Tag Archives: ideas

I Read the News Today, oh Boy!

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Following a brain popping sojourn at the Edinburgh Fringe I had to whoosh to Kent for the wedding of two of my favourite people on earth. A perfect day, finishing a perfectly inspiring couple of weeks. I’m on my way back to Norwich and saw this headline advertised in a railway station and it made me think of how wonderful a source of story ideas newspapers are.

 I worked as a journalist for many years and believe that the paper press is the richest source of inspiration available to writers. For starters, take this headline, and without reading the story what do you think could lie behind it? Or, you could just take an existing story and change the setting/gender etc… to make it your own. Ideas will come to you as you work on it.

Alternatively, you could apply the ‘what if’ question to a story’s possible outcome. The‘what if’ question prompts you to consider alternative endings. A good example of this question is Stephen Fry’s Making History, in which he explores a world where Hitler was killed in WWI but an even more dastardly figure comes to prominence, and wins.

The small ads section can spur the imagination. Hemmingway once said his best work was one he wrote in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. It’s clever as there is clearly a heavy back story here but Hemmingway, being Papa, does not spell it out. My point is that you could operate in reverse, search the small ads and then write its back story. Think of the tale behind a novel that ends with that small ad.

Then there are photos. Ignore the captions/related stories. Look at the photos and guess what is going on. Develop an identity for someone in the background of a picture. Give them a problem. Imagine how they are being affected by the main event in the photo. The key is to go for the more obscure shots. Obviously, if it’s a picture of 9/11, the chances are you’re not going to come up with anything too original but if it’s a picture of a man biting a dog, you may be on to something.

Go hunting, Newshound!


Freestylin’

 

Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is the madman in your brain taking the controls and sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….


All Hail Snails

Candles in Budapest

Snails. I have a thing for snails. It’s odd, I know, but we’ve all got something… Snails feature in my writing a lot. My award winning play was called ‘shellakybooky’ – a child’s word for ‘snail’ in Ireland. My Molly Keane Winning story featured a sock stuffed with snails and my latest stageplay has snails’ trails predicting the future in their particular weird, silvery fashion.

I love the oddness of snails’ appearance, their independence (carrying their homes on their back) and the fact that they leave a magical trail behind them. I envy their slowness, their lack of need to rush (and wish I had that confidence of approach). And even the word ‘snail’ has private significance for me. So when snails appear, I feel the muse is at hand.

Today, I arrived in from the garden and a housemate noted a baby snail was crawling across my head. I admit not everyone would be delighted to find a snail in their hair, however, this occured just after I’d been told a story about Buddha’s alleged debt to snails. I’m not a Buddhist but the story appeals:

“During a severe summer, a group of snails crept onto Buddha’s head and shielded him from sunstroke, their horns drawing enlightenment for the Master.  And these snails gave up their lives in the process. In gratitude, the Master bore their shells on his head for the rest of his life.”

So, having a snail on my head puts me in pretty serious enlightened company.

There are writers feel story and character ideas are fed to them from “somewhere else”. Clearly, that “somewhere else” is a very vague concept and means different things to different scribes. Nonetheless, writers who hold such beliefs say it is very important to allow your mind to be open to receiving these ideas – wherever they come from.

I find it a comfort to think that ideas come to me from some external source – and if that slow and steady, methodical snail is the one inspiring me or bringing me enlightenment – then I’m cool with the magic.


‘Agnes and Walter’ And the Shed…

I’ve blogged before about the writer finding inspiration via other art forms, be it visual art, poetry or even comedy.

Recently, I’ve gained a lot of inspiration from the dance world. And one of the shows  that started this interest, ‘Agnes and Walter’ has just launched a UK tour.

‘Agnes and Walter’ is compelling dance theatre. A love story tinkling with magic and fun, the piece is accessible to a broad audience.

However, for me, the most significant aspect of ‘Agnes and Walter’ is the exploration of human playfulness, creativity and imagination (i.e. art) which provide pockets of escape along life’s mundane path. And importantly, the show does not shy from investigating the close proximity of fantasy and insanity. It also encourages reflection on relationships, gender roles, and the passing and impact of time.

‘Agnes and Walter’ is punctuated by an eclectic musical score which includes live chansons, rock music and a specifically composed piano accompaniment. This music supplies moments of reflection and forms the bridges and borders between the quotidian world, the fantasy and beyond.

The relationship between reality and fantasy is perfectly symbolized in the show’s focal prop, a weathered garden shed that plays host to dreams, dance and love-making.

A blend of moving and comic theatre, ‘Agnes and Walter’ succeeds because it is quietly clever and thought provoking, yet remains all the while entertaining.

‘Agnes and Walter’ is devised by dance maker Neil Paris of SMITH Dance Theatre and is a must see if you’re in or near any of the following UK cities:

Norwich, Cambridge, Corby, Bridport, Lancaster, Nottingham, Luton, Bornemouth, Frome, Halifax, Stockton, Newcastle, Edinburgh and North Hykeham.

http://link.event.ly/v/262/2ef2a15113a476798cf9bf5e4f4c6e0cce60331af77e512c


Basic Instinct

Budapest chain bridge lion and moon

My gut has never lied to me. I might ignore my instinct (often do). But I know I shouldn’t, and time and time again, it shows me it knows what it is talking about. I’m in Budapest this weekend, in a farce – which I should have known better than to get myself entangled – my instinct had me well warned. But that’s what you get for not listening to your gut. Nevermind, at least I get to see my Budapest people, the greatest friends that ever walked the earth.

Instinct. Writers tap into something akin to instinct when we write. We usually do so via a freewriting exercise. Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is instinct in control, sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….

It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…


Wild Things

Fun fungus

I’ve been on a bit of a foraging binge lately. I came across a recipe book for wild food – ie berries, mushrooms etc… and have spent the past while subjecting my housemates to experiments in nettle soup, nettle lasagne, dandelion bhajis, elderberry syrup and blackberry crumble, fool and ice cream…

I live in an eccentric house share in an old mansion which has four acres of wilderness attached (there are even deer in them thar woods) – so there are plenty of the aforementioned weeds. Most of my housemates are adventurous, creative types, so are willing to try new culinary experiences and thankfully these have not yet been death by poison…

I’ve been having fun. And while I was out foraging today, it struck me how scanning the hedgerows for fruit, was rather like trying to find a story idea in the tangle of my mind.

I’ll often start writing by putting anything down on the page – “hggahgoidihgogha” will do, just get something down, break that white, crack that ice. Enjoy the sensation of the pen flowing over your paper or the tap of your finger tips on the keyboard and don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. Let it flow. Try just writing the “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs…”  a few times. Then continue on with the story. Where does the fox go next? Why is the dog feeling lazy? Where are they? What does the air smell like? What sounds can you/they hear? Is it hot or cold? Wet or dry? How does the dog feel when the fox jumps over him? Does he plan revenge? Once you’ve done a paragraph or two, you’ll probably find that the creative juices are flowing and there be some berries to collect in what you’ve written.

Happy foraging!


Through the Looking Glass

There are writers feel story and character ideas are fed to them from “somewhere else”, a parallel universe perhaps, where these characters and stories truly exist.

 

 

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My no. 1 flat in Budapest – photo Nannette Vinson

Clearly, that “somewhere else” is a very vague concept and means different things to different scribes. Nonetheless, writers who hold such beliefs say it is very important to allow your mind to be open to receiving these ideas – wherever they come from.

Personally, I’ve had moments when I felt plugged into a conduit, receiving stories, characters and ideas- though I hesitate to say if this was a spiritual event or just the  way the brain works in creative mode.

And it is a rare enough event – I can never conjure ‘the writing rapture’ but if I write often it’ll roll around every now and again. And when it does, it’s a  magical moment when stories and characters come swimming to me, all done-up, pre-packaged and ready to go.

All we can do is sit down to write every day- most days you’ll get coal but if you keep at it, the diamond muse will show up sooner or later.


It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…

Tok Jo! (Hungarian for ‘Pumpkin Good’ or ‘Perfect’) a painting by me, 2003

Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is the madman in your brain taking the controls and sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….

It was the day the pumpkin appeared on the chair…


Pop that Page

Put some magic on the page

 

It’s dawn 6am and you’ve risen early just to get those ‘morning pages’ done. And you’re staring at a blank sheet. Writer, you need warm up.

Just as many painters will apply a beige wash to a blank canvas to stop it looking so virgin – you’ll need to put something down on the page – “hggahgoidihgogha” will do, just get something down, break that white, crack that ice. Next, do a non-dominant hand exercise. If you are right-handed, then pick up a pen and start to write with your left. If you’re on a laptop, then type “The quick brown fox…” with your left hand alone. If you’re left-handed, apply vice vearsa.

Enjoy the sensation of the pen flowing over your paper or the tap of your finger tips on the keyboard and don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. Let it flow. When you’ve written out the fox/dog sentence a few times, continue on with the story. Where does the fox go next? Why is the dog feeling lazy? Where are they? What does the air smell like? What sounds can you/they hear? Is it hot or cold? Wet or dry? How does the dog feel when the fox jumps over him? Does he plan revenge? Once you’ve done a paragraph or two, you’ll probably find that the creative juices are flowing enough for you to turn your attention to that story you were working on before – or read over your freewrite, there might be the kernel of something worth working on.

Now, I’m off to take my own advice…


Newspapers: more than fish n’ chip wrapping

Yup, that's me. Sorry, couldn't resist the 'boast post' - the 'Munster Express, Jan 6th, 2012.

It’s January 14th, I’ve already completed a house move (and all the cleaning, paperwork and furniture selling/dumping that entails), I’ve spent a week in Budapest and prepped for a week of OFSTED inspections. I  hope 2012 will slow it’s pace soon so I can get some headspace and start thinking again. I’ll need conjure la muse… and get some inspiration for new works.

Leonardo di Vinci used to stare at the walls in his studio until the damp patches formed scenes and figures he wanted to paint. If you look closely at some of his works, you can even see how those dark stains suggested the rock formations he conjured. Of course, you don’t so much ‘get’ ideas as you eek them out from within.

Hopefully, you don’t have damp patches around your writer’s garret. You may have yesterday’s newspaper, however. I worked as a journalist for many years and love newspapers and appreciate them as a source of ideas and stories for the creative writer. For starters, you could just take an existing story and change the setting/gender etc… to make it your own. Ideas will come to you as you work on it.

Alternatively, you could apply the ‘what if’ question. The ‘what if’ question prompts you to consider alternative endings. A good example of this question is Stephen Fry’s Making History, in which he explores a world where Hitler was killed in WWI but an even more dastardly figure comes to prominence, and wins.

The small ads section can spur the imagination. Hemmingway once said his best work was one he wrote in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. It’s clever as there is clearly a heavy back story here but Hemmingway, being Papa, does not spell it out. My point is that you could operate in reverse, search the small ads and then write its back story. Think of the tale behind a novel that ends with that small ad.

Then there are photos. Ignore the captions/related stories. Look at the photos and guess what is going on. Develop an identity for someone in the background of a picture. Give them a problem. Imagine how they are being affected by the main event in the photo. The key is to go for the more obscure shots. Obviously, if it’s a picture of 9/11, the chances are you’re not going to come up with anything too original but if it’s a picture of a man biting a dog, you may be on to something.

Go hunting, Newshound!