Writing Ideas and Inspirations (5)
If you've glanced at some of my other Hubs on the topic of writing ideas, you won't need to be told that I'm not one for using the traditional methods of finding inspiration - ie writing exercises. When it comes to my own writing - stories, plays, novels etc - I'm a get-on-with-it type of guy. By that, I mean I don't want to work at something that might give me an idea for a story. I want to start writing and for that piece of writing to become the story.
As I've said several times before, I know this sort of seat-of-the-pants type activity doesn't suit everyone, but it works for me and that's what's important. What works for you, might be something completely different, but it's also useful to try a variety of methods to find that certain something that does the trick.
Over the years, I've facilitated several creative writing courses, as well as running all sorts of drama and creative workshops, and I admit I've occasionally resorted to dishing out what I humbly submit is a bunch of tricks aimed at encouraging folk to come up with ideas - ways of getting them thinking and using their imaginations, in fact anything at all that might enable them to quit staring at those empty pages and get the words a-flowing!
Therefore, in a change from my usual line of inspirational blah-blah, here are a few of the most popular writing exercises I've used with kids, young people and actual grownups.
He thinks that when he walks, his own feet propel the earth: that his movements keep the world going round. Literally. Each stride supplies the momentum for another motion forward, the ground shifting backwards beneath him, away into the distance.
Except, when he stops walking...(from 'How the World Turns')
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...
Being given the first line of a story is a great way to get you thinking about what might happen next. However, that first line has to be a good one - there's no mileage in trying to come up with something amazing if that first line doesn't grab you by the whatsits and get you a-goin'.
Rubbish First Lines:
As TV presenter Arnold Snoozepeas lit his rainbow-coloured Meerschaum pipe for the fourth time that day, he pondered on the difficulty now facing him: the Mahootsii tribesman who'd held him at knife point for the last three hours clearly wasn't going away, however, it was the deep rumbling in the bowels of the mountain beneath his eagle-eyed camera man that really clogged up Arnold's usually clear-headed thought processes.
There was something in the air that Friday afternoon in the olde village pub that caught her attention more than was quite usual after the long hours she'd spent marking a batch of irritatingly grammatically correct papers on 'Freudian slips' in the student's common room.
Better First Lines:
He hadn't expected her to be dead.
Later, she realised she probably should have told him about the man under the bed.
From where they were standing, it was hard to know for sure just how angry Mrs Armitage was going to be.
Grabbing the wheel, Daisy forced the car over onto the verge.
Jim dragged the teenagers up to the ridge near the road, hoping the three of them would be able to reach the farm before the creatures came back.
Leaning back, Sarah wondered how long it would take her boss to realise the implications of her email.
Great First Lines
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (George Orwell, 1984)
They shoot the white girl first. (Toni Morrison, Paradise)
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. (L P Hartley, The Go-Between)
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar)
First Line Examples
I know what you're thinking - okay clever clogs, here's a question:
Where do I get these first lines from?
Answer: You make your own.
Yeah, you heard me right - you take your inspiration from somewhere else and you make that snippet of whatever it is into something great.
How? Easy - go and choose a few random lines from a novel. And remember - all you need is a bit of inspiration, not a full-blown essay. So for example, from the bookshelf behind me as I write (and without taking more than a few seconds to choose each line) I can find:
Christopher Brookmyre's 'A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil'
Random line: "Aye, it's a pure classic," Robbie adds.
Take the words as they are (in this case not terribly inspirational) or mix them up a little.
So this might give us:
Robbie couldn't take his eyes off it - the Classic was pure alright, its sleek shell shimmering in the morning sunlight.
('Classic' could be a car, a boat, a fantastically clever coffee machine - you decide).
Lauren Weisberger's 'The Devil Wears Prada'
Maybe she had been drinking a little more, lately...
Might give us:
Her habit of drinking well into the evening had gotten to be more of a problem lately...
Anita Shreve's 'Light on Snow'
"I'll be in the barn," he said.
He always went to the barn after supper, but when he came back after that particular night, everything changed.
Tyrone Guthrie's 'A Life in Theatre'
The taste of the locals was for blood and thunder, washed down with plenty of beer.
The beer flowed liberally, but the thunder outside only grew louder and Carl's taste for blood began to get the better of him.
So now we've got four great lines to work with and to be honest, I'm already thinking about three of them and where they might take me.
Most of us have used images as inspiration from time to time. But which images do you use? Those you've spent countless hours poring over, or one or two that you just happened to come across while surfing the Internet?
Don't worry if something doesn't grab you right off the mark, sometimes it just takes a bit of thought. And whatever images you do use, they don't need to be stunning, just interesting enough to get you started.
Here's a snap I took at the Alhambra Palace in Spain. So what does it suggest to me?
A villa belonging to a wealthy porn star.
The site of a mafia-style execution.
A young couple, looking for somewhere to stay for the night, come upon what appears to be a luxury hotel in the middle of nowhere.
The secluded home of reclusive writer Caribou Baryshnikov.
Which might suggest:
Dale Strapalonga poured himself into the pool with barely a splash, while his soon-to-be ex-wife looked on disdainfully.
Livia watched as the two Tonys struggled to scrub the blood off the brickwork. "I wouldn't bother, guys, there'll be another couple of bucketfuls before he's finished."
"Can't hurt to ask, can it?" Harry turned to smile at her, but she was already bounding up the steps to the door.
The nights were turning colder now, he mused, watching the new girl fighting with the old Remington. One of these days, he might get an assistant who knew what the fuck she was doing.
Using Song Lyrics
Okay, this one's easy. So just off the top of my head, here's a few ideas:
From 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen
Mama, just killed a man.
From 'A Day in the Life' by The Beatles
I read the news today, oh boy.
From 'Ride a White Swan' by Marc Bolan
Wear a tall hat like a druid in the old days.
Sitting down carefully at her side, Clive lifted a hand to her cheek and turned the old lady's face towards his. "Mother, I've got some rather bad news..."
Peter had not read the news before, but sitting in that warm leather chair behind the plastic facade, he felt like this might be a new direction for him - especially since he now had his own version of events to share with the public at large.
It was an effort for Claire to keep the look of contempt from her face as she took his hat. "I suppose this is what we're going to refer to as your 'wizarding days', is it, Peter?"
If any of these methods work for you, that's great. If they don't, then try something else. Like good old Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to not say:
Sit down and write something before something writes you!