“You have to play with words and ideas, speak them
and feel them in your mouth, see them on paper
and feel them shimmering in your bones.”
Doing a few experiments with new and old ideas will undoubtedly provide a spot of refreshment. Before a stage play opens to the public, the director will have the actors trying different voices, moods and methods for the piece, to ensure the best performance goes out. As writers, we can play with our material too.
Scrape the Barrel
Funnily enough, it is often when you’re delving into your pits for ideas that your best writing emerges. If nothing comes of the work, it was simply good practice. These are not word games: some of the following ideas have proven to produce my favourite or most valued pieces of work, and they’ve kicked many a creative writer into progress.
Find a surrealist painting such as Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, or Woman with a Head of Roses, and describe it in full and glorious detail. Shelve it separate from the picture and when you read it another time, you’ll think “Wow! What’s going on?” Some great prose!
Capture a Pose
“Mother and Child” or “Woman kneeling on chair”. Outdoors near a park bench, or at home with your loved ones, describe the character(s) and their pose. Be an artist, sketching with words.
Use an old phone book or newspaper, and a thick black marker, or paint or crayon that’s really bright. Write boldly and madly on consecutive pages. Give yourself a theme: Birthday; Wedding; Shopping; Money; That Swine of a Spouse. Close the book and hide it from yourself. Three weeks later, type up the contents.
Apply something totally taboo to a situation you’d normally respect. School ceremony, strict inspection, a stuffed shirt board-meeting:- ripe for imaginative embroidery. Make it work in words. (You don’t have to show it to anybody)
We’ve all written in the dark dead of night before, but have you tried it in daylight at the computer? Set up a blank document and simply switch off the monitor. Write straight to keyboard non-stop. When you turn the monitor back on you’ll find it eerie to revisit that ‘dream state’ – especially if you’ve never been a touch typist.
Write a ditty. Write the same again with a changed word or two. Repeat over and over with a small change every time. See where it takes you – a song, a poem, a novel idea? – for example;
Brown bird twittering
Falling on its beak
Crown bird wittering
Balling on its beak
Drown turd wittering
Calling for its week
Stupid bird knitting
Tall socks made of teak.
Write a Quilt
Like a collection of beautiful scraps of fabric, sewn together with love and precision, quilt-writing takes chosen images to create a fantastic scene. Use the ‘quilt’ as a backdrop for one of the character studies you’ve written.
Write an Obscured Cliché
You know the kind of thing; little dog gets lost, search parties sent out, Mrs Gossip causes offence, turns out she’d locked the dog in the shed. All is well…
Now delete some haphazard statements. Review it. Add a word here and there, especially using words you love – ‘quintessential’ or ‘breathtaking’ or ‘gorgonzola’ and others. Now revise the whole piece to ensure it makes sense.
Make a list of objects: Mountain, tree, necklace, television, bunch of flowers, anything. Write a description of the scene that includes all of them, but do not spell out what they are – simply show their presence.
Write a Sandwich
Make it tasty, or hot; colourful, toasted, or fresh as a cut lettuce. Remember the structure – a sandwich has the two outer layers similarly cushion-like, the butter-sides reversed. The structure of your story or vignette must resemble a closed sandwich.
Collect a handful of images: –
A turbulent sea
A box of biscuits
A beautiful landscape
A hand-knitted sweater
and a handful of concepts:-
Take one from each list at random, and then justify the comparison you have made. The sillier the better.
Write your most boring story in the style of a ragtime song. “C’me on an’ sing, come on an’ dance, Alexander’s ragtime ba – a – and…”
She had a face, she had a face, like a fat old saucepan base. And on the day… On the day…
Let the tune and the beat lift away the dour boundaries.
Talk to yourself in the mirror, recording it on audio tape. Transcribe it to paper or keyboard. Which person isn’t quite ‘you’? Build on the differences. Build into a story or an argument.
Write a Bike
Describe every nut and bolt, the curves, the shine, the handlebar shape, the aerodynamic design. How do the spokes look as the wheel spins around? How do the chain links grip their respective cog wheels? Detail is good. Look for it and write it.
Write in the voice of…
A renowned politician (if one can be found), a distinctive media presenter or a notable stylist like Arthur Conan Doyle. Try emulating contemporary writers: Booker prize or popular commercial. Voices are for playing with, and rediscovering all the time.
Rewrite a Nursery Rhyme
They started life as real people or anecdotes of true events. Turn one into a modern short story or character study. Go to Talk and Tell (Excerpt from Strange Meeting) for a new interpretation of Jack & Jill’s accident on the hill.
Write a Maze
Finally, there are numerous structures for stories but have you ever tried a maze? Draw one, or better still, find one in a puzzle book; and write a story ‘following your nose’ through the maze. When you reach the right end (or the centre) you’ll have learned so much about your subject or character that you might not wish to delete the cul-de-sacs, but weave them all into a greater whole. Go by instincts when inside the maze, and be brave.