with humor, anger, sadness, amusement, nostalgia, concern--emotion gives it significance."

  • Here's another little exercise that might be worth trying: Write down three ideas you think may be interesting for your publication...for your eyes only.

  • Take your best idea. Write an answer in a word or two or three to the basic questions each story should contain, if there is an answer: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

  • Talk over the idea with someone else before you start working on it.


What are the criteria for a newsy idea?

  1. Does it have timeliness?
  2. Is it of importance (affects many)?
  3. Will it be of general interest to the reader?
  4. Is it relevant?
  5. Does it involve the public's right to know?
  6. Does involve the public's need to know?
  7. Will it inform/educate/guide/entertain readers?


Few of us our Einsteins, but that doesn't mean we don't have good ideas. The test is whether we are conveying information that is relevant to the reader. Take it from Susan Trausch, who has been a humor columnist, business writer, Washington correspondent and editorial writer at the Boston Globe:


"Ideas come from just living and doing the daily battle--standing in line at the bank and always being in the wrong one; spending a day trying to get the funny noise out of the car and discovering it's a tube of lipstick under the seat; living in an apartment with cardboard walls; having your credit card rejected in front of your fellow man. I write about the little annoyances that are big pains, and those are everywhere."