I thought today I would share with you a writing exercise I picked up a long time ago when I used to study Creative Writing. It takes barely any time and you can do it during your everyday life with only minor disruption to other pedestrians. The tip is, when you’re out in town or doing your general roaming, take some time to look up. It so simple, when my tutor said it I looked at him with the kind of disdain only a hungover nineteen year old can muster, but it does really work. Look up at the windows, at the signs, at the obscure graffiti or the mismatched paint work. The reason being, that if you’re trying to capture the essence of a place in your work, you should be able to do it from a birds-eye view. Writing is about encapsulate your setting down to its smallest details. Little authentic obscurities that you pass everyday without noticing can help you to create a realistic world in which your characters can flourish. Sometimes what you find can even make great inspiration for short stories or writing exercises.
I’ll give you an example. Where I live there’s a bar with an outside garden running adjacent to an old ballroom. No one dances in the ballroom any more. The lace curtains have a haunting Dickensian quality, undisturbed by anything but moths and spiders for 20 years. I remarked the curtains first because of my Aunt. She once said you could judge an entire property by its curtains. By extension she suggested you could also judge the inhabitants. In one of the windows, curtains hanging grey and lifeless, there’s an old poster fixed to the glass. Turning up at the corners, the poster is a coffee coloured remnant of past occupation. It reads “Repent your Sins for he has Risen.” I always thought that it was odd to have it hanging obliquely next door to a bar where sins of gluttony and lust play themselves out on a nightly basis. Who put the sign up there, in an old Ballroom, after it’s exuberance but before the decay brought on by recession or war or lost interest, where are they now?
From this I could write a story about the ballroom closing and its patron fighting for it to stay open. Or the building being taken over by a religious cult. I could write how actually, this seemly empty property has one strange inhabitant, bent of freeing the world from its sins. I could write a story about extreme fanatics, leaving it up ironically as they calculate a chilling plot to break the ten commandments, in a bid to meet the devil himself. Alternatively, I could juxtapose this image with the reality of my character mood and despondence, suggesting that no one would save them and that for all their repenting their sins can’t be undone. My character could be having a fantastic night at the bar, fall backwards drunk and suffer a head injury. The poster could be the last thing they see as they’re pushed into the ambulance, the injury becoming an event that causes them to embark on a journey to change their life.
You can look up anywhere and not always, but sometimes, there’s something there that you’ve never noticed before. Something no one else in the world has access to from your perspective. Something unexpected that can add a unique realism to your work.
Do you have a great writing exercise that helps you in your work?
Have you tried this exercise and what did you find?
Is it Jesus who has risen, or something altogether more sinister?
Would my blog be better if I spent less time at the bar and more time writing?..Actually don’t answer that, some mysteries are better left unsolved!