Sunday, 21 January 2018

Creative writing - when you have no ideas. by Anne Booth

Last week I was asked to go to a local university for an afternoon to teach some PGCE students Creative Writing. The idea  was that these were students who weren't necessarily writers themselves, but who would be teaching writing to children.

So I did some exercises to build confidence, and one of them, which came to me the morning of the course, worked so well I thought I would share it, as it was so much fun and made people think that perhaps they COULD come up with a beginning of a story. I hope it works for you, too.

I remembered  that one of the things people say to me is 'I can't write, I don't have any ideas.'

So I decided to start with facts.

I got the class to describe where we were in the most basic of ways.

We agreed the basic facts were:

We are in a mobile classroom, in a university, in a city, in England. The weather, we can see through the window, is rainy.

There is a woman, wearing a coat and boots. She is teaching.

I was going to just write everything on the white board and cross things out, but the tutor who had invited me had a better idea and connected her laptop up so that it projected on to the screen. She typed what I told her to and we could all read it.

Then I started changing things, and the tutor deleted and replaced words in front of our eyes.

So the class had to give me alternatives. We were not in a classroom - we were in a...

prison cell,

in a prison,

on an island,

in the Caribbean.

The weather, we could see through a crack in the wall, is sunny.

There is a man,

wearing T shirt and shorts.

He is doing push ups.

Then we started embellishing it a bit more, students calling out adjectives and adverbs.

We are in a damp prison cell in a dilapidated prison on an isolated island in the Caribbean. The weather, we can see through a crack in the wall, is sunny, but there are looming storm clouds on the horizon. There is an old man with tattoos, wearing orange shorts and a T shirt with a smiley face. he is doing pushups reluctantly, but athletically, with the strength of a much younger man. There is a prison guard sitting on his back, shouting 'just one more!'

Now, it is not going to be the basis of my next picture book, and I have given the film rights to the class, but it was definitely something out of nothing. We had a good discussion about clichés - someone said that having a tattooed prisoner was a bit unoriginal, and, for example, we decided that even if the prisoner is old, he doesn't have to struggle with pushups. It might not be the most brilliant  scenario ever written, but it certainly persuaded the group that 'not having an idea' is not an insurmountable problem, and we could all think of ways for the story to develop....

And i think I might try it myself one day, when I cannot think of how to start my next story....There is a woman, sitting on a sofa, writing....Now, what can I change it to...?


Joan Lennon said...

That is an excellent workshop! (I've done a version of that starting with a boring text message - "Meet me at the shops at 3 pm - bring that fiver you owe me" - changing one word at a time and ending up with something like - "Meet me at the graveyard at 3 am - bring that cat you owe me" ...) I like the way yours starts with what's right in front of the students - tangible and completely doable. Good for confidence. Thanks, Anne!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds like a good workshop. I had to teach creative writing a while ago, to teenagers, at my school. They had chosen the subject, so were willing to have a go. I had to think of a lot of prompts to get them going, though. I didn’t think of this one!

Sue Purkiss said...

Love it!

Lynne Benton said...

Great idea! May use it myself next time I'm stuck...