WordWeavers Session Two involving a carrot…

We began by considering the following:

  • writing what a character does is a way of revealing emotion or mood to the reader;
  • it helps to know something about your character’s background, their childhood, their desires, their fears, etc., as this is likely to influence their behaviour;
  • tapping into your own memories and thoughts is a way of sourcing material for writing;
  • your own experiences can be transferred to your characters.

With this in mind, I adapted Alison Fell’s exercise from Chapter 3 of The Creative Writing Coursebook (Macmillan, 2001, Editors Julia Bell and Paul Magrs) and asked students to write a sensory description of a bed from their childhood, noting down any remembered conversations, or associated feelings.  Then to repeat the exercise, writing about their current bed, or a bed from adulthood and finally to write about a fantasy bed, a bed that would fulfil all their needs and not necessarily a realistic or even remotely possible bed (for example, Alison Fell writes that when she did this exercise she invented a bed made of meringue and chocolate!).

Because I’d ask participants to draw on their personal experiences, I made it clear at the start of the session that there would be no reading back after this exercise; it was purely for their own use and there would be no expectation of sharing at this stage.

After the first writing exercise, we enjoyed a poetical interlude.

Since it was the day after the T.S. Eliot Prizegiving  I used the title and opening lines from one of the short-listed poems as a prompt for  students to free-write either poetry or prose, for two minutes.  The poem I read from was The Study from The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie.  Here’s the prompt:

Moon,

what do you mean,

entering my study

like a curiosity shop…

Then it was back to thinking about beds.

Students now brought to mind a fictional character, either a character that they were currently writing, or intending to write, or someone they had made up on the spot.  They repeated the first writing exercise about beds but applied it to their characters and read back what they’d written.  As suggested by Alison Fell, this was a good time to look for common strands in the descriptions of past, present and fantasy beds and to consciously decipher what, if anything, this revealed about character.

I was impressed with the variety, detail and quality of writing that emerged from this exercise.

Time for the carrot.

..what colour..?

The next exercise was adapted from Sara Maitland’s chapter in the previously mentioned coursebook.  The objective was to stimulate playfulness, different ways of thinking, creativity, new and surprising vocabulary and imagery.  It was also an opportunity to work collaboratively and to compare ideas.  The students had to consider the following question:

What colour were carrots before oranges arrived in Britain?

I asked students to work in twos or threes and to take it in turns to note down any interesting stories, ideas, facts, anecdotes, languages, images or beliefs that came out of their discussion.  The task was for the small groups to present their findings to everyone else in the form of a poem, story, play, song, dance or in whatever form they chose.  They could be as relevant or irrelevant to the original question as they wanted to be.

I regret not videotaping or audio-recording this exercise!  Among my favourite lines produced were “so much colour will make our babies hyperactive!” and “the rabbits dragged a sunset into their burrow”.

Then, some Sharon Olds.

We ended the two hour session by using as writing prompts the titles and opening lines from two more poems from the T.S. Eliot shortlist; A Thousand Lines from The Dark Film by Paul Farley and While he told me from Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds.  Here are the prompts:

A Thousand Lines

Passing by your old school

spare a thought for lost blackboards,

the slow erosion and tap of chalk

that notated long afternoons

*

While he told me

While he told me, I looked from small thing

to small thing, in our room, the face

of the bedside clock, the sepia postcard

of a woman bending down to a lily.

As with all the extracts, we read and listened to the entire poem afterwards and it was fascinating to compare the different and similar responses that the lines provoked.  In particular, it was sometimes extraordinary how alike in tone to the original poem some of the new writing was, even though many of the students were unaware of the author or subject matter before they’d heard the opening lines.

****************

Another really enjoyable session for me to teach.  What generous, innovative and enthusiastic writers there are in and around Trowbridge!  Thank you to everyone involved.  Three more sessions to go!

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