Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast mixed episode number 44 went live last night (Sunday, UK time).
I mentioned at the end of last week’s short story episode that instead of bringing you a hints & tips episode this week, I’ve provide some exercises in the hope that you’ll have some time over the forthcoming festivities to try some of them. If nothing else, they will hopefully show you how easy it is to get ideas and start a story.
I began with the old favourite: twelve sentence starts taken from my eBook ‘The 365-day Writer’s Block Workbook (Volume 1)’ then continued with…
Titles are another exercise that I’ve given my Monday night writers including the first one I read out (The crimson scarf) which Denny converted into a play which we’ve been reading, and critiquing, over the past three fortnights. I listed another nine titles before going on to…
We also work with keywords and whilst I usually give them four, I’m currently devising a second Workbook volume which will contain sets of five keywords instead of sentence starts (still with three sets a day and a tip at the end of each week, so over 1,000 sets lasting the year). So the idea is that you include these in a story. You can have them in any order (although brownie points if you keep them in this order) and the reason I’ll be giving sets of three is that if one stumps you, you have two other sets to choose from, unless you’re feeling particularly brave or adventurous and have a story including two sets or all three! You can also make the words longer but they have to appear in their entirety so you can’t shorten them. Of course you can do whatever you like but my writers are pretty good at sticking to the rules. I then listed ten sets of five keywords.
I often hand out pictures (cut from magazines) of people that I think would make good characters. I went to Google’s image section and typed in ‘man 40s’ and it came up with a wonderful array of men (older and younger than 40!) – in fact I typed ‘forties’ in numbers and letters, and had two completely different sets of pictures; many of which would make perfect characters. Armed with that and a baby name book (or there are some great sites out there for example http://www.babynames.co.uk and http://www.gurgle.com/baby-names) you should be able to create great characters. I also distribute a template for us to complete which is a basic 2-column by 15-row Word table with the right-hand column blank and the left-hand column has the following in the rows:
- Nationality (and where they live)
- Age and job
- Hair colour
- Height and weight
- Favourite music
- Favourite food
- Regular saying
- Relationship (so whether they’re married or have a boyfriend/girlfriend)
- Children (whether they have any)
It sounds a bit much if you’re just writing a short story but apart from learning all about your character (they make or break stories after all – what’s a plot without a character that we can bond with?) plus also you may come up with something that will define your story. For example they could aspire to be a road sweeper or regularly say “whatever” which drives their family or friends mad.
Word web and single-word prompts
Single-word prompts are another way we start stories and it’s amazing how we go off in completely different directions despite being given the same prompt. I’ve also just mentioned word webs and click here for a great example. They are very simple to create: draw a circle in the middle of a blank piece of paper and draw half a dozen or so lines (about an inch or two, depending on the side of your paper) going out from that circle then on the end of each ‘stalk’ draw another circle – all the circles the size of a word or two so not particularly large) then from each of the other circle draw more stalks and so on. If you choose something simple like ‘Tie’ as the word in the very centre, you could then go off with ‘pin’ on one stalk which could then lead on to ‘safety’ which could in turn lead to ‘health and’… you get the idea. You could also rhyme or add to the words so you could have tie… pie… apple pie. This can give you ideas in so many different ways from picking five words at random (like the keywords I mentioned earlier) to giving you a theme in each stalk or collectively. I then gave ten simple words which could either be used as single-word prompts or create word webs from (or both, of course).
Do remember to see if you can get the senses into your stories. Whilst it won’t always be possible to get all five, if you check which ones you do have it might inspire you to add another. They are, starting with the two most common:
- Sight (what do the characters and the reader see?) – try and mention colours wherever you can and if possible not just ‘red’ but crimson, scarlet, russet etc.
- Sound (which we have in dialogue)
The other three are the ones that usually get left out:
- Smell (even if your characters are indoors, can they smell anything? If so, could it be a contributing factor to your story?)
- Touch (of course touch is often featured in romances, when your hero and heroine finally get together… literally) but what else could your characters be touching… something soft? Hard? Rough? Smooth? Spiky? The options are endless.
- And finally Taste. Even if your character is eating or drinking something they like (perhaps more intriguing if it’s something they don’t) describing what it tastes like could be a challenge, other than saying that Jack drank a cup of tea or coffee which we all know.
I’d given some sentence starts at the beginning of this episode so thought it might be fitting to finish with some sentence ends – I listed ten. It’s not something we do very often and it can be pretty difficult but have a go and see how you get on. They don’t have to be the end of the story so if you want to continue them feel free.
Thank you for downloading, subscribing and listening to this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and next Monday’s episode will be short story episode 3, three more pieces of flash fiction this time from two different authors.
Details of these episodes are listed on the podcast page of this blog. The podcast itself is available via iTunes, Google’s Feedburner, Podbean (when it catches up), Podcasters (which takes even longer) or Podcast Alley (which doesn’t list the episodes but will let you subscribe).