Tag Archives: Writing Games

Following up or digging deeper

It’s been a while since I featured any writing exercises or games on a Monday and I know they used to be popular. One which I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is BeKindRewrite’s “Voice Week” which takes place in the first week of October. The idea is to write the same story five times, each using a different voice or point of view. You can find out more, and join in, here: http://voiceweek.wordpress.com/

I’ve decided to participate, probably using the story I wrote for Friday Fictioneers last week, because I feel it lends itself to further investigation, and Voice Week feels like one way to do that.

There’s another way, however, and that’s today’s game. Short stories – and flash fiction in particular – often invite the reader to make their own interpretation and impressions about what’s going on, what’s just happened, and what happens next. Among readers, it’s pretty common to see comments along the lines of “please write the next scene,” or “you could turn this into a novel”. Of course, the key to good short fiction is to tell a whole story within the confines of the piece, but that doesn’t mean these commenters have missed the point. After all, where does a story begin and end? And what is the story without a background to shape the character’s situation and the future to shape their hopes and fears?

So here’s the latest writing game, and it’s one I plan to work on sometime when I have a week to dedicate to it: Take a short story or ideally a piece of flash fiction that fired your imagination, but left you with unanswered questions. It could be your own, or someone else’s (provided you get their permission and give proper credit to the original author). Write up to five different scenes from either before or after, which give the answers to some of the questions raised, or shed more light on the characters’ motivations, personalities or behaviour. These scenes could show what happens immediately before or after, or they could be separated by vast swathes of time and space. They could feature the same characters or other people. And they can definitely contradict each other.

For example, if I took A Mother’s Legacy as my starting point, I could write two scenes from immediately before – one showing a political catastrophe which causes the Mother to need to escape the country quickly; the other showing that the narrator is manipulating her mother to take control of the family inheritance. Then I could write one scene from years before, echoing this one but with Mother taking her daughter to the shore for some alternative purpose, perhaps a pleasure trip on her birthday. Finally, I could write 2 scenes set after the original story, one showing the narrator (this time a son) taking his mother to a literal boat which promises safety, and the other making it clear that the whole story is metaphorical and the mother is dying.

 

If you take a stab at this, whether now or in the future, I’d love to hear how it works for you, and to take a look at the results if you choose to blog about them. Feel free to post thoughts, suggestions or links below.

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The Castle in the Woods

As promised in my previous post about Dana’s Dice (http://wp.me/p1PeVl-2W), here is a short story based on the picture posted there. I used each die in order and stuck with my initial impression of this beign a Famous Five-type tale. I hope you enjoy – i’d love to hear your thoughts, as ever.

Off to read other people’s stories now. If you want to add your own, do link to it in the comments here, or on the original post.

The Castle in the Woods

Lois bounded into her brothers’ room that morning with a look on her face that foretold adventure and excitement.

“Get up! Get up!” She dragged the covers off them both and wrestled briefly with John when he resisted. “I’ve got us a boat!”

Adrian sat up quickly. “Where?”

“Never mind where, get up, we can go to the castle at last.”

The children had been looking at the castle for days. It nestled in the woods across the narrow creek and they were convinced it must hold magic or mystery. Dad said they had been reading too many Famous Five books and refused to take them over there, but now they could go see for themselves.

Not wanting to be left behind, John pulled on his clothes and raced down the garden after his older siblings, calling to them to wait.

“Shut up!” said Adrian in a loud whisper. “If Dad catches us we’ll never get there.”

“Did you steal this boat?” John asked Lois as he climbed in.

“It was in the neighbour’s boathouse. He hasn’t used it since we got here, I’m sure he won’t miss it for a day!”

She pulled hard at the oars until they were free of the bank and then settled into a careful scull. The creek was narrow here and flowed quickly, but by aiming slightly upstream, she managed to manoeuvre their craft across and land a little south of the castle. They tied the boat to a tree and walked up the sand.

Suddenly, Adrian stopped, blocking his sister with an outstretched arm. “Look!”

They could see what he was pointing at. A single bare footprint in the sand. It seemed to have nothing around it, as if someone had hopped out of the trees and landed there, then disappeared. They searched around, but there were no other prints, so they pushed their way into the trees in the direction of the castle.

“That was weird,” said John after a while.

“Super weird,” Adrian agreed.

They stopped briefly to eat some sandwiches Lois had packed for them, then pushed their way through the thick trees, keeping the sound of the creek on their right as they travelled. After a long walk, the trees gave way to a crumbling stone wall, crawling with green tendrils of ivy.

“This is it!” said Lois in barely a whisper.

The boys came up on either side of her and felt the stonework until John let out a little yelp of surprise. “There’s a hole here!” he said when he could breathe again.

It was just wide enough for one of them to squeeze through at a time, and dark inside. The children looked at each other.

“You found it, John,” said Adrian, “You can go through first.”

But John had peered into the hole and he knew that you couldn’t see the other side. What if it was a dead end, or worse, full of spiders and earwigs and nasty things ready to chew off his arms and legs?

“Lois is the eldest,” Jon replied, trying to stop his teeth from chattering.

“I got the boat,” Lois replied, as if that let her off the hook.

Adrian sighed. “Good job I brought Mum’s decision die along,” he said.

The children had been making decisions with the decision die for as long as they could remember – who sat in the middle seat of the car, who got the first piece of cake – good or bad, the die decided their fate. He pulled it out of his pocket and threw it onto the ground. It teetered on a rock, then fell beside it with 1 showing clearly on the top.

John gulped, but didn’t wait to see Adrian pick the die up. Instead he put an arm into the hole and crept inside. There was a twist and then he was out of the wall and found himself in a small courtyard. Lying on the ground in front of him was an old man’s walking stick and towering above him, the castle they had seen from their cottage. Really, it was more of a fort than a full castle, just one round turret, standing tall in the tiny courtyard, and accompanied there by a small shack, which seemed to be much newer.

Lois and Adrian pushed through the hole in the wall, and joined him.

“Maybe that explains the single footprint,” said Adrian, pointing to the stick in John’s hand.

“A one legged-man!” gasped Lois.

They all knew it didn’t really explain the footprint at all, where had the one legged man gone? And why hadn’t he taken his stick? But it was a better explanation than they had had before.

 “Let’s go in the castle,” said Adrian. He pulled the torch from his backpack and headed for the door. The others were quick to follow.

The castle was as dilapidated as the surrounding wall. Flowers grew through the floorboards and streams of sunlight burst in where the walls had crumbled. But to the children it was a place of wonder and excitement. As they explored the castle, they forgot their initial nervousness, and ran up and down the stairs calling to each other and exploring each room in turn.

When they reached the very top, they burst out into the fresh air like conquering heroes. The bright sunshine was blinding and Lois, who was first through the door stopped suddenly enough for her brothers to collide with her as they emerged.

When their eyes grew accustomed to the light, they walked to the edge of the battlements. The view was spectacular – in two directions entirely blocked by the forest, but to the North they could see the creek snaking away from the island, and overhead, as they eyes grew accustomed to the daylight, the pastel light of a crescent moon against the blue summer sky.

But John was looking East, towards their holiday cottage with its green lawn sloping down to the bank. “Who is that talking to Dad?” he asked, shielding his eyes to see more clearly.

“I think it might be Mr Jennings,” said Lois slowly.

“Mr Jennings who owns the boathouse?” asked Adrian.

She nodded, “We are in so much trouble.”

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Play Time in Writerville

While recent posts might suggest ideas are easy to come by, it’s always fun to hear about new ways to exercise the writer-brain and this one really peaked my interest. I was sent this picture by my writer friend, Dana (his website is here: http://pixelenvy.ca/cgi/fff.cgi if you’re interested.)

He received the dice as a Christmas present – the challenge is to come up with a story featuring all these components. Now the first thing I thought when I saw this was “Famous Five”. Must be something to do with the flashlight and the moon and the castle, but I think mostly the footprint. You have my permission to psychologically assess me based on that impression – I wonder why I went for all the corner pieces first!

But I digress…

I feel 100 words won’t do either this challenge or the components of this story justice, so I’m planning to write something a little longer in resposne to this picture. I’ll post it when it’s done. If you would like to join me, feel free to post your own stories either in the comments below, or in your own blog with a link in the comments. I won’t be reading them until I’m done mine, but then I would love to see what other people saw in Dana’s Dice.

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Description

In my post, More Writing Games, here: http://wp.me/p1PeVl-1w, I described an exercise in writing from Anthony Burgess. Since description is my weak spot, I thought I’d go with the original version and describe a room. It turned into a bit of a story itself, but I hope you like it – comments are appreciated as always (good and especially bad ones). I was using page 1111 of my dictionary, as requested, and word 13 in particular. See if you can spot the page. Here we go…

The hotel room was dark and smelt faintly of prophylactics. I felt my stomach turn at the image that conjured up. The curtains were heavy blue velvet, I pulled them back to let some light into the room, but that just revealed the true squalor within. Mould was propagating wildly in one corner where the wall had a pronounced yaw inwards, and the ceiling was stained from water damage.

The decorations were strange, a propfan jutted out of the wall above the bed, as if the remains of a war time crash that noone had bothered to remove. The quiet design of the propeller the ultimate irony, since in the last few minutes the fan on the ceiling had already demonstrated a propensity to squeak, once in every slow, useless cycle.

“Your guest is joining you later, is he?” prompted the bellboy, hanging on the pronoun to emphasise his views on the prospect of two men sharing a double room. Clearly not a proponent of the Rainbow propaganda promulgated by the hotel, he virtually had “Prejudice” tattooed across his knuckles. He propped the door open and wheeled in our cases. I thought about withholding the bill I’d palmed earlier, but it seemed better to propitiate him, otherwise he’d only chalk it up to the colour of my skin and the propensity of black men to tip badly.

I pushed the bill into his hand and closed the door behind him. The room stank, the service stank. I was about ready to leave, but I couldn’t. There were no other hotels in town, no other rooms to be had for any money, and the funeral was starting in an hour. I propelled my brother’s case away from the door and sat down heavily on the bed.

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More Writing Games

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is 1st December. NaNoWriMo is over, I won, so did huge numbers of the WriMos I am proud to call friends. WOOHOO! Confetti! etc etc.

So now we’re back to the real world, and what better way to celebrate than with a game.

“What I often do when I have to, say, describe a room, is to take a page of a dictionary, any page at all, and see if with the words suggested by that one page in the dictionary I can build up a room, build up a scene. Nobody has noticed. … You’re really normally doing what nature does, you’re just making an entity out of the elements. I do recommend it to young writers.” Anthony Burgess

Well, it’s an idea, isn’t it. So here’s the game, with due credit to Mr Burgess. Take a dictionary (yes, a paper one, sometimes the old ways really are the best) and open a page at random. Then write a story, or a scene, or a description, whatever takes your fancy. The only rule is, you have to include at least 5, ideally ten, or more! words from that double page spread in Chambers, Websters, the Oxford English or Collins’ Gem in front of you. Definition words, mind, no sneaking in with “well, there’s a ‘the’ in this definition here” excuses.

I’ll try to do this exercise and post it next week. If anyone has a desperate desire to pick a page number my dictionary has 1654 pages. First come first served to give me a number. Otherwise, it’ll be random.

Off to search out room descriptions in Clockwork Orange now…

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Writing Games #2

Take a group of writers, give them a selection of words, and what do you get?

At the Drabble launch event I attended recently (see previous post Awards versus Rewards), the tables were each covered in a series of slips of paper. Like Fridge Poetry, each slip contained a word (or occasionally a word-ending like “ing”) and could be shuffled around to make sentences, poems or even full drabbles.

Within minutes of arriving, people had drifted towards the tables and were frantically / intently / happily rearranging the words. It broke the ice – people were bonding over the hunt for a verb before they even exchanged names – and it was a lot of fun. Maybe other groups wouldn’t have found it so absorbing, but writers are wordsmiths; playing with words is what we do.

Occasionally, a little squeal would go up – “Gourd! We have to use gourd!” or “Can you have a stoned earwig?” or simply “I need a ‘which’ or a ‘who’!”

The results were funny, “Why are gourds bananas and a kiwi following us”, and profound “Love said little many times never heard” and downright bizarre “always follow your second best pedagogy”. It’s made me think maybe I should invest in some magnetic words to aid my procrastination. Off to www.magneticpoetry.com methinks!

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