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Regular news and insight from our many poets, writers, educators and facilitators

20 January 2024

Posted by Robyn O'Mahoney

Prompts, Dialogues, and Cliché


For the second session of Spring term, our Junior and Young Writers joined us for a session

that began with artistic influence. Ali brought stickers of famous artworks along – The

Scream, The Girl With The Pearl Earring, the Mona Lisa and American Gothic – and asked

the groups to pick one that interested them.


Before we got into the day’s warm-up exercise, we talked about the experience of visiting a

gallery or museum; how we decode the expressions in portraits and what our instincts tell us

about the meaning of a specific piece of art. 


We then asked the groups to write a scene of dialogue, developing a conversation between the figure in the artwork and themselves. The

whole community took to the activity with curiosity, smartly setting up narrative and

exposition within the conversations. The Young Writers took unique approaches to the

activity, with poetry, police interrogation and philosophical dives into being the focus of a

timeless portrait. One writer produced the stunning sentence, ‘name lost to the shifting mists

of time’.


After the break, the groups were given a piece of writing written in the third person which

followed a character called Bella as she comes up against a monster. The community were

quick to notice the errors in the text, and we went around the room to highlight the mistakes

in grammar and punctuation. Ali asked the writers to put their editorial hats on and not only

correct the errors but consider how to improve the story with stronger language choices and

descriptive writing.


During this task, we discussed cliches and how to switch them out in stories to find better

ways to tell the reader how a character is feeling or what they are doing, including show,

don’t tell. To help us with this, we talked about how we feel in certain situations – the

physical elements of individual emotions and states of mind – to help us use our own

experiences as inspiration for creative writing.


The groups shared their improvements with passages including: ‘her heart was beating so

fast it could fly’, ‘Bella woke up in the eerie glow of the moonlight’, ‘she shivered feverishly’,

‘Bella was scared out of her own skin’ and ‘there was only a shadow and that awful sound’.


For the last half of the session, Ali spoke about how we tell stories via text, sharing a story

with the groups about getting stuck in a hurricane in 1990 and returning home to find a

series of voicemails she had sent to her husband to explain her situation. The groups were

then asked to compose a string of messages with ‘omg, you’ll never guess what’s happened’

as the starting point.


We said goodbye for the weekend, and farewell to our Assistant Facilitator, Robyn, who is

stepping away to focus on her creative practice, and thanked the young people for their

incredible commitment to writing each week.

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