Slightly longer writing exercises
(drawing on observation of place, people, object, image)
- Scavenger hunt - 6 prompts are given for people to 'find' in whatever place the group is in. e.g
2. something high up
3. a sound not made by a human
4. some 'found' text - 4-8 words - printed on something other than paper
6. something missing.
Each writer sets off to wander and investigate/cogitate, and jot down words or phrases/short sentences in response to each prompt. Re-gather and share. Use any 'finding' (or all) as a prompt for further writing. (see blog of 9.11.2013 for example)
This exercise gets writers to go and explore the place they're in more closely. It helps them to 'read' or 'search' the place with a given interpretation, or look again at the place that they're in through different 'windows'. Another way of looking at this exercise is that it may provide writers with a way of surprising themselves about the possible 'stories' which the place may contain - and which they might not have seen without the constraints and re-directions of the prompts. It might, for example, be possible to weave together a story out of these 'scraps', or construct a piece of writing in 15 minutes which incorporated 'answers' to all 6 prompts. One thing is for sure that no two writers will come back with the same answers - and that demonstrates that a group can multiply the possibilities for writing.
Scavenger hunt could also be done collaboratively - rather like a treasure hunt - by each writer providing a word or phrase as a clue for others e.g. In Buckinghamshire Chantry chapel someone has hung a string from the gallery with letters spelling out the word 'W E L C O M E '. I could ask the others to scavenge for 'a string' or 'a message which is not printed on paper'. The exercise is not necessarily in 'finding what it was that provoked the clue' but in finding anything which 'fits' that clue. So the writer who has scavenged and comes back with a snatch or 'string' of overheard words in respnse to the prompt 'a string' has enlarged our sense of the possibilities of the language. Similarly a writer who has scavenged and comes back with the hand-written book dedication ' To Ronny, Christmas 1987' in response to the clue ' a message which is not printed on paper' has succeeded in unearthing another answer.
- Near and far: describe an object or the view from where you are sitting; after 10-20 minutes' writing, reposition yourself and write about the object or view from a different angle/focus
- Picture postcard writing: pairs or threes take a postcard and discuss the picture, its story, the message that might have been sent - and why, the people involved. Each person writes their separate 'postcard' message - and then compare.
- Random collection of objects used as Metaphors for writing: 'Writing is .... an old cotton reel with its thread unwinding, used to stitch together rents and tears; writing circles, spools and winds; writing knots; writing comes in different shades - Turkey red, navy blue, and serviceable black and white; writing sits in my grandmother's sewing cabinet ...' Click here for an example
- Pile of stones. In pairs. One writer takes a stone from the pile while the other sits on the other side of the room and writes an observation of the other. 3 minutes. The stone-writer names and describes the stone, observing closely and using metaphor and simile. Then he/she replaces the stone in the pile and challenges the other to retrieve it from the description alone, meanwhile taking observation notes. Then reverse the process and discuss.
- Sound scavenging: Wander a crowded place and, discreetly, listen out for words spoken - these might be shouted, whispered, radio-broadcast or just one end of a phone conversation. Try to remember and record verbatim, complete with pauses and intonation. Also listen out for other sounds and try and replicate these in writing. Return and share the 'soundscope'. This might even be 'performed' by the group.
- Narrative distance: (from Alan Gillespie) 1. Distant view 2. close-up and 3. inner thoughts. Take a character and zoom in: a) write for two minutes about the character from a distance - you can see but not hear. b) zoom in: for another 2 minutes write about your character in greater detail, you can see them - and hear them in close up: this is 'show not tell'. c) zoom in: for another two minutes (possibly in first person narrative) describe their thoughts and motivations, their hopes and fears. The benefits of such an exercise lie in writing and re-writing, in considering which perspective you want to tell things from - and what the advantages might be in shifting.
- Koala tea: This exercise derives from oral games played on the radio programme 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue'. Writers are given a famous quotation or saying, such as 'The quality of mercy is not strained' (Portia's speech in 'the Merchant of Venice') and must write a text in which this is the LAST line. For humorous effect, the words may be twisted as in the fantasy about a rather chewy 'unstrained' hot beverage brewed in the Australian town of Mercy, which ended with the line 'The koala tea of Mercy is not strained'. Good if you like puns, painful if you don't, but a challenge to plot quickly.