For the past few weeks, I have attended a creative writing course on a Thursday evening. We started off by doing "automatic writing". We were given a phrase like "before I knew" or "now there was something to be done". Then write constantly, without changing anything. You have to by-pass your self-censorship and just write, plough on and not correct. Apparently this is a good writing exercise and with practice, the ratio of good to bad writing improves.
I find it interesting, that out comes a conversation I had with somebody a couple of years ago. I wrote about my general life experience, such as learning to drive, or moving house. After all you are not going to give away too much of yourself, to a new class, when you know you have to read it out.
I enjoyed contrasting writing when angry and writing relaxed. The short, punchy sentences, are contrasted with more poetic, descriptive sentences. Even with automatic writing, it is interesting how instinctual I was in this respect. Certainly when we were relaxed, we wrote less and took our time.
Writing based on a picture.
We have also done writing based on a visual stimulus. It is interesting what you are drawn to. I ended up picking a picture of an archway at the grounds of Attingham National Trust mansion and grounds. The amazing thing was, that a few weeks later, I actually found myself there! This was totally spontaneous and it was 4pm and my husband and I wanted to kill some time in a shop or cafe and saw a sign for the National Trust property. I instantly recognised the view as we drove through the arch.
Getting back to the actual creative writing. There were some autumn leaves on the ground and the tutor explained that if you are writing about change of seasons, that can also translate to a change of circumstances of a character, such as being between jobs. I wrote a third person descriptive as though I was stood at the arch way. Plus I described hearing a car pull up and was subsequently advised that this leads onto describing another character and who got out of the car. I was able to draft a bit of a story, in rough, describing how relaxed the character was, as she was on a rare day out, enjoying some time between jobs. Plus bumping into her nemesis from her old job, plus meeting American tourists. It is surprising how much of your past experience you can bring to your writing as I am sure most of us have met somebody you would rather have not. Or had the pleasure of chatting to somebody who is on holiday in your own country.
In class, I expected that the archway was by a car park, yet in real life, you drive through the arch as the arch is by a main road. You then have to drive quite far to get to the car park. It was interesting to see how similar, yet different the place was in reality.
Keeping a notebook.
We were advised to always carry a notebook. To write down something funny, or anything that you overhear. Plus you can write down descriptions, or collage ideas, be it people you see, or a place, so you can work things into a story.
I have found having time to kill, sitting outside Costa Coffee; or if I arrive early somewhere and sit in a car park, all good opportunities. It is surprising what I have noticed in a few minutes, something unusual tends to happen, or even something ordinary happens that I feel could be used.
Creating a character for a story
In many respects, I find it easier to describe what a character is like as a person, how he reacts to things etc, rather than what he looks like. Same with naming the person. After all, I wouldn't want to write a story about a roguish guy, who has the physical characteristics of somebody I know, or has the name of somebody I know. Nonetheless we were given a sheet of 40 questions. You would know the answers if the questions are about yourself, to do with what their handshake feels like, possessions, passions, health, making friends easily, siblings etc.
The thing that has surprised me: all too often a main character is a version of yourself! In many ways, you are drawing on past experience to write something. Then I had a crisis of conscience. I wondered if you have had to experienced something personally, in order to write a story centering around it. Or if a story is based in a place, do you need to have been there.
People were surprised by my concerns. We have all been stressed, so you can draw on how that felt, to write about a stressful situation, even if you have not been in that specific situation. There is always more to draw on than you think, especially in your imagination with regards to how you expect you would react in a situation.
In many ways you are potentially giving a lot of yourself away. Possibly the reader could wonder how much of it is autobiographical, even when you are writing about a fictional character. Yet you have the freedom to bring in bits of yourself, your past experiences, and it's all OK because it's in character!
Nonetheless, I am sure you need to do a good amount of research to write something properly. To fill in the gaps, make things plausible and realistic. Surely you should read up on a topic or meet somebody. Perhaps you could do that research as you go along, and it must be time consuming, but above all else interesting.
When we were told to write something and bring it in, I had no idea what to write. After all, we were not given a topic. Clearly the tutor doesn't want us all to be clones of each-other or her own writing style. Nonetheless a quick conversation at home, something that a friend of my husband had said to him, and something I saw on TV: I was off and my story had begun! In my story, I am very close to this character and inside his head, with his thoughts a lot of the time.
It is interesting to bring in your work for feedback with the class. There is a lot of emphasis on how a story makes you feel. That a story must make the reader feel something. Especially in terms of liking, or relating to the character, or disliking the character. You find yourself asking questions about what the character does, because you expect him/her to have done such and such. It is good to get ideas, especially with regards to how your character relates to other people. No doubt attending a creative writing class, gives you the permission and courage to write something. After all, unless told otherwise, they assume your writing is fictional.