Today is February 29, 2012. There was no February 29, 2011 and there won’t be a February 29, 2013. 2012 is a leap year and today is leap day, which that means some interesting stories are popping up in the news. For example, here’s one about a French newspaper that is only published every four years on leap day. Here’s another about a woman who was born on leap day 32 years ago, then gave birth to her daughter on leap day in 2008. According to the article the odds of that happening are 2-million-to-1. They’re not the only ones who beat the odds, though. Here’s another article about a couple who were both born on leap days who have been married since 1996. That’s just nuts. Can you believe it? You’ll have to, because I can’t make this stuff up.
Oh, wait. Yes I can. So can you.
A few weeks ago I wrote about finding inspiration from a turtle and talked a bit about using your surroundings or odd, seemingly meaningless, events from your life to give depth to your writing. These leap year stories, while all true, are a great example of the kind of thing you could use to find inspiration.
I’ve taught many many (many) Creative Writing classes in the last few years and one thing is a constant: students very often try to start out by thinking on the largest possible scale there is. Zombie pirate ships in outer space? Yes. Gangster mafia shoot out bloodbaths? I’ve read a hundred of them. Conception to death in a short story? That can work, right?
I really encourage students to think on the small scale when writing short stories. That doesn’t mean the story is going to be boring. The key word in “short story” is “short,” after all. It’s a struggle, but many people find that when they take a step back from what Hollywood has taught and focus on human moments–not lifetimes–they write with greater ease and confidence. I love the idea of writing about a character who is a leap year baby and who is affected by that in some way. As I combed through those news articles I kept thinking to myself “that would make a great short story.”
A former professor of mine has a collection of short stories he wrote that are all based on titles of news articles. It’s a really cool idea and one that I like to use as a writing exercise in the classroom. That’s something you could do with these leap year stories, or with any interesting news article, really.
You have an extra day this year and won’t have that again until 2016. Use it to write!