Just returned from a fun writing workshop across town. Needed the mental break. I have been completely unproductive recently. Bit crud. This was a lovely, casual workshop run by my friend Morgen. If you're in the Northants area and fancy joining a creative writing group, she's the lady to talk to. Everyone welcome.
We got through three exercises.
The first was a word association prompt. You start with a word - in this case 'hot'. From that, you write down word associations.
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So, in my case:
Hot - dog - food - drink
- bread - butter
- eat - drink
Hot - cold - snow - winter
Hot - sun - newspaper - print
Hot - shower - water - rain
- soap - clean
Hot - good looking - woman - man - modern monkey [NB: Placebo song]
- sexy - sex - rude
- cooking (what you got?) - oven
Hot - mama (red hot) - papa
- jive - music
Hot - damn - swear
Hot - or not - no
- isn't - won't
Think you get the idea?
Then you pick five: sexy, moon, winter, music, woman
And write a story in ten minutes or under, including all five words:
The first sip of summer wine, sweet against my tongue. A woman's shadow falls across the Havana moon, swaying softly to the sound of salsa. The maracas, crisp like rain against the auburn, dust-lit streets.
For one second, I am there.
Stretched into a hundred, million more. An infinity of balmy, sweat-drenched hours beneath those cotton sheets.
The music fades. My blood cools like an ice cube dropped into a drink. The paper umbrella closes and I open my eyes to see that it is winter.
It was winter before I closed them, why would it be anything but winter after?
Yet still I find it hard to comprehend.
A faint ghost sounds against my ear as though a string quartet were hiding behind the crescent moon.
Of her - nothing remains.
The air smells of dank leaves and oak moss. The sweat of her skin melts to silver dew on the lawn, and a shiver runs through me.
No everlasting nights, no sexy samba, no more moon music.
Instead my memories goad me, like menacing Mardi Gras masks. They sneer through teeth sharp enough to draw tears.
The second activity involved picking two photos from a folder. One picture of a man, one of a woman. Haven't got those to hand, but you could do the same with a Google of Flickr search. You then fill out a character sheet for each. Mine ran:
Name: Josianne Nick
Nick Name: Josie Nick
Nationality: Polish British
Age/Job: 21, works in a bar 32/pianist
Hair Colour: Brown Brown
Height/Weight: 5'6/10st 6'/13st
Favourite Music: Eclectic Jerry Lee Lewis
Favourite Food: Pierogi Fish & chips
Regular Saying: For Heaven's sake! Sound as a pound
Relationship (to other character): Work in the same bar
Children: 0 Estranged 9 y.o. son
Siblings: Two older sisters Older brother, younger sis
Religion: Christian - not practicing None
Aspirations: To go to the US To fall in love
Quirks: Stalks her ex on Facebook Has to flick light switch twice
That in itself is helpful if you're having a tough time getting a character rolling.
The next bit involved picking a couple of prompts - just one-liners like 'His mother doesn't speak to him' or 'she ran over next door's dog'. You can then pick one, or both, of the prompts and try to contrive a situation for the characters.
My story ran:
"Nick, you have to help me!"
He finished playing the piano with a flourish. "Ah, you're on your own there. Two left feet me, always dropping glasses."
"No! Not with the bar. I've been invited to go to one of those... what do you call it?"
"Oh! For Heaven's sake - no. You know. It's a party, before you get married."
"Oh. Who invited you?"
"Leslie. The one who does crossword at end of bar."
"So, what's the problem?"
"Well, I don't know what you supposed to do. How you act."
"Don't they have hen parties in Poland?"
"You know - party before marriage. I thought we sent enough of ours over?"
"Oh. Sort of, yes. But I don't know what to do. What they expect."
"Ah, you'll be sound as a pound."
"As a pound?"
"You'll be fine. Just enjoy yourself. Don't drink too much, and don't go home with any men you don't know. For my sake, please."
She slapped him playfully.
"But that is just it."
"They are all men."
"At the hen do?"
"Yes. Leslie said I would 'make their night'."
"Hold up a second, love. This Leslie - what does she look like?"
"She? For Heaven's sake, no! Leslie, he is a man. You know - this tall," she held up her hand, "blond."
Nick's face darkened.
"You mean a stag do? Think I'd better have a word with this Leslie."
Prompt: She has been invited to a stag party
Finally, a good ol' traditional line prompt. This is where someone starts a sentence, and you write a story from it.
Prompt: As Claire finished tying the bow on the present...
...she was proud of herself - hip mother, down with the kids.
Condoms weren't the only thing she'd bought her son for his sixteenth birthday, but she felt it was a good in-joke. He'd probably blush and go 'aw, muuum,' but he'd understand it was her way of saying 'you're a man now - just be safe.'
If he managed to make his way through that pack of six, he'd hopefully be over the novel embarrassment of the act and feel adult enough to buy the next pack himself.
Right. That was Joe's birthday taken care of. Now to deliver the cufflinks to the Vicar, to say 'thank you' for feeding the cats last week whilst they sucked up the sun in Alicante.
The morning of Joe's birthday she had an early shift at the Cash and Carry. By the time she got home he was already out with his mates. She didn't see him until the following day.
As usual he'd left his washing in a pile by the machine. She smiled at the familiar routine. On any other day she would have had words about it - but hey, it was his birthday.
She picked them up and shovelled them into the washer.
Something caught her eye.
The cufflinks glinted in the morning sun.
So, three pieces of flash fiction - not bad. Haven't done anything like that since the Kigali group.
Rough around the edges. Gaping continuity error in the last one - but that's all part of the fun. It's not meant to be polished, it's meant to break through the barriers of procrastination and force you to write something. Anything.
Really enjoyed myself. Nice build-up to the lit fest this weekend.