Write a list of your obsessions, whether they be pancakes, betrayal or albinos. Familiarize yourself with what preoccupies and concerns your curiosity and think about these themes. These are the topics you will be exploring for the rest of your writing life.
Sometimes the most effective way of conveying a character’s feelings is to project them onto other people, animals, objects or spaces. Here is an exercise I find effective in developing this skill.
In a single paragraph describe a room from the point of view (POV) of a character who has just learned that his/her mother has died. The trick is to describe the room WITHOUT mentioning the mother’s death or using such words as “depressed,” “sad,” etc.
In another paragraph describe the same room only this time from the POV of someone who has just won the lottery. Again, do not refer to the win directly or use words such as “happy,” “I’m rich!” etc. Describe the room, the atmosphere, lighting, furniture, etc, that would be indicative of someone who has just discovered his/her life has been changed in a momentous way.
I’ve often picked up a stray object, tossed it into the middle of the room and asked participants to write in response to it. In one case, it was a lost glove I found on the sidewalk. It’s fascinating how a found object can evoke the physical and emotional attributes of the person who lost it, and their personal history.
I also like to ask participants to write about “home.” What is it, where is it, what does it look like, how does it feel to be there—or not be there . . .
Find a comic book you really like, and select a page or two. Write what happens on the page (or pages) in plain text. Ask a fellow comic illustrator to do the same with a comic he or she likes. Now trade your written descriptions. Draw your friend’s description. This exercise, while it may seem fruitless, is perfect for improving your storytelling abilities. You’re interpreting someone else’s words. And what’s better, you can compare your work at the end to another version of that same written description. Not only will it serve as drawing practice, it forces you to analyze someone else’s drawing as well, so you can see how another artist solved the same drawing problems and handled the same material.
This is a great way of getting going/self-generating in a spontaneous, stress-free way.
STEP ONE: Give yourself one minute to explore each of the following “firsts” . . .
- My first memory . . .
- The first time I ever tasted a favourite food . . .
- My first day of school . . .
- The first time I remember crying . . .
- The first time I was ever really truly scared . . .
- The first time I felt really truly loved . . .
- My first crush/date . . .
- My first sexual feeling or experience . . .
- The first time I ever lost something (or someone) that I loved . . .
- The first time I ever hurt somebody (intentionally or unintentionally) . . .
- The first time I was ever hurt by somebody . . .
- The first time I ever had a gigantic fight with someone . . .
- The first time I remember feeling totally misunderstood . . .
- The first time I lied or cheated or stole . . .
- The first time I had to make a big decision for myself . . .
- The first time I was left in charge of something important . . .
- The first time I was ever away from home/traveled somewhere by myself . . .
- The first time I experienced illness (directly, or a loved-one) . . .
- The first time I received a gift that I absolutely loved . . .
- The first time I met someone who I would know for a good long time . . .
TIPS: Challenge yourself to not take your pencil off the page. Even if you can’t remember, or the memory doesn’t resonate with you, write something—anything! At one minute, even if you are mid-sentence or have more to say, you MUST move on! Feel free to write in point form, so long as you’re sure to write in the FIRST PERSON.
STEP TWO: After you get through the list, go back and choose three memories that you want to explore more fully. Give yourself three minutes to expand on each memory, one after the other.
STEP THREE: Choose one of the three, and continue exploring it as a monologue. If having a deadline helps, give yourself ten minutes.
IF WORKING IN A GROUP: Choose a partner, and read your first draft to them, unedited, word for word. Ask them to ask you questions to help you flesh it out. Good things for a dramaturge to ask or say:
I wanted to know more about ________________
I was confused when ________________________
I encourage you to further explore _____________
A lasting image was _________________________
THINGS TO CONSIDER: Experiment with form and style, rhythm, repetition, using different voices, time (linear and non), how where you are and who you’re talking to impacts your voice. If working in a “collective creation” setting, it’s sometimes informative and fun to have a group of your peers take the story and physicalize it. Consider asking someone else to read it out loud—sometimes it helps hearing how other actors inhabit your words.
Timed free-write: using a timer, set the clock to ten minutes and write whatever comes to mind until the timer goes off. No stopping nor editing nor lifting your hand from the page.
The idea is to cut through the “editor mind” in order to let the wild creative mind take over for a while.
Free-write topic: Truth and lies about my name
Write a poem that explores how you were named and the meaning of your name. Include at least one bold lie.