From our 14th-floor conference room window in midtown Manhattan, I looked down to see about twenty people frantically trying to lift a black SUV.
I soon realized a woman was trapped underneath the vehicle. They managed to get the woman out, and one of the people began pushing on the woman’s chest. Sirens blared, rushing closer. A mélange of police cars and fire trucks surrounded the area. A fireman took over, trying to rescue the woman. She was then placed in an ambulance, which sped away.
A little later, a news report said that the 67-year old woman, who worked in a nearby garment center, had died from her injuries. I felt grief for a person I never knew because I had witnessed this incident and the heroic efforts of total strangers to save her.
That was three weeks ago, and I’m still haunted by what I saw.
Our slogan at Gotham Writers is “Stories. Everywhere.” Indeed, there are stories everywhere—heartbreaking, comedic, and everything in between. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see a handful of story ideas every single day. They may be dramatic life-and-death stories, or they may be nuanced interactions between people, not even noticeable to a casual observer.
A good way to slide into a story is to imagine the points of view. For example, the tragedy I witnessed from the window. What did it feel like to be:
The driver of the SUV
A passerby trying to lift the vehicle
The fireman trying to save the woman
The victim, who may or may not have been aware her life was slipping away
A person watching the tragedy from a 14th-floor window
Is it wrong to steal stories from the scenes around us? No, I don’t think so. It’s the stuff of life, and that’s where we writers discover most of our material. If we hit a good stride with a story, we will create something that’s honest and perhaps illuminating for others.
You’ll know when you see something worth writing about if it stays with you a few days. If you can’t stop wondering about the people and particulars. If something is triggered inside you, be it fear, fascination, longing, or some other powerful emotion.
Gotham has a “Stories Everywhere” contest on Twitter, with a new theme every month. It’s impressive how much people can capture in the tininess of a Twitter entry. For example, our May theme was “Saying Goodbye.” The winner was @imruthwalker, who wrote:
He caught their baby’s last breath in a jar & under a full moon, watched the tide take it out to sea.
This story also haunts me.