Fifty years from this moment, the world that you live in and the events that transpire around you will be the stuff of history textbooks, biographies, and even fiction. Why wait fifty years to start reading up on it? You will have a lot of catching up to do, and by then the action will have passed you by.
Falling behind the times is especially detrimental to writers and artists, whose success or failure is inextricably entangled with the personalities, cultures, and events of the times in which they live and work.
Tell the story of a recent person or real world event based upon news reports. Don’t forget to pull in at least three outside sources, and remember to give background information on the people and politics surrounding the person or event you choose.
Any medium or style is welcome! However, for our prose writers, setting a goal between 400 and 1200 words would probably be about right.
In the last writing prompt from our section on Doing Research and Developing Credibility, we discussed four invaluable benefits of studying history, but are there similar advantages to keeping informed about current events? The answer for any aspiring artist or writer is an emphatic Yes!
The writer who keeps up with the latest news has big advantages to help them excel in their craft.
Reporting the news is all about storytelling, and every piece of news you read, watch, or listen to tells a tale. Every article and report you find is the like a snippet or chapter from a larger story that is happening all around you in real time—a big play in which you are both an actor and a member of the audience. The savvy writer can spot potential sources of inspiration in the telling and retelling of current events, because every retelling is a story.
Keeping up the news and the people in it gives you an opportunity to study human behavior. Believability is a big part of what keeps readers reading, and realistic characters who behave in real and believable ways help readers stay connected with the stories we write. The news is full of exciting characters, both good and evil, and you can watch their behavior, their choices, and their motivations play out in real time. The news can help us develop more than just believable characters, though.
A writer who is well versed in current events has the opportunity to learn about all kinds of cultures, peoples, and perspectives. It improves the writer’s ability to create realistic and captivating settings, from the mundane daily details of peoples ordinary lives to world-changing events, like wars and revolutions.
Your audience is bound up in these settings. They live in the details of daily life and amongst the world’s wars and revolutions. These events, both the grand and the small, shape their perspectives, their beliefs, their desires, and their futures. For this reason, few things become timeless without first speaking to the times in which they were created. Though witty and entertaining, Shakespeare’s As You Like It was also a commentary on social and economic inequalities in the structure of 16th Century family life. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which remains a steadfast piece of our modern imagination, especially around Halloween, tapped into deep concerns about scientific ethics in a time of great technical and medical advancement. We hear similar worries in our own, modern day science fiction as we experience rapid change in computers and communication. Buried within Bramm Stoker’s Dracula, we find echoes of the fear many Westerners felt about the immigration of Eastern Europeans, as embodied by the vampire Count Dracula, into nations like England and the United States, as well as commentary about the tensions between the Temperance Movement and the emergence of feminism. It is unlikely that these works would have been handed down to us as classics if they had not spoken to the imagination of the people of their time.
Following the news can help writers puzzle out what fears and desires, imaginings and captivations hold sway in the minds of modern people. What are people thinking about today? Keeping current with the news is a good way to find out.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, keeping up with current events helps us cultivate greater personal awareness. “Globalization is a reality!” say Courtney James and Charlotte Klopp, “There is no choice but to be part of the world.” Our world is changing rapidly and people from all parts of the globe are influencing the direction that history is taking; there is no way to exempt ourselves from this globalized world, nor can we afford to think of ourselves as separate from it. We are all actors on a world-wide stage, and just as our readers are a shaped and influenced by the times in which they live, so are we. By understanding events taking place in the world around us, we can better understand our own lives, our ambitions, aspirations, and fears, our successes and failures, and even the origins of our most deeply held beliefs.
What is more, having a clearer picture of ourselves—and of the events and people that shape us, can help us make intelligent decisions about how we wish to influence the future. We are, each and every one of us, products of the times and circumstances in which we live, but that does not mean that our future is set in stone. Keeping up with current events and the people who shape them, ourselves included, can assist us in being more introspective about the way we produce what will one day be the stuff of history books.
Beware as you pursue knowledge of the news, however, as there is more than one perspective on the events taking place around us and the people involved in them. In your research, you will be called upon to recognize competing moralities and very different versions of the same story. This is because the news is influenced by the politics, backgrounds, beliefs, and interests of the people who report on it.
There is no such thing as neutral news, and objectivity, though it is a good goal to aspire to, is also an illusion. All news is influenced by its authors and editors, and even “the facts” may be debatable. To better interpret anything you see in the news, it is best to pursue multiple perspectives and then make your mind up for yourself. Always remember, though, that you are also influenced by your background and interests, and thus even your own perspective will be imperfect.
Be willing to adjust your opinions as you discover new evidence and be watchful for the ways in which your beliefs may be affected by others as they report the news. Any good writer and wise researcher is also a skeptic, always looking for evidence that new information is true or false before they accept it as fact. It is wise to be skeptical even of our own beliefs.
To get started on this prompt, try picking up a newspaper or magazine, or if you use social media, scroll through your news feed, and see what stories jump out at you. Remember, though, there is no such thing as neutral news, so keep your inner skeptic on alert as you seek out the facts. Keep in mind, as well, that people are more likely to believe the version of the story they find first. To prevent this, have an open mind, be flexible to new evidence, and examine your sources carefully. The first story often isn’t the only story.
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)