Writing Flash-Fiction Workshop at Trowbridge Museum, 16th May, 2012

This post outlines all the writing prompts and exercises used in my two-hour writing workshop.  You might find it useful if you run writing workshops yourself  (I have included all credits, where possible, so please acknowledge this blog if appropriate).  You might like to use the exercises as writing prompts for your own writing or, if you actually came to my workshop today, you can look back and fondly remember all you achieved in the space of two hours.

This was the fourth writing workshop I’ve run at Trowbridge Museum this year.  Back at the planning stage, in January, Flash-Fiction was a natural choice for today, 16th May 2012, it being the inaugural National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK.  As you scroll down you will see that I have included examples of work produced at today’s workshop, some by writers with very little previous writing experience, some by people who belong to local writing groups.

1. Warm-Up Exercise

To settle everyone into a writing mood, I asked the group to write down all the sounds they could hear.  I gave them one minute.  Next, I asked them to imagine and write down all the sounds they could hear if they were able to hear what was happening immediately outside the entrance to the Museum.  1 minute.  Lastly, to imagine and write down what they could hear if they had the super-power of being able to hear anything in the world or universe.  1 more minute.  A quick feedback to discover whose ears had reached the furthest. (Katherine’s: the stars).  When I ran this warm-up at a workshop in a school last year, one 11 year old boy wrote that he could hear “the Andromeda Galaxy moving”.  I’m still waiting for someone to top that!

**

2. Six Word Stories

We read and listened to the usual suspects:

Hemingway: For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Atwood:  Longed for him.  Got him. Shit.

and Joss Whedon’s

Gown removed carelessly.  Head, less so.

The next task was to write a six word story.  Three minutes.

**

For Sale: One smile, well used.  One frown, slightly soiled.

by Peter O’Grady

**

A ticket to another world: White Star luxury all the way.

by David Hughes

**

**

3. Stories inspired by Paragraph Planet

The website, Paragraph Planet, publishes a 75 word (including title) story daily.  We read a few of these before students attempted to write their own 75 word story.  I chose the following examples because they offer a way into a story; students can ‘steal’ the opening words to kick-start their writing.

It starts with a cat who scoffs at boundaries, who spits disapproval from his bowl, struts from the room when you speak, shakes fur onto every surface, who blames you for the chaos of his life.  Add a neighbour’s door, on the latch.  The cat muscles through.   It’s tidier there and free from fur and fleas.  The cat purrs persuasively.  It ends with spinning sirens, a conviction for breaking and entering, a smug miaow. (by Josephine Corcoran)

**

Left Hands.  I left my hands on the worktop.  They separated from my wrists easy, like bits of dough with hairs in, pulled from the loaf.  Splayed fingers lay neat as shoemaker’s leather waiting to be cut into slippers by elves.  You opened doors and folded  back the duvet.  I could get used to the kindness of life without hands.  I woke and pressed my stumps to new hands, soapy, smooth enough to let me touch you again. (by Angela Readman)

**

4. Search History (inspired by “Search History” by Iain Rowan)

Iain Rowan‘s story was the deserved winner of the recent FlashbanGang Crime Writing Flash Competition organised by Sarah Hilary in association with the The International Crime Fiction Convention.  The protagonist’s tale unfolds through his computer’s search history, a terrific device to use to reveal a crime plot. Writing Exercise 4 was to use a search history to tell a story – although not necessarily a crime story.

**

SEARCH HISTORY

by Peter O’Grady

Why does my computer keep cra

**

SEARCH HISTORY

by Rosalind Ambler

Wiltshire council

Speed calming measures

Road Accidents in SN10, 2011

Wiltshire Police

Wiltshire council

Councillors East Wiltshire

Bbc.co.uk/Radio4/you and yours

Wiltshire council

Speed bumps

Sleeping policemen

Wiltshire council – traffic department

Bbc.co.uk/radio Wiltshire

Gazette and herald

Wiltshire council, Chief executive

Speed bumps – how to make

Tarmac suppliers

Hire shops

Citizen’s advice bureau

Wiltshire solicitors

**

5. Crime Flash

Also inspired by the Crime Flash competition, and demonstrating the potential of the flash form – stories can be in any genre – the next exercise was to write a crime flash.  Some of the examples produced at the workshop included below:

**

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY

by Peter O’Grady

It’s not how we stopped the train, or the amount we took or the driver we hurt, or the escape we made, or the ones you captured that gets me – it’s how, in our pride, we left our fingerprints so everyone would know it was us.

SPACE CRIME

by Suki Showering

She released the shuttle handle and off they went, the two of them, their smiley faces beaming back at her from the stars.  She watched until they were swallowed up by the dark expanse of distance, their journey lit by explosions long since past.  If only she had killed them first.

**

6. Packing (inspired by “Packing” by Gail Aldwin)

Included in the FlashFiction SouthWest anthology, ‘Kissing Frankenstein and other stories‘, edited by Rachel Carter, this flash-fiction uses the device of a packing list  to sketch a story, not revealing the main character until the final item on the list.  Exercise 5 was to use the same device.  Gail Aldwin’s original story is here.

**

PACKING

by David Birks

1: Tee-shirts x3

Cardigans x2

Trousers x3

Slippers x1

Shoes x1

2: Remove pictures from wall

3: Wrap figurines in bubble wrap

4: Leave TV and TV remote

5: Remember walking frame – to return to social services

**

7. Dulux Paint Colours!

I pinched this idea from Calum Kerr when I attended his Workshop last week.  I printed out a list of the colours – from Dulux’s website – and students had to choose one to use as a title for their flash.  Some great results abounded!  A flavour of the titles on offer – Crushed Apple, Lost Lake, Dusted Damson, Nude Glow etc etc

**

LOST LAKE

by Katherine White

Lost lake. To find it you have to dig for it. Clear the creepers, clear the jagged brambles, find the slope dipping away- excitement! Look at the size of it! Imagine it with water, ducks, dancing grebes and wistful cries of coots. Imagine boats, young laughter, picnics on the island. Imagine the water rushing in, a hidden grotto, dark with lichen.

Imagine the man hours to dig it out, the back-breaking toil it will take to restore it to its former glory. Best left.

Lake lost.

**

DUSTED DAMSON

by Liz Light

 

An orchard in Thames Ditton.    Gone now.

Remembrance of bee hives, greengages and Golden Rod.   Gone now.

Tea trolley under the laburnum tree, scones and damson jam.  Now gone.

The piano never dusted.  Sheet music brown and curling.

Granny.   Now gone.

**

RASPBERRY BELLINI

by David Hughes

No more ‘champion Wessex sausages’ from Bob. Even if they brought in more B&B customers, and he wasn’t convinced, they no longer lit up his day as cooking breakfasts once had. He wanted change.

The healthy-eating range of pancakes had looked good on paper, and a friend had made a nice job of the website pictures. But the menu card had been done by a barman friend, who hadn’t known better, and there just beneath the Swiss muesli was ‘Raspberry Bellini’.

“Full English” cried the guest, without looking.

**

CRUSHED APPLE

by Peter O’Grady

 I have discovered to my delight that, though I am crushed, I’m the apple of your eye.

**

RUBY STARLET

by David Birks

Audition – nervous – the call comes – no cameras – relief – through to the next round – use holiday – big chance – Earls Court – TV cameras – panel of judges – kind words – harsh words – tears – through – live show – live rounds – give up job? – give up job – final – no. 1 single – looking for new job.

**

8. Barbara Cartland Titles!

Another of Calum‘s ideas.  I was astounded at the number to choose from.  Again, students picked any title and used it to inspire their tiny tale.  If they were being really hard on themselves, they also remained loyal to the year the story was published, so that their story would have a period feel.  Sample titles  – ‘Fire in the Blood’, ‘Cupid Rides a Pillion’, ‘A Dream from the Night’, ‘A Kiss in the Desert’,  etc etc.

**

FIRE IN THE BLOOD

by Debra Milner

I should have listened to my mum… ‘don’t you go picking those mushrooms’ she’d said

**

THE MARQUIS IS TRAPPED

by Katherine White

Pushing through the leaves, he heard a female scream, then a sliding sound that muffled to silence. Ahead, an old quarry, a jagged cup in the rock, punctuated with holes. A faint “Help” and he sprang towards the sound, the heels of his Hessians clattering across the naked stone.

“Are you hurt?”

“Only a little. I just peeped in and found myself falling. I don’t mean to be any trouble.”

“I’m sure I can reach you. Just a moment, I’ll climb down.”

He descends, carefully and she smiles in the gloom, unafraid.

At the entrance to the cave, two shadows block the sun. Steel gleams.

The Marquis is trapped.

**

CUPID RIDES A PILLION (1952)

by David Birks

 What are you angry about Johnny?”

“What have you got?”

Afterwards, they roared off on the Triumph. Her hands clasped around his waist. Into the moonlight.

Her parents waited, worried, concerned – would there be a knock at the door – the local bobby or worse?

At the weekend she waited for him again at the milk bar, but he never arrived.

**

THE SLEEPING PRINCESS

by Suki Showering

She was asleep, again.  Every time he came home she was asleep, the kids in front of the telly, no supper.  Anyone would think she was a bloody princess, the way she carried on.  He’d been at work all day, she only did mornings.  Plenty of time to get on with the washing, tidying, cleaning, shopping, cooking, ironing, homework, dog walking, seeing her mum at the hospice.

**

A DREAM FROM THE NIGHT (1976)

by David Hughes

At least it was cool, and she could think. Was there no release from the stifling, cloying, unbearable existence? Surely it must rain sometime?

**

A KISS IN THE DESERT

by Peter O’Grady

 He was blinded when the sand storm he didn’t see coming kissed his eyes.

**

9. A Place and Point in Time (inspired by “Resistance, 1943” by Gail Garrett)

Another story included in FlashFiction SouthWest’s anthology, ‘Kissing Frankenstein and other stories‘, edited by Rachel Carter, Gail Garret’s story of the French Resistance Movement is detailed with great economy.  Students had to choose their own period of history as the setting for their flash-fiction.  You can read the original story here.

**

WAITING FOR THE LIFT, 9/11

by Debra Milner

On the top floor! What a time to be on the top floor!

**

10. Magic Realism

The trick of magic realism is to make the magic real.  To start with something absurd or impossible and write it vividly to convince the reader.  Starting with this premise and using examples from the National Flash-Fiction Day anthology, Jawbreakers (Angela Readman‘s “The Worst Head” and Dan Carpenter‘s “Black Hole”), for Exercise 9,  students wrote a magic realist flash.

**

MAGIC

by Rosalind Ambler

She had been gardening all afternoon, and was sweating.  Once inside, she thought she was a bit whiffy,  and lifted an arm to sniff her pits.  ‘Must you do that?’ enquired Shackleton, her cat.  ‘You talked!’ she responded.  ‘Yes.  I don’t normally want to, but that really was too much’ said Shackleton, regardless of the fact that he licked his privates quite happily in front of her on a regular basis.  ‘And while we are having a conversation, I know you only sing when you consider yourself to be ‘on your own’ but I do live here, too.’

**

FOUND

by Peter O’Grady

I’ve spent too much time curling into myself in the comfort of this couch.  I am shrinking and slip like a piece of loose change between the cushions to wait – wait in the dark for nothing expected, among other bits not particularly missed, until – until the pirate comes hunting for treasures, and lifts me, prized coin of the realm, and shouts, “Hey, look what I’ve found.”

**

THERE IS SILVER FALLING FROM THE SKY

by Katherine White

Birds drop it as orange seeds from cotoneaster bushes, purple pips from blackberries and there is a flashing in the flawless sky and silver showers descend.

No-one knows what to do with it. Take it, own it, melt it down and make with it? Hand it to the police? Use it to clear the National Debt? Get Greece out of trouble? Take it to the banks; they’ll know what to do. But they don’t. This silver is too pure for money. If we knew how long the silver would last, we’d know how much to keep and how much to give.

What if it just reverts to bird droppings in the end?

**

NO NAKED WOMAN CAVORTS IN THE BATH

by David Hughes

and no bass strings boom off the tiles, but there is a Great White Shark in here, I know. I feel the rasp of its hide alongside of me, a nudge from its snout as it wonders if I’m alive or not. And I sit frozen; not reaching for the soap in case I attract its attention.

**

11. Same location, Same incident.

Another theft from the brain of Calum Kerr, the group agreed a location (a nearby shopping centre – but it could be anywhere) and one incident (we chose a scream) and the next task was that every student had to include the location and incident in their story.  Students had 3 minutes to write.

12. Literalising an idiom.

Last exercise was to take an idiom, ie, “hold your horses”, “it cost me an arm and a leg”, “she has a chip on her shoulder” etc etc and make it literal in your story.  Students had only 1 minute to write their final flash!

**

VETERAN

by Peter O’Grady

Someone gave me a wheelchair today, it cost me an arm and a leg.

**

Downstairs at Battersea during the fire: frantic helpers fast and furious clear the rooms. It’s raining cats and dogs.

by David Hughes

**

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD

by Rosalind Ambler

Mother told me to keep my eyes on the road when I crossed it.   I did, which is why I am in hospital after being hit by the car I did not see.

**

BURNT FINGERS

by David Hughes

It was over, she knew, when she stumbled upon the half-empty packet. “Why only half? Why not the whole nine yards?” she thought.

What was galling, what really hurt, was he’d kept it from her; a secret life tucked away in a shoe box in his wardrobe.

She felt betrayed; humiliated; belittled.

Her anger bounced off the bedsit walls, rattling wine glasses, as she wailed “How could the bastard have started smoking again?”

**

HOLD YOUR HORSES

by Katherine White

Being super-strong, I held my horses. High above my head. They didn’t like it much and got their revenge by peeing on me.

*******

PHEW!  Did we really get through all of this in two hours?!  Yes, we jolly well did AND we had time for a proper cup of coffee and a tasty biscuit.

My thanks to all of today’s students, Debra, David B, David H, Katherine, Suki, Liz, Roz and Pete.  You are wonderful.  And thank you to Trowbridge Museum for your kind hospitality in hosting this writing event.  Here’s to more of the same, and different, in the future.

12 thoughts on “Writing Flash-Fiction Workshop at Trowbridge Museum, 16th May, 2012

  1. susancarey says:

    Wonderully informative blog and sounds like a hugely creative afternoon. Participants produced great writing. Hope you don’t mind if I pinch some ideas as writing prompts! I read a great story recently, not sure where now, but from the POV of someone who dreamed up paint colour names for a living. Lipstick colours might be good as a prompt too! And Barbara Cartland titles, fantastic!

    Like

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