Sunday, April 1, 2012

Write on track

Fruit market, Barcelona, Spain

Fact: Exercise gives you energy! More pep in your step! How about writing exercises? Can they revitalise your writing? Are they worth the fruit of your labour?*

I've been teasing out a story about an ensemble of mismatched characters for the last three months. I first met Nathaniel in Koh Samui airport. He popped into my head as I sat slumped on the hard plastic chair at gate 11. He wouldn't speak. I ignored him as my stomach rattled and rolled, struggling to digest a greasy fast food meal. I eventually established that the slim slip of a lad was mute. Suddenly out of nowhere a boisterous old man rambles into the scene. I start to pay attention as the man talks about when he used to a food critic. I could he was lying. I wasn't sure why. But I knew for sure he never ate tomatoes that looked like the blush of the lips of a woman in love. As the plane taxied down the runway, I had met
Nathaniel's mother and a piano teacher.

This story hasn't been on the front burner at all. In fact i haven't even been consciously thinking about it. But every time I actually jot something down I find whole scenes drifting out of my fingertips. Each character has taken upon their own voice - or lack of voice as in the case of
Nathaniel. But still I haven't made any great shapes in developing the story. In fact, I wasn't entirely sure how the characters knew one another, yet it felt right that they should.

The other day I read about a writing exercise in the Writers Digest magazine. It was the first of five steps in developing the themes of your story. This writing exercises aims to make sure any themes you wish to explore are intrinsic to the story - rather then forced or lumped on top as an afterthought. To paraphrase the exercise:

Randomly pick a scene from your story and ask yourself why each character is present. Make a list identifying what are their motivations and intentions. The character's ideals, morales and values are the drivers their behavior and actions. Essentially it will add authencity to both the character and plot.

I found this exercise gave me structure to start my writing session and added extra dimensions to an otherwise flimsy set of ideas. I now understand why the characters interact with each other in the way they do. Besides forcing me to think about themes (something I rarely do!) it also enabled me to kick start on a wonderful tangent of thoughts and ideas.

I have countless books about writing yet never actually do any of the exercises! So once a week I'm going to select a writing exercise and complete it. I'll post up the writing exercise once a week so you can join in! I'll be applying these exercises to both the fiction and nonfiction projects I'm working on.

*I apologise for the bad photo related pun

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