Sunday 2 February 2020

This week we are going to try the Wikipedia thing I found on the internet somewhere. It means using a random Wikipedia entry as a prompt. If you want to try it yourself, go to any Wikipedia page in English and click the “random article” link on the left-hand side of the screen under the picture of the globe.

I’ve had a go and the first one I came up with is this (I didn’t cheat):

Tromsø, Kaptein

So let’s try that. You are at liberty to look up the entry and do any other research you like (“Kaptein” is Norwegian for “Captain”); but ideally I don’t want any pieces of straight journalism about Robyn Hitchcock.

While you’re doing that, make a start on creating a writers’ notebook for the following week, when we will present our notebooks together with something we have created using those fragments of observation, random speech, description, jokes, poetry, slogans, whatever. Here’s a little article about the kind of notebook I mean:

(You may have to sign up to the site.)

Sunday 19 January 2020

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. 

Create the characters inside the vehicle. 

Let them decide on how the story develops. 

See how you get on. Up to 1,000 words. 

Sunday 12 January 2020

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.

Sunday 31 November

This week we are going to do pitching or a letter to an agent (it’s much the same).

You can either base it on a big project you are working on, or one you would like to work on, or even one someone else has done (a famous book) . I want you to bring: 

1. A Title

2. A log-line (that’s the thing you see below the title on a movie poster or the top two lines on the back of most paperbacks). 

3. A short synopsis. No more than 300 words and probably less. 

4. A short description of the book’s genre and who it is supposed to appeal to. 

5. A paragraph about yourself. 

6. Triangulation: three things that the book is sort of like. “In the same vein as”.

This sounds like a lot, but it isn’t really. In real life you’d also send a writing sample. Bring one if you like but no more than 300 words.

We can discuss how we’d turn these components into a real letter to an agent or publisher.

Sunday 24 November

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.

Sunday 17 November

This week we are writing stories in the present tense. Here are some useful links:

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. 

I hope you enjoy the exercise.

Sunday 10 November

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.

Sunday October 27

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.