What gets you writing? Something you overhear on a train, a place you visit on holiday, a facial expression you catch in a cafe, a story in the press? These are raw materials which fire a writer's imagination. Keep your eyes and ears open and your notebook to hand, because observation is a crucial resource for writers, and what you see and hear are important sources for fiction, poetry and drama.
Memory is another key resource and rummaging through the filing system of your brain is a useful exercise - try thinking in decades, what were you doing at 10, 20, 30. Where did you live, what did you wear? Who do you remember - your Mum's cousin visiting from Australia, the people who lived next door, your first crush, your nightmare boss? Your memory is stuffed full of people, places, feelings and experiences that might need a bit of help to reappear. Use themes - work, leisure, holidays, happiness, fear - to bring those memories back into play, and use the details to add reality and depth to your writing.
Some of the friends who have joined us on Awakening The Writer Retreats will have chosen one of our writing prompts to get them started. In this series of blogs we will offer a writing prompt roughly once a month which we hope will get you going. We have been delighted at the wonderful stories, poems or even beginnings of something that have arisen from our prompting, so we want to feed you a regular diet in the hope you'll grow fat on ideas.
And we hope too that some of these prompts will turn into pieces that you might like to see published in the Anthology which we aim to produce next year. We thought if we started sending out the prompts now you would have plenty of time to write, edit, polish and submit your best work.
Our first prompt is related to one we used on our October 2017 Retreat in Poumeroux. Our courses are based on what we have found to be an effective 'People, Place and Plot' format which is different each time, but which we find works well for fiction, poetry and drama. For some of our writing exercises we might offer a choice of prompts, and one we tried last time was 'a body is found on a beach.' We suggest the person (vaguely, it's a body) and the place, you supply the plot.
Simple, but dramatic, the start of a crime story, or thriller or a mysterious poem. You can go in so many directions with it. Start with the body - who is it? Male/Female, young/old, recently dead or badly decomposed? Create your story by working backwards; what might have happened, did somebody walk into the sea in desperation, were they pushed off a boat? Who or what did they leave behind? Who might be looking for them, who hopes they will never be found?
Or take a different perspective; perhaps if you want to write more poetically - what's the environment, is the sea flat, or are the waves roiling? Is it day or night, is the sun a brazier, crisping the flesh or is the rain like a needles stuck in a voodoo doll? We might use published work here to help to generate ideas about environment, atmosphere, weather, perhaps a poem like Threnody by Kevin Ireland, which you can find on The Poetry Archive.
Some wonderful work came out of this prompt. But, quite bizarrely and sadly, on our way back home, whilst staying with friends in the Correze, we saw the body of a man who had jumped or fallen into the Vezere river. We were devastated to see such a tragic sight, but as human beings we are also driven by curiosity and to speculate on what might have happened.
Did he jump, or was he pushed in the middle of a fight? Was he troubled by money, love or loss? Was he affected by drink or drugs - something dodgy he bought in a bar, or something prescribed by this doctor? Did he slip and fall in, completely by accident, bashing his skull on a sharply protruding rock? Did anybody find his little dog sitting patiently waiting for him on the riverbank? And what effect did his death have on his friends and family, on anybody who might have seen him die. Who found him, who knew him, who loved him, who was glad to see the back of him?
Dark as it is, try this dead body prompt, place it on the beach or in the river, or in a burnt out car on an inner city wasteland or tucked into heather on wild open moor.
When we start with a body, we know the ending, so now - write the story.