Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Some food for thought

Here are some exercises (or rather exercise patterns) that I'll be using in the course. But they're much more than coursework: I find that doing these exercises or similar is a potent cure for writer's block, and I do feel that even established writers can benefit from doing them once in a while to keep their creative muscles limber. I find they help in germinating plots or sorting out problems with existing ones. Unlike traditional 'questions' they produce fresh recults every time you do them, so I'm not giving anything away by posting them here. They may be of use to people outside the course, hence their appearance here.

Creative Writing Exercises

1. Back story 1: Write down four well-marked characteristics you have (even basic things like age, gender, social status etc.) Now take the opposites of these four and create a character with them. Write the character’s back story. NOTE: back story is a character’s background up to the point where they appear on the ‘stage’ of your actual story. It’s all the stuff that makes them who they are; they way they grew, the experiences they had, the things they like and hate. Not all of a character’s back story need actually appear in the story, but you need to have it in the back of your head so that the character will live and move convincingly.

2. Back story 2: Take the character you just created, and imagine four people around them (you will need to create basic back stories for them). Then describe your primary character from these four people’s points of view. Write at least a paragraph for each person.

3. Dialogue 1: Take two characters, either new or ones you’ve made earlier. Have them introduce themselves in direct speech. Try to get a feel of the way they ought to talk. Then try and construct a dialogue between the two characters. NOTE: you will need to come up with a basic plot.

4. Dialogue 2: Write a story involving two characters which is composed entirely of dialogue (with short factual action statements/descriptions where necessary.)

5. Plot exercise 1: Take one day in the life of a character. Think of a decisive action/crisis this person might face, then enumerate the possible ways in which this might come about. Choose the most attractive or interesting way and construct a plot around it covering twenty four hours culminating in this action/crisis.

6. Plot exercise 2: Write the names of five feelings, objects, people and places (that’s five into four) on twenty slips of paper. Put each category into a hat. Draw one of each. Create a plot/write a story involving this feeling, object, person and place.

7. Reality transforming 1: Think of something that’s happened to you. Write it down. Then go back and look at what you’ve written, change the location, time, names and appearances of characters involved, and shift the point of view from the ‘you’ character, to someone else who was involved (or the authorial voice).

8. Reality transforming 2: take three real people you know and create a composite character out of them, so mingled that the identities of the three originals are unguessable. At least one should be neither family nor friend: maybe someone you read about in the news, or a celebrity, or a fictional character.

9. Description 1: Write a flat factual paragraph describing a location: a bridge, or a village square, or a hotel, or a beach. Now use these facts to write different mood pieces on them. Do one which is primarily optimistic, and one which is gloomy, but do not change the essential facts. You can change the weather and the time of day but not drastically.

10. Description 2: Take a location and set the scene for an action (determine beforehand what the action will be). Setting the scene includes describing the actors and important features of the area that will play a part in the story. Your description ends just as the action starts.

11. Research 1: Talk to your mother or close relative. Have them relate an incident out of the family folklore. Take notes, then change everything you can about the event: time, place, actors, and write a story about it.

12. Research 2: Take a well known incident out of history. Get some basic facts on it, then create characters (they need not be historically attested) and set your story in that period.

13. Genre: This is produced mainly through plot and mood. Take a given outline and write a story on it in any one of six genres: romantic, action, horror, realist, magic realist, stream of consciousness. Avoid pastiche. Sample outline: A girl and a boy who live in the same para are friends. One day the boy leaves without any reason. The girl suspects someone has deliberately engineered this. She sets out to find him and discovers the reason why he left (the reason will vary according to the genre). They are reunited (again, genre will determine in what sense).

14. Skit 1: Go over your dialogue exercise and rewrite it in skit form. You will need to add stage directions and stage business.

15. Skit 2: Write the names of processes on six pieces of paper. Choose two out of a hat. Write a skit where these two things happen simultaneously on stage. (You will need to divide the page into two columns. When one process involves speech, the other will be in dumb show, and vice versa.)

16. Skit 3: Write a skit in which one character is silent throughout. He/she can mime without speaking. You will need to set this in stage directions.

17. Skit 4: Write a skit in which the characters go on a journey across the bare stage. Create the scenery with language and gesture.

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