Saturday, May 14, 2011

Headlines, Toed-lines, and the Gut

Curious or just confused?
Each day, whether delivered on the ether, on television, or in the daily paper we are inundated with headlines of things that happened near and far. What we do with those headlines is an individual choice.
Most people discuss the story and its impact, or the story and its cause. Implications run the gamut of pros and cons. There are those who obsess on the story, especially if it involves a celebrity. Some dismiss the news almost as soon as it’s been heard.
On the sidelines sits the writer. Headlines represent a wealth of story ideas, research possibilities, and general interest. So many gems of plot potential exist in the average bold print of the front page, including those headlines that mislead the reader in some way. If you don’t believe me, watch Leno for his take on headlines. He tantalizes his audience once a week with bold-print words from local papers sent to him by viewers.
Okay, that takes care of headlines. How about those toed-lines? What’s a toed-line, you ask. It’s the line of distinction a person doesn’t cross for the sake of self-interest.
Remember those headlines mentioned about celebrities? Here’s an example of how someone couldn’t toe the line.
It was reported this morning on Yahoo! that CPS visited Mariah Carey when she and her husband brought her new twins home from the hospital. It had been reported to the agency that drugs and alcohol had been used in the hospital room after the birth of the twins. Is the allegation true? No. It’s believed that a chance remark made about beer and breast milk production by someone in the room had been overheard and misinterpreted by a passerby.
The headline, to be sure, impelled any reader interested in the entertainment industry to read further. Yes, readership of the magazine increased, but to what end? Money? Perhaps not. What did the good-Samaritan receive for making the accusation? Self-satisfaction, maybe?
The magazine checked the facts. The person who began the story by reporting a falsehood to CPS obviously didn’t check those facts before jumping to a misjudgment and creating the subsequent distress for new parents and their families. In the end it’s unimportant that this happened to celebrities.  
What’s important about this story is that it happened to any new parents. For the average new parent, it’s unlikely that a national magazine would investigate the truth of the allegation. Instead, lives would/could be permanently damaged, if not destroyed.
Us Magazine toed the line. The accuser didn’t. What about the writer who reads this story for an explanation of that headline?
This is where the gut comes in. Here’s a fantastic opportunity for an article, story, or book. There are slants, angles, and genres waiting to be utilized for such a juicy premise. Women’s fiction, horror, non-fiction expose, and YA fiction all vie for possible avenues of use.
The Gut tells the writer whether to use the story, how much of it to use, the angle, slant, etc. that will work the best for whatever purpose desired. That gut reaction depends on the writer's moral stance, experience, and preference. It also depends on timing. If the need for extensive research exists for a proposed use, the writer may choose a quicker use for the information.
I’m not interested in using this premise. It’s not my kind of story. There are many writers who would take it and run with it, though, and rightfully so. It has potential to become a winner.
This example helps define what I call Headlines, Toed-lines, and the Gut. More potential material exists in the daily headlines than any writer has a right to expect. Choosing to use them requires thought and discretion much of the time. Without fail, the Gut will tell the writer what to use and how to use it. All the writer needs is trust in her personal choices.
Tell me how you choose a storyline. Share how you decide when to use headlines in a project.
Until later,

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