Sometimes an idea for a piece strikes after hearing about a topical event. Last week, for instance, I posted a poem I wrote on the day of the solar eclipse. Back in November, I was also inspired to write a short story prompted by the BBC’s coverage of the Ferguson riots. Since last week’s entry was posted, the world has been talking about the Germanwings plane that crashed in the French Alps. That also inspired a poem in the same form as the eclipse one.
Neither the Ferguson nor the Germanwings pieces have been posted online as I might send them to a publisher in the future. I’m afraid you’ll have to take my word for their contents, which I discuss later on.
When writing a response to current affairs soon after they happen, the details are fresh in everyone’s minds as they’re analysed in the papers and on TV. However, the danger is that specific incidents from the wider event are sometimes forgotten as soon as a week after they occur; in some cases, the entire event might not survive in people’s memories. It’s hard to tell which events might stick around and which won’t. The piece you’ve written in response might therefore contain details that need to be explained in future readings.
Regarding the three pieces in the first paragraph, my solution to this problem was not to focus on the incident itself, but the thoughts and feelings generated by it. To find the universal truth, if you will. It’s not necessary to know that the eclipse took place in March 2015, nor that anything happened in Ferguson, nor that a certain plane crashed in a certain place.
The alternative is to make the piece self-contained, giving the reader enough of an insight about the event for them to understand why you’ve responded to it in a particular way.
A good example comes from the Billy Joel hit We Didn’t Start the Fire. In the lyrics, he makes reference to around 100 world events that happened between his year of birth (1949) and the song’s release (1989).
Many of the earlier events, such as Bob Dylan’s career and John F. Kennedy’s assassination, had already stayed in the public consciousness. However, a modern listener might wonder the meanings behind Hypodermics on the shore and Rock-and-roller cola wars in the late 1980s, as these haven’t been widely retained in our collective memories. There’s no way Joel could have known this, of course, nor that the Berlin wall – after having its construction noted in the song – would be knocked down just two months after its release.