Wednesday 17 July 2019

Prompting stories - Tracy Darnton

I’ve been posting writing prompts based on settings on Instagram recently. This view of Kynance Cove at dusk felt like looking down on another planet: 

When I ran a workshop on memory at the Charney retreat this month, I mentioned the very human need to see faces and make sense of random shapes. Maybe you’ve seen the face of someone you know floating in a cloud formation, or spotted Elvis in the patterns on your toast this morning? So too, a storyteller’s brain is itching to tell stories, to see the kernels of tales all around us. 

The view from my own desk has become all too familiar. But, inspired by a wealth of new settings from my recent holiday in Devon and Cornwall, I’m all fired up with new story ideas. Most of these will have to wait for me to finish my current work-in-progress, but it feels good to have them already in my head somewhere, bubbling away.
Once upon a time...
Even on holiday when I’m trying to give these story muscles a well-earned rest, I’m inspired by the unfamiliar, by the strange and atmospheric, to see stories in nature, through unopened doors or in an overheard snatch of conversation: “So I told him, there was no way I was wearing the clown outfit…”.

Who lives in a house like this?
But here’s one of the weird and amazing things about being a writer. It’s vital to feed the imagination – to read widely; to plough through boxsets; to sit in a busy cafĂ© listening to conversations; to watch a play; to take a walk along a cliff path; to stare up at a block of flats, wondering at all the life and drama happening within. For me, the more that goes into my brain, the more that comes out
What's through the arch?
I’m a magpie gathering ideas all the time, stirring them around in a brain soup (of mixed metaphors) and popping out new ideas that have been through the filter of me, touched by all I’ve seen and done and read. And those same setting prompts produce completely different stories and ideas from other people and their imaginations.

As I’m getting older and wiser (Ha!), I also see the importance of stepping off the treadmill of modern life, and giving my poor old brain some downtime, some latent processing time, some staring time. And it is those moments when solutions to plot problems evolve, new chapters form and urgent new story ideas force their way to the front of the mind. The mix of leisure and work certainly feed each other, and each is poorer for the lack of the other. Quiet and wonder seem to be vital ingredients for all of us. William Henry Davies nailed this sentiment over a hundred years ago in his poem Leisure, which begins:

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

Zombie apocalypse anyone?

So, I thoroughly recommend a touch of standing and staring this summer and wish you luck with the stories that are prompted by doing so.  

What's about to happen in this garden? Maybe a creature emerges from the pond? Or there's a romantic proposal? A drowning? What would your story be?

Tracy Darnton is the author of The Truth About Lies, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. She has an MA in Writing for Young People.

You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton and on Instagram tracydarnton


Penny Dolan said...

Some lovely not-from-your-desk images here. With yesterday's post and this, mid-July must be the time of the year when writers indulge in daydreaming up new ideas.

Happy end-of-term fantasies, everyone, and hope some ideas grow and prosper.

Lynne Benton said...

Great post, Tracy, and I love the pictures!