February 2018: From sentence to story

Tonight our writing group did an exercise where we started with a basic sentence, then talked as a group about what we could do to bring it to life.

We had a bit of fun coming up with our basic sentence. There were six of us tonight, so we went around the table adding one word per person until we had our example: ‘John drank copiously after his sacking’.

Then we asked the question: how would we bring that story to life?

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Image by David Shankbone at https://www.flickr.com/photos/shankbone/6219944289/

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January 2018: The winning formula

Tonight we read the winning story of the Newcastle Herald Short Story Competition, Holly Bruce’s Twinkle Drops.

We wanted to learn from the story, and see if our own styles of writing could benefit from incorporating some of Bruce’s techniques. One of our group members read Twinkle Drops aloud, and we all listened, noting down aspects that we believed made it a winning story.

We then all spent five minutes free-writing, with the aim to write in Bruce’s style.

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Image by Jeffrey at https://www.flickr.com/photos/brainware3000/6070456/

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November 2017: What is love?

Tonight’s writing exercise came from the current Hunter Writers Centre project called Read, Write, Love, where members can send in pieces about love to be published on the website.

One member of our writing group was having trouble coming up with the initial idea of a story, and we wanted to explore why this was so difficult.

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Image by Modesto del Río at https://www.flickr.com/photos/modesto/27391744543/

Love is an abstract concept, so for our writing exercise we used a concrete object to focus our attention and write something about love. We had to all pick something from the table in front of us and connect it to love.

Writing about love is relatively easy, but there’s a risk of it being cliche. Love stories have been done over and over, and the challenge is finding something unique about love. Has love been so overdone that it’s impossible to write something that’s never been done before?

After five minutes we read our free writing and discussed what worked and what didn’t work.

Out of the four of us here tonight, three of us wrote ramblings about love that went nowhere. But one of us nailed it. The strawberries on the table told a short but deep story of love, with a tragic ending (and might just end up being a fantastic piece of microfiction… watch this space!).

In summary, we agreed that when developing a story, love couldn’t be taken simply on surface value. It’s a concept that has many layers and could be looked at from many different angles.

The story that worked was about a strawberry, which stood in place for love. The story used a concrete object that represented love, but didn’t speak directly about love itself.

Have you ever written a story about love? Share your comments below.


October 2017: What’s in a title?

pile of books
Image by Julie Jordan Scott at https://www.flickr.com/photos/juliejordanscott/4248190717/

Tonight we did a writing exercise inspired by titles.

We looked at the list of Manbooker Prize winning stories and their titles. Each person chose the title that appealed to them the most and wrote for 5 minutes, inspired by that title.

Here’s what we found.

One of us wrote a piece for Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question because she was curious about the concept between looking for answers versus asking more questions. She also wanted to play with the link between ‘think’ and ‘Fink’.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood was another’s choice. She was drawn to the incongruity of the title, as she wondered who would hire a blind assassin. Therefore it set her up for a challenge that the story needed to solve (and ended up being that the assassin wasn’t literally blind).

One person chose Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes because she wanted to write about the idea that a sense is not definite, but it’s there. She wrote a story about a couple in a relationship who shouldn’t be together, but neither wanted to be the one to end the relationship.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel was another’s story title. She wanted to play on the connection of Pi to maths, and develop a character who’s life was viewed through a mathematical lens.

And another person chose The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, because the title reminded her of a family story, and she developed the story around that.

It was a great exercise to look at all the Manbooker winning titles and think about what makes a good title. We discussed the importance of a good title, because it’s the first thing that draws a reader to a story. It appeals to our curiosity, our ability to connect it to our own lives, or the play on the meaning of a certain word.

The title supports the story, but sometimes a title’s true meaning won’t be clear until after we’ve finished the story.

Pondering a title can ignite our creativity. Usually we write our title last, after our stories are already set in stone. This exercise turned that process on its head, as we wrote the story around the title for a change.

What is your favourite story title? Have you ever considered writing a title before writing a book?