Monday, March 28, 2011

One of these things is not like the others

In 2010, filmmaker George Clarke discovered an anomaly in Charlie Chaplin's 1928 film The Circus. Something seemed strikingly out of place in the '20s milieu: a woman passerby appeared to be talking on a cell phone.

Whether or not this mysterious character was actually adjusting a General Electric hearing aid is not as interesting to me as the possibility that she was a time traveler somehow getting a signal from the Sprint network. And I'm not alone. A legend was born of "Charlie Chaplin's time traveler."

I defy anyone with a creative imagination to look at this snippet of Chaplin's footage and not come away bursting with story ideas, simply because something is so out of place.

When putting their stories together, writers take such pains to make sure everything fits. But imagining something that doesn't fit just may be a key to unlocking a treasure trove of creative ideas!

Consider these odd items:
A golden ticket inside an ordinary candy bar.

A curious gathering of long-robed individuals on a city street.

A message written on a spiderweb.

A rabbit with a pocket watch.

Add to them ...

A woman talking on a cell phone on a street in Hollywood, California in 1928.

I would definitely want to read that story, if not write it!

—posted by Timothy Power


  1. Wow, I've never thought that thought, but it fits into my brain like it belongs there. The aspect of the story that's anomalous is what makes the story interesting. I'm jotting that down!

  2. I saw that footage and it was just a little creepy. The possibilities are endless.

  3. Agreed. I can't watch this without needing to know the story behind it all (or the story that could come from it).

    By the way, I saw your book face out at my local indie yesterday. :)

  4. @Stephanie: Yay!

    @Anne: Ha! I think every film in BW is a little creepy. :)

    @Caroline: Whoo hoo! Thanks for letting me know about that!

  5. Love, love, love this post, Timothy. That is the way inspiration strikes, isn't it?

    Saw a bird matching my speed driving to work today, right alongside the driver's side window. Strange, some might think. Motivation for a story, the author thinks. What is this bird? Why is it there? And then the story begins...

  6. Great post, I think a lot of the best stories come from asking a single question that's just a little out of place, for example, didn't someone once ask, 'There's a boy named Harry - he's a wizard, but he doesn't know he's a wizard - why doesn't he know he's a wizard?..."

    Then next thing you know --> chaos.

  7. Thanks for the reminder--inspiration is everywhere :)

  8. @Michael and Bethany: Yes!

    @Dawn: We only have to look. Why is that sometimes the hard part? :)

  9. That is such a fantastic clip. And I love that it continues to replay, for those of us who just need a different angle. What drives me nuts is that we'll NEVER KNOW exactly what she was doing. !!! Alot of scope for the imagination, though.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!