What's it about?

This blog has a very specific purpose: it's a place to post prompts for creative writing during the time of the lockdown. Initially it was for the use of my writing group, as we cannot for the time being meet in person - but I want to open it up to anyone who'd like to have a go at creative writing. I very strongly believe that writing is good for you: while you're writing, you're off somewhere else - you've escaped! And that can only be a good thing during lockdown.

Do sign up to be notified by email when a new prompt is posted - usually on Thursdays - and I would love to hear how you're getting on in the comments. Have fun!

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The next step...

 As a couple of you have already guessed, your next task is to to write a story using your character/s. 

Just to chuck something else into the mix, you could 'borrow' a character from someone else too, and arrange a meeting - a meeting which could lead to a change, even if only a small one, in one or both of their lives...? 

Don't forget about setting - especially if this 'story' ends up being largely dialogue, setting could help to set the mood, change the pace, and alleviate/create tension.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

People

To me, both as a writer and as a reader, characters are the most important element of fiction. So let's begin what I always think of as the new year (the legacy of my teaching years) with a focus on people.

Ideally, I'd like you to go out and do some people-watching. (Obviously not in a creepy sort of way...) Look at the people around you. Some will intrigue you more than others.  Choose two - initially: you're very welcome to do more.

If you're not able to get out an

Describe them, as accurately as you can. Describe them physically - but also, what drew you to them? What is particularly interesting/unusual/appealing about them? What can you imagine about the sort of person they are, the way they live.

Don't get into a story just yet. This task is about observation.

Rembrandt was clearly a great people-watcher...


Tuesday, 1 September 2020

'Summer's lease hath all too short a date...'

Welcome back!

The quote above comes from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 - the one that begins: 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' (In it, he suggests that the fame of the person he is addressing will last far longer than a summer's day - because, apart from anything else, of the poem. And it turns out he was right, wasn't he?)

Anyway, I've appropriated it - because here we are, at what feels like the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, and I want you to think about that. Do you regret the passing of summer, or do you look forward to the crisper days of autumn?



As ever, you could start by gathering some ideas together. What was/is good about summer? What do you look forward to - or not - about autumn?


Here are some suggestions for writing. You choose - do one, two, or all three! 

  • Haiku(s) - always useful for limbering up, and to focus your thoughts. Remember - 17 syllables: first line five, second line seven, third line five.
  • A reflective piece at the turn of the season: an opportunity to look back, but also to look forward.
  • A story or memoir, with the above title. The obvious theme might be transitoriness: a particularly special summer which ended in loss of some kind; some aspect of life at a seaside resort! I'm sure you'll have your own ideas.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Lucky Dip

This will be the last task of this strange term: at the beginning, I made a folder in my email inbox and called it Class During Corona, and I guess that's what it's been. It seems a long time since those sunny April days, when the lack of traffic noise made the birdsong sound louder. I don't know yet where or how we'll meet in September, but for now, we are going to have our usual summer break.

For the last task, an online version of the Lucky Dip story exercise, where normally I pass round a number of envelopes, each containing several possibilities - one for character, one for setting and so on. The challenge is to construct a story round these suggestions. A bit like a sort of literary rounders game.

Choose one from each list. I don't quite know how we can introduce the element of chance - if you want to do that, it's up to you to find a way. Otherwise, just choose a bit of what you fancy.

Constraints have an odd way of setting the imagination free. Usually, we get some intriguing results from this exercise, so I'll look forward to seeing what emerges from the depths!

A random pair of ruby shoes!


Character
A nurse
A dustman
An investment banker
A gardener

Setting
A park
A bridge
Beside the sea
A train station

Feeling
Joy
Anxiety
Fear
Amusement

Turning point
Selling/moving/losing house
An unexpected visitor/letter
An encounter with a stranger
A wedding/funeral/christening/retirement party.

Random element
A pair of shoes
A picture
An old saucepan
An expensive phone


Friday, 10 July 2020

What we treasure

This week's task comes from a magazine called The Simple Things. Each month, they ask readers to write 500 words on something that they treasure. So your task is to do just that. 

Here's an example. 

If you decide you'd like to send yours in and have a go (they don't mention payment), the address is: thesimplethings@icebergpress.co.uk





Thursday, 2 July 2020

Starting with the end

When writers get together to discuss writing, sooner or later they will start to discuss planning. Some will shudder and say they can't bear to be tied to a plan; others will look anxious and say they have to know exactly what's going to happen before they start.

Many - Philip Pullman is one - will say that they don't know exactly what's going to happen, and it would be boring if they did: but they do need to know how their story will end.

The ending of Casablanca - brilliant, as is everything else about this film:
'Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.'


So here to help as ever, I'm going to give you a list of endings. (They are real ones.) All you have to do is write the story that leads up to the one you choose. Also as ever, my advice would be to start with a spider chart to help you gather ideas - but that's up to you!

  • It had never occurred to him that a dog could be clairvoyant.
  • I turned and walked away through the rain.
  • It was all right.
  • And everything, every smallest detail, would be written on my heart forever.
  • I turned the key in the ignition and drove off.
  • From hate to love - the journey was only just starting. 
  • There should be no need to dig there ever again.
  • I put out my hand to stop her getting up and I cross the room to answer the phone.
  • 'Now how about another drink? I'm as thirsty as hell.'

(Adapted from an exercise in The Five-Minute Writer, by Margret Geraghty.)

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Picture Post

One of the books I'm reading at the moment is about the French Impressionists. It's very good, but it doesn't have many images of the paintings in it, so this morning I hunted out some little books about the Impressionists that I've had since I was a teenager.



In one of them, I came across this picture. It's called The Balcony Room, and it's by a German painter called Adolf Menzel. It was painted in the second half of the 1840s, so before the French paintings with which we are more familiar.

I've always remembered it, though I had no idea till today where I'd first seen it. I'm not sure what it is about it that was so fascinating; perhaps it's that it's empty of people - there's a sense that someone has just left: perhaps that enables you to fill the space from your own imagination. Or maybe it's the light, the simplicity, the spaciousness of the room. Whtever it is, I still find it evocative.


Task


  • If you'd like to write a story prompted by the picture, ask questions. Where might it be? Who might it belong to? What is happening in their life? (Remember for a story, you probably need this to be a moment when things are changing for the main character - a moment of significance.)



  • Or, choose a different room - one you've known. If it's a room you once knew well, you could draw a quick sketch of it, and brainstorm the memories you associate with it - of people, of things that happened there. Then go in whichever direction you choose - you could write about your memories of the room, or about why it's significant to you. You may wish to start with a description of it.



  • Then again, you could write about a room you've seen, but which isn't part of your personal history. You could write about it, and why it interests you; or you could set a story in it.