Archive for the ‘ Writing Exercises ’ Category

Writing Prompts: Using the News

Ever thought the news is all doom and gloom? Good. For me, at least, doom and gloom is easier to write about than rainbows and, since my last short story was partly inspired by a news article, I thought I’d collect some good ones here for people to peruse and get some ideas from. This is the first that caught my attention:

London’s Weird Fog

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This looks like something out of a horror movie and the commotion leaves lots of room for a murder to take place, shady political deals or an abandoned baby to be dropped off on a doorstep. Have a read and see what you come up with or scroll down for more ideas.

Soldier controls bionic arm with his brain

(That one is just pretty cool).

Cold tolerant cockroaches 

Because every alien invasion is brought to mind. Also, it reminds me I can change the living quarters of any animal and see how that would effect life and whether a story comes out of it. Black cats are said to be in Britain’s countryside, wolves once lived in Britain and wild boars. Even if I don’t supplant the geography of these creatures, I could turn back time to see more of them/alternate history it.

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The other thing you can do is search for news in any country which takes your fancy. I’m going to go for Portugal here because I find their culture interesting and they seem fairly liberal with their relaxed drug laws.

I found they have 280 new farmers setting up every month

This is interesting, as if the world has gone back a few generations or become more green.  Either way, it brings a different setting in Portugal in terms of villages, countryside and towns that could have characters injected into them. Those old countryside bickerings and family rows could be hosted here.

If you’ve been inspired by any news stories lately, let me know about them and how they helped. (Of course, sometimes news stories are more research after the idea than inspiration but it’s all useful).

Until next time!

Holly Ice

Writing Prompt / Exercise – Character – Writer’s Block #2

driving writing prompt writer's block

We all hate being stuck so here’s another idea for a writing prompt.

I will assume you already have a character in mind here. If you don’t, that’s fine. Think of someone you know or a character who played a very small role in an old or current piece. This is aimed at giving you new inspiration you can either use with that character or rename them and use in a separate story.

To begin with, especially if you’ve not paid much thought to this character, much of their back story is one gaping big hole. Well, I’m going to attempt to get behind their eyes and into their driving seat with this exercise.

What does this character drive? No need for specificity here if, like me, you have little idea of makes, models etc.

Here’s the big questions in my head:

Expensive?
Colour?
Curvy or square?
Good nick or falling apart?
Rusty or smooth paint work?
Dirty or clean on outside?
Dirty or clean on inside?
How is it so dirty/clean?
What is personal about the objects inside the car?
What do the keys and keychain (if there is one) look like?
Is it their car or shared?
Is there a radio or CD player?
What sort of music is played?
Is it modified? Why &how? (where did money come from etc)
Anything broken/stolen?

These questions (and their answers) will tell you a lot about any character and a lot about what their house might look like, too. If none of these give you any ideas, maybe push to see what their room looks like or how their character traits (like OCD or slob) may bring about a crisis worthy of a story.

I’ll try this out with one of the more minor characters in my WIP: Melissa.
It should get me closer to her motives and shine a light into her character. Maybe, if I’m lucky, it will give me an idea for a new story, too.

Now, her car is…

Expensive?
Yes. She is a top reporter in her field. She makes a lot of money and believes she should show it, put herself above other people not just to look good but to get more answers.

Colour?
A grey silver. She’s girly but likes understated class in accessories and this way it goes with any outfit. (Clearer sense of her character is coming through here).

Curvy or square?
Curvy. Thinking two seater, too. No children in her family. Possibly single. Too career orientated.

Good nick or falling apart?
Great nick, not far off new. Maybe 1-2 years old. New car – recent promotion or bonus/bribe for job well done?

Rusty or smooth paint work?
Smooth.

Dirty or clean on outside?
Too clean. As if gone through a car wash just before it’s seen, only every day. A little suspicious.

Dirty or clean on inside?
Her bag on passenger seat when she’s in the car. Glove box has glasses, contact lenses and an emergency phone. Also has road service numbers taped to inside of door. Why does she have an extra phone?

How is it so dirty/clean?
She doesn’t do it herself. Pays to get it cleaned and regularly. Hates muck. Doesn’t get on with mother who is an alcoholic. The mess, clutter and anger got to her.

What is personal about the objects inside the car?
List of road services – can’t fix own car. No mechanical bent. Extra phone – undercover work business or dodgy connection to somewhere else?  Picture of a smiling man hung around the mirror. At least 3 years old. He’s cute, would be around her age.

What do the keys and keychain (if there is one) look like?
Simple keychain with the car’s brand on it. Likely received on its purchase. No adornments.

Is it their car or shared?
Their own. Would not let anyone else drive it unless under duress.

Is there a radio or CD player?
Both. She likes audio books.

What sort of music is played?
Very little. She turns the radio off when the music comes on. Only listens for talk shows and news.

Is it modified? Why &how? (where did money come from etc)
No.

Anything broken/stolen?
The right mirror is a little wobbly at the joint – hit something and never got it fixed.

Hopefully this can help a few of you. It’s made me see another side to Melissa. Possibly a few reasons for why she’s such an uptight prude and so irritating to my protagonist. If nothing else, I guess this method allows me to see the human side to my villain-like character!

It has also given me a few clues to her past and the option of a romance story gone wrong (and maybe later gone right). This could be entirely separate or joined to my main novel WIP series.

Give this a go if you have the time and let me know what you come up with! 🙂

I’m thinking on a few more exercises.

Holly Ice

Simple Photographs – Inspiration & Character

When you see a photograph online on tumblr or deviantart or flickr etc what is your reaction to it? You may scroll up, view it again, but then what? I’ve found if I can’t look away from it more than once, the best thing to do is save it to my computer. Why? Because it interests me. Something in it has a spark I like looking at, that intrigues me, and that’s what I need in my writing, too.

It’s not just portraits that have this reaction for me but landscapes, too. I’ve done a similar post to this before but I’m going to really focus on character here and an exercise for getting stories off the ground from nowhere.

Here’s 3 portraits from my collection:

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3_kerryport1

3_hannah-port1

My character exercise would be to look closely at each of these portraits. What drew me to them? Why did it? What personality traits are here? Where can I imagine them being and not being? Who might be their love interest, their age, they occupation?

Ex: Portrait one I see a young girl – twenties – who is acting shy but smiling, happy, probably a bubbly type who occasionally backs into herself. She has tattoos so perhaps has a good sense of self or an adventurous side. I could see her in a coffee shop, a bar, a skate park. Her smile holds sweetness, like she may be in love. What does this give me? Either a character or a love story.

Portrait two I see an older women – late twenties, early thirties – clothing style more vintage, perhaps eastern. Appears cultured but perhaps snobby. Is posed to paint but not really into it, or passionate with her work. Perfectly groomed, everything placed just so. Either married or chronically single. Perhaps an older time or a sophisticated elite. Seems european – Berlin, Paris, Moscow etc.

Portrait three is in a different century. Twenties or thirties. There is longing here and perhaps fear. A need to be connected with, to get help. A loneliness or a plight is implied. She is like a wilted flower – pale, innocent and yet with make up she seems to have seen some of the world and be worse for it. There is a sad story here.

These may not give me a whole story but, as you can see, they can give me a place to start or a character to begin brainstorming around. Sometimes I might never use any of these portraits for a story but they are there on my computer just in case their character comes back to me and works in a story or in case they speak to me with a story that must be written.

Hope this helps!

Holly Ice

When Being Stuck is a Relief (writer’s block)

It has been too long since I last did a writing exercise so here we are…

Non themed anthology submissions or any submission without a theme gives me a blank.

I know for some people this is liberating but for me it is the opposite. Where do I begin? There is no spark to get me going on something new.
If I’m aiming to submit an old piece, this is fine. Not so fine if I’m starting from scratch.

So, what if nothing comes to mind, no ideas, no inspiration, nada?

I go back to secondary and primary school ideas.

Grab access to a random book title generator such as this or a better example you may have found.
Then look at the results. I got:

  1. Swollen Souls
  2. The Vacant Dream
  3. Dreaming of Someone
  4. The Moons’s Wizards
  5. The Boy of the Husband
  6. Boy in the Silk

Okay, so no.5 is useless as it makes no grammatical sense but the rest are okay.

I would then brainstorm the rest of these titles and see if I came up with a topic, story or character which interests me. Anything I get out of these titles can be renamed under a new title, something more fitting of the result.

No.1 For instance could be a demon story or a story about what happens to overweight men and women beyond the grave.

No.2 Could be about an empty house or a character who has lost their life’s purpose, their hobby losing to their hated career. It could even be about someone with no purpose or a drug addict who has no care for the future.

No.3 The obvious choice is a romance but this could also be a weird symbiotic connection between twins or mother and child or pet and human etc.

No.4 Sounds like a stereotypical fantasy story but then it could just be the title of a kid’s favourite bedtime story.

and No.6 could be an abandoned child, left in silk – a mystery of sorts as this indicates a wealthy background. Or it could be a young market trader in a foreign country.

 

All possibilities, themes and genres are open with these titles. Let the random words speak to you and tease you out of that writer’s block. I know  I’m going to if I come face to face with it again. It’s better than beating myself up over not writing until my brain refuses to work at anything any more.

Hope this helps some of you! I’ll be thinking of more writing prompts and exercises over the next few weeks.

Until then!

Holly Ice

Are You Afraid of The Dark?

are-you-afraid-of-the-dark

If you’re a 90’s kid like me you probably remember the TV show ‘Are You Afraid of The Dark?’ with a few smiles. This is because it had great episodes (that were a lot scarier than goosebumps).

So, what makes a good ghost story?

ghost-with-a-bed-sheetSigmund Freud

  1. Good characters. No joke. The creepiness isn’t everything here. People need a reason to be scared and a reason to open that door that really shouldn’t be opened. Are they curious? Heard a cry for help? Fell?
  2. Which brings me onto my next point. Be original. None of those white sheet ghosts that go ‘ooooh’ or pictures with literal moving eyes. Think of something new. Jaded ideas are hardly going to scare, are they?
  3. A great way of coming up with genuinely scary and original ideas is by delving into childhood – things like clowns, bikes, tunes, whistling. Have a read of that old guy up there you might not recognise: Sigmund Freud. For those who know how hard he can be to read: his work on ‘The Uncanny’ establishes how something familiar can be defamiliarised in order to get an uncanny and sometimes scary effect.
  4. The Unknown. Yes, that works as a sentence by itself. The unknown is what humanity has always been afraid of (or most of it anyway) the unexplained and unscientific, unspecified stuff that just happens. The bumps, cries, and out of place. This is the stuff fear is made of.
  5. Something that sticks with the reader after the story. This is usually something original but it can simply be unexpected, too. Maybe the protagonist is the new haunter. Maybe no one dies (I know, shocking, shocking). This can also be a message or moral hidden in the plot. Don’t be obvious though! (Readers usually hate morals being shoved down their throats!)

Tips

scaryWriting2-300x198

  1. Get your hands on some books. Have a look on play, ebay and amazon and don’t be afraid to buy used books, either. There are some great ones out there on the supernatural, paranormal and the unknown. Have a mooch around and pick and choose your favourites for stories.
  2. Read some other fiction. Other writers get things right sometimes, too. Learn from them.
  3. Get a friend to read your story through. Does it scare them? Where do they get bored? (This is where you need to tighten things up). Is there anything they skip? (Same problem).  This, of course, is good practise for all stories.
  4. Does it scare you? It may sound silly. I never thought I’d be scared by something as I wrote it but it happened with the ghost story I wrote last month so keep an eye out for it.
  5. And finally, have some fun! Not everyone gets to write ghost stories in their spare time! Channel the spirit of a bonfire in the woods with marshmallows, some shadows, a chill and a good scare.

Let me know if you get really into something or if you knock up any good books or stories in your research!

Again, as always: Holly Ice’s Twitter and Holly’s Publishing Credits Page

Inspiration to Writing

I mentioned many days ago in my Pen’s Catalyst post that I have many folders of pictures on my computer. These are separated into “funny”, “animals”, “landscapes” and “people”. The two that are most useful for writing are, of course, people and landscapes. Before writing this I counted how many pictures I had in each of these folders. The landscape folder has 446 and the people folder has 116.

This discrepancy perhaps says it’s hard to find characters you like or interesting portrait shots. However, my landscape shots tend to have a lot of pictures within them that aren’t strictly landscapes, too. This ups the total.

Below is a sampling of my people folder.

As you can see, I seem to trend toward black and white photographs. I’ve always had a love for them so I’m not sure if this is just preference of the timeless and placeless quality of them.

The main point of having all these pictures in a folder is to inspire me. Sometimes I look through the pictures and don’t do anything. Sometimes I’m just fascinated by the colours and compositions. This may be the old artist in me or it may be the subconscious mind gearing up to a new idea. Who knows, who cares; the main thing is the pictures improve my mood and, sometimes, get me thinking, too.

  1. There are many ideas in these pictures. The first one for example: is it a girl or a boy? Are they running over rooftops or jumping over a wooden wall on the beach? Is it a war zone or an industrial area? Are they a thief of in costume? Playing a game or poor?
  2. The second picture shows my love for eccentric individuals. There’s so much you can ask about this guy and what he’s doing, where he’s going. He’s one big enigma caught in a photograph that I can play with in my mind like a riddle.
  3. The third picture is similar in this way. Only, here, it also gets me thinking about how I can use objects in different ways and create a new world with new values and preoccupations.
  4. The fourth picture is in colour, showing I do like colour after all! But, it also makes me think better of mankind. There is a contrast of one man saving food and material belongings and the other being, in my eyes, a winner, as he saves some beautiful little tabbies from the horrid water. News stories can often be great for these sorts of shots.
  5. The fifth picture is a bit weird. It did what a lot of pictures do in my folders: it caught my eye and wouldn’t let me forget about it. I always save these pictures. They somehow prevent me from scrolling on by. That’s good. You should save them to. What makes a wandering net surfer stop, will almost definitely make a reader pause in wonder, too.
  6. In the next picture I love the colour and bleakness of the landscape. It’s one of the shots that has blurred boundaries. It could easily have gone in either the people or the landscape folder. Sometimes I put pictures in both when they’re really blurred so I can always find them when it may be what I’m looking for. This picture tells a story in the still. Is she suicidal? Why? Is she playing with balance? Is she copying someone she’s seen before? Is she a ghost? What does her face look like? The questions just keep rolling.
  7. Now, this man in the city is also very interesting. His shoulders are hunched in. Is it cold? His expression is very ambiguous. Is he happy, crafty, miserable? The blackness of him in the landscape amplifies his character, too. He’s important in some way. It makes me yearn to create a world for him, a day and a story.
  8. The last guy is just like a song turned to a photo. He’s peddling an instrument home on a bike. It screams France to me. It’s also pretty surreal. There’s no discernible building anywhere near him. So many stories could be made from him or using him as a metaphor. Perhaps someone is taking something else ridiculously big home or riding into nothing?

Now here’s a sample of the pictures in my landscapes folder…

There are all sorts of pictures here from the surrealist art to the natural shot of a landscape. They are all useful to writing. Perhaps the bedroom tells you what a character is like, the sort of house they live in. Perhaps a beach starts a love story or a castle a failed siege? Landscapes can be used as much as objects and outfits to create a character, too. Perhaps your Charlotte has the temper of an ocean or is as flexible in ideas as sand. These pictures span a swath of ages and genres to me. They have many different associations and yet are all in the same folder.

My advice is to create a similar folder. You have been told, I’m sure, to have a notebook. This is your digital image inspiration book. Keep it fresh and keep adding to it.

For somewhere to get you started, this forum thread is where I get a lot of my pictures. (You don’t always have to do all the work! Sometimes people with similar taste have done some compiling for you!) INFP Forum Post  .

Now for the writing exercise!

  1. Grab a pen and notepad or a computer and blank document.
  2. Pick any pair of person and landscape and think about a short story or a poem including them both. The landscape doesn’t have to be the setting. It can inform their character. Similarly, the person doesn’t actually have to appear in the setting. Their qualities can be like a ghost in the landscape or the voice of the person describing the landscape. Give it a go!
  3. If you feel adventurous, feel free to add an extra person or landscape to the story. Maybe there’s a whole novel in there somewhere if someone can connect the dots!

Good luck and tell me what you get up to here or here!

What Your Shoes Say About YOU :)

This is a little writing technique similar to ones I’ve been taught. I’ll show you two full outfits and then we can assess the character of the people who may wear them. This is easy character creation but also gives new ideas for how to describe pre-existing characters.

This is a woman – unless you have transvestite or transsexual ideas for characters.
Now let’s think of adjectives for her; sassy, formal, well-turned-out, posh, snobby, moneyed, rich, spoilt, fashionable, workaholic, fitness freak, minimalist…
You get the idea. The clothes give you some associations to work from.

Here’s a very different outfit.

This to me would suggest insecurity because of the layers or a scene-ness. Perhaps a punkiness, casual, street sports, attitude, sassy-ness, talks back, stays up late, creativity, sexual, if not insecure than confident. Perhaps this is a bravado…

Try creating your own characters in this way – search google images or look on your favourite and most hated clothes sites. Or give these characters a go. View the outfits, form your own evaluations of their character and write a story with both of them in.

Let me know if anything is useful and share if you want to!

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