This is the eighth year in a row I've run this series in April. Last week I provided a daily explanation about why you should make it a habit to be generating story ideas. This week, I'll give you some tips on how to come up with stories.
Tip: Look at news sites.
I've been demonstrating that in this series, every idea from a news article. While you can surely keep an eye out when reading the NY Times or LA Times, you'd better believe there are plenty of writers already eyeballing those pages. So troll smaller newspapers. Offbeat news sites. Have you ever checked out Weekly World News? I used to subscribe to the print version way back when and actually wrote a spec based on one of their articles: "Couple Adopts the Child From Hell." Unfortunately the spec script "Problem Child" beat us by 2 weeks: same premise.
Today's story: Teenager Is on Track to Plant a Trillion Trees.
Children are not often invited to speak to the United Nations General Assembly. But there stood Felix Finkbeiner, German wunderkind in his Harry Potter spectacles, gray hoodie, and mop-top haircut — with a somber question about climate change.
"We children know adults know the challenges and they know the solutions," he said. "We don't know why there is so little action."
The children came up with three possible reasons to explain the lapse, he said. One is differing perspectives on the meaning of the word "future."
"For most adults, it's an academic question. For many of us children, it's a question of survival," he said. "Twenty-one hundred is still in our lifetime."
Another explanation is climate denial. The third possibility can be glimpsed in an animal parable about monkeys that made an especially sharp point in the way that only a child delivering the message can.
"If you let a monkey choose if he wants one banana now or six bananas later, the monkey will always chose the one banana now," he said. "From this, we children understood we cannot trust that adults alone will save our future. To do that, we have to take our future in our hands."
At the time of his speech, Finkbeiner was four years into leading a remarkable environmental cause that has since expanded into a global network of children activists working to slow the Earth's warming by reforesting the planet.
Today, Finkbeiner is 19 — and Plant-for-the-Planet, the environmental group he founded, together with the UN's Billion Tree campaign, has planted more than 14 billion trees in more than 130 nations. The group has also pushed the planting goal upward to one trillion trees — 150 for every person on the Earth.
The organization also prompted the first scientific, full-scale global tree count, which is now aiding NASA in an ongoing study of forests' abilities to store carbon dioxide and their potential to better protect the Earth. In many ways, Finkbeiner has done more than any other activist to recruit youth to the climate change movement. Plant-for-the-Planet now has an army of 55,000 "climate justice ambassadors," who have trained in one-day workshops to become climate activists in their home communities. Most of them are between the ages nine and 12.
"Felix is a combination of inspirational and articulate," says Thomas Crowther, an ecologist who conducted the tree count while working at Yale University in Connecticut. "A lot of people are good at one of those things. Felix is really good at both."
This is just a great story. Period. As a longtime supporter of the L.A-based outfit Tree People, I stand in awe of this young man's vision and passion. Certainly worthy of a documentary.
But is it a movie?
As I pondered that question, an image came to mind: A close up of a pair of woman's hands. Wearing work gloves. Patting down soft earth.
This is Camilla. She is perhaps 35, but with gray hair creeping across her temples and forehead.
She is just now finishing planting a tree. Working in a parkway carved into the center of a blighted urban environment. Cars whizz by on either side. A few curious glances at the woman.
She uses a watering can and pours the clear liquid onto the base of the sapling. Stepping back, she studies her handiwork. Emotionless.
After a few moments, she gathers her tools into a makeshift hand-drawn carrier unit, half-wheel barrow, half-cart.
As she darts across traffic toward the sidewalk, pushing the cart, we see a sign on its side. It reads:
What I gather from this moment spent with Camilla, she has had a tragedy in her life. And planting trees is somehow tethered to this past event.
Is Adam a son? Husband? Brother? Friend?
It appears to me it's someone who has died.
Why plant trees? I figure this is a commitment she has made "for Adam". What is the significance?
A title emerges in my mind: "The Tree Woman".
This is a story I can imagine someone telling. It's intimate. Personal. A character beginning in a state of Disunity and needing…
Redemption? Hope? Peace?
It's an interesting place to start.
There you go: My ninth story idea for the month. And it's yours. Free!
Now it's your turn. What would you do with this story setup?
Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day's story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.
See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.