Part 4 ahoy! (Check out the rest of our Intro to Short Fiction series here…) Are you ready for a brandnew exercise? Of course you are.
So, you’ve let your freewriting ferment. You’ve had a noodle around with fundamental human truths. You’ve told yourself an anecdote that you already know. You’ve written a tweet-sized story. What the effitydoodle happens now?
Did you manage to to salvage one sentence, one nugget, one mood, anything, from the writing you’ve done over the last few exercises? If you did, write that bad boy down. Make sure you actually do it. Don’t read this and think ‘yeah yeah I know what it is, it’s in my head and that’s fine‘, because it’s not fine. To misquote the political mantra of our times: writing means writing. Put the words on the page. Even if it’s just a sentence declaring ‘this is a story about man’s innate love of hot dogs’. That one sentence eventually becomes two, becomes three, becomes a short story. If you don’t write it down then you’re not writing.
Exercise: Project Salvage
Now, take that one salvaged sentence, play word association with it, and see where it takes you.
E.g. remember Sarah’s crazy story about stopping the woman jumping off a bridge (true story, btw)? After thinking about it for a loooong time (she’s good, our Sarah, but a bit slow…), here’s what she salvaged from that incident-cum-anecdote:
We insist that human life is sacred but we only act on that when it suits us. Can death ever be a positive choice?
Deep shit, eh? (She’s good, our Sarah, but a bit bleak…).
Where did that take her? To something like this:
- Assisted suicide – what must it be like to accompany someone to Dignitas?
- How would you ever get over losing your partner?
- Is death always sad for the person dying?
Etc and so on until she was left gasping for breath with a horror-of-mortality induced panic attack. Cool huh? So now it’s your turn!
Take your salvaged nugget and see how many associated questions or scenarios you can come up with. Set a timer for ten minutes and write without stopping. Have a paper bag handy if your topic has the potential to leave you hyperventilating. Aaand go!
— tick tock ten minutes passes —
Welcome back! Just look at all these little treasures, shining like story jewels carelessly strewn around your stretched metaphor landscape. Oh really, we hear you cry, how do you take those questions and turn them into stories? EASY PEASY…
Exercise: Project Expansion
Let’s do the above exercise again, but this time centre your questions or thoughts or associations or general brain-noodlings on people – expanding out those nuggets to consider the actions and reactions and motivations of the characters involved. Let’s do Sarah’s mortality-panic list again:
- A woman accompanies a man to Dignitas. (Incidentally, this is actually the topic of Sarah’s [currently shelved shhhh we don’t talk about it] novel, which won her an Arts Council Grant, a super high-brow literary mentor, and got an agent to sign on the dotted line.)
- A woman loses her partner to terminal illness and tries to cope. (It just so happens this is also the topic of this story here which won a special mention in the BBC National Short Story Award)
- A woman is relieved when the release of death finally comes. (Oh look, here’s a story about exactly that – a lil’ piece of flash which was never published but we found it buried deep in piles of stuff when we were researching this course and is totally relevant).
Now your turn. See if you can come up with three possible ideas and see where they take you…
(P.S. We know using our own work in our courses is, like, super arrogant twattery but it’s the only way we could show the whole process. Forgive us!)