Welcome to Cheltenham Stories. We are a group of writers who meet to share our stories and work on them together. We are always happy for people to come along and join in what we do, whether by chipping in or just by listening and giving their thoughts. We meet at the Sober Parrot, Cheltenham’s alcohol-free entertainment bar, on Sunday mornings from about 10.15 to 12.30. The Sober Parrot is at 7 St James Square, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 3PR.
If you would like to come along, email email@example.com or telephone 077 88 515387.
For our meeting on January 19th, we thought we would take a leaf from Stephen King.
He famously does not plot in advance. He takes a situation, develops some characters and then lets the characters decide what happens. You can read more about this in his book ‘On Writing’, which is well worth £10.99 of anybody’s money.
“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.”
He uses “what if?” questions to get started. So we thought we would imitate this method. ***** Here’s the situation. What if a person or people are in a car that comes to a halt miles from anywhere? It could be out of petrol, broken down, or something else.
This Sunday we are going to try writing a story in the second person. That means that instead of your central character being referred to as “I” or “he/she” you use “you”. The prompt is “You can’t be serious”. This does not have to be the first line or indeed used at all in the story. The usual 3-800 words, please. I’ve attached the beginning of a New Yorker story to show how it is done.
This week we are going to do an exercise I call “reverses polarity”. The idea is to take a characteristic of yourself and write a story in first person in which that characteristic is reversed. For instance, if you are a man, write as a woman; if you are white, write as if you are black; if you are educated, write as if you are unschooled; if you are old, write as if you are young. You can, of course, reverse more than one of your characteristics.
I hope you enjoy the exercise and I will see you next week.
Some famous books were written in present tense: Bleak House (mostly), Clarissa, All Quiet on the Western Front, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Room, Bright Lights Big City, Wolf Hall, Rabbit Run, The Girl on the Train, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Damon Runyon’s stories, All the Light We Cannot See, Fifty Shades of Grey and many more.
Here are three prompts: As soon as I see them, I know I have to have them. There is a pile of clothing on the side of the street. She is wearing a mask to disguise her identity.
We all enjoyed writing stories from a picture prompt last week, so let’s have a go working from a written prompt. I have three for you:
1. “I have to go!” he/she said, suddenly jumping up from the table. 2. Something unusual is found in a winter coat pocket. 3. You get on a bus and end up in a remote town where things seem a little odd.
Choose whichever one you like. Try and write somewhere in the 300-600 word range and bring along copies for everyone.
For next time, we’re going to try writing from a picture prompt. Find a picture and write a story prompted by it. It can be a little longer than usual because I don’t think there will be many of us. So up to about 1,500 words or so. Try and make it something with a beginning, middle and end. Bring the picture with you when you come.
Here are some thoughts about writing from a picture prompt: – What feelings does it inspire? – What secrets might it contain? – What does it remind you of? Does it bring up any memories or other associations? – What might be going on outside the frame? – What might have happened right before the scene in the picture? What might happen afterward?
Story prompts: 1) Your character is in the scene you see in the painting. Something terrible has just happened, and your character is still trying to figure out how to react… 2) Your character is in the scene you see in the painting. Something is about to happen that will turn your character’s world upside-down… 3) Your character is in the scene you see in the painting and is about to reveal a secret… 3) Every night, your character dreams about the scene you see in this painting. These dreams are strangely vivid, and your character is sure that they contain a hidden message…
Of course, you don’t have to use any of these ideas. If anyone can’t find a picture that inspires them, I can send you some.
For the exercise, take a couple of pictures from a magazine or newspaper, one perhaps of a person or people and the other of a landscape, a room, or another setting, and try describing them. Bring those descriptions along, with the pictures, and then we can all see if we can visualise from what you have written and compare it with the original picture to see how close you got. I think this could be useful. John
There will be no group on October 6 because the Sober Parrot is having a training day. We will be meeting as usual on October 13, when we will do the “showing and telling” exercise we were supposed to be doing on September 29. I hope that makes sense.