In our latest So:Write Women meetings, we learnt from the master’s by reading over some famous novel opening and ending lines – we then set about filling in the gaps with our own narratives! Inspired by the Literary Taxidermy competition
, this was an intriguing, engaging way to approach the building of a micro story, or scene, in a short space of time. When the clock is working against you and there is a pressure to reach the ending line, it can be very interesting to see how your ideas will come to fruition. With only twenty minutes to write, it requires a lot of discipline… Which is why this exercise was a helpful way of evolving plot and setting the cogs into motion.
For writers who were unable to make this workshop, we would highly recommend you giving this exercise a try. After all, who knows where your work will take you? Maybe you could enter the Literary Taxidermy competition, with 3 weeks to go until the deadline.
What struck me about recycling openings and endings – and turning them into something shiny and exciting-- was the way that this task reflected the diversity of each writer’s imagination(s). I learnt so much about how we add shape to stories simply through the way in which we read a line and add our own meaning to it. Each writer brought a sense of individuality to their pieces: taking full ownership of the borrowed lines and finding their own narrative within the boundaries. Ray Bradbury’s famous line from his dystopian Farenheit 451, ‘it was pleasure to burn’, was transformed by one of our writers into a story about a woman who enjoyed roasting in the sun; craving a suntan that would deceive her classmates from the reality that she could not afford to go abroad that summer. Another writer reinvented lines from Jo’s brilliant psychological thriller Precocious, which opens with, ‘we meet again in the supermarket’, into a piece about a character’s struggles with dementia and how our memory can deceive us. The groups really enjoyed the exercise and it is safe to say that each of us had a piece of writing to work with by the end of the session. A special thank you to Hazel, who assists Jo at the Art House So:Write workshops, for creating a fabulous chart with plenty of ‘openings’ and ‘endings’ to choose from for this exercise. We most certainly weren’t short of content!
With time slipping away from us, we spent the last half an hour of the workshop exploring the ways in which we can add depth to our plots and characters through depicting place in our narrative worlds. In particular, we looked at descriptions of confined or secret places, including a secret garden and yes, that cupboard under the stairs (Harry Potter fans, we’re looking at you). We found ourselves sighing over the intricate details used in some of the textual extract environments to convey stifled feelings – and how these details heighten the sense of confinement that the characters experience. Who can forget the engravings covertly etched into Offred’s closet in The Handmaid’s Tale? A moving symbol of resistance scratched into an unlikely place and found in Offred’s time of desperate need. The powerful engraving reads: nolite te bastardes carborundorum, or, don’t let the bastards grind you down - a striking, iconic line that resonates with many of us feminists.
Clare Fuller’s gripping description of the remote woodland hut in Our Endless Numbered Days stood out to us, too. Even without context to the story, the isolation that the protagonist experiences is expressed through the hut’s desolate appearance; affirming just how cut off she is from civilisation. These subtle descriptions can truly add depth to work and are a good example of ‘showing’ as opposed to ‘telling’. It can be easy to overlook the fact that place and the environment really help to build narrative texture in our stories – especially when there is so much to think about as we are writing. But, it can sometimes be these details that create a spark in our minds about where we need to go next with our narrative…
Ultimately, each one us has a different approach towards storytelling. Some enjoy mapping out their entire plot in thorough detail first. Others start with a small idea, like setting, and watch it grow, as though it were a ripple.
You may choose to write chronologically, working from the start and following the piece right on through to its resolution. Others prefer working with different scenes scattered throughout their narrative, piecing bits together here and there as though it were a mosaic. There is no ‘correct’ process: as writers, we are all different - this is the beauty of the literary world.
As a writing group we thrive together and most importantly, learn so much from each other. We’d love to hear your thoughts on your writing processes! How do you conquer the blank page?
In other news
Please do come along to a very special So:Write Women workshop this Saturday (18/5) at Southampton Central Library, from 10:15-12:15. This event will be hosted by Nazneen Ahmed, as part of the MayflowerFolkSouthamptonStories
project, who can also be supported on Twitter.
We are very excited to be supporting this event and are in for a treat!
The So:Write Women meet on the first Thursday of every month at the Art House Cafe in Southampton, from 11.00am-1.00pm, and on the third Saturday at the Central Library, from 10.15am-12.15pm. Why not join us?