Writer Recess

Ahoy, ye mateys. I’ve been on somewhat of a writing rant for the last couple of posts, so I’ve decided to unwind a bit with an easy, breezy topic.  The new year’s almost here. Let’s take a moment to relax. What say ye?

I’m winding up the last bit of my Christmas vacation, and when the calendar rolls over, I won’t have time for idle chit chat. I have a lot of work to do on my first WIP for the ACFW Genesis contest, and I plan to finish my second WIP. I have another idea floating around, and it would be fun to dive into something new.

With all of these ideas swimming around my head, I feel like I’m going under before I even set sail. What I need is a break, a vacation, a moment for mind to stop swirling and to start drifting.

Remember when you were back in elementary school? Those were the good days, huh? We went outside to play, and a simple playground transformed in the blink of an eye into a major league stadium, a safari hunt, a battleground between Mario…and well whoever Mario battles these days. I’m not much into video games.

How about joining me for a Writer Recess? I occasionally use these writing exercises with my students. It’s a great way to relieve stress and to get those creative juices flowing. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Movie Music. For this exercise, I don’t give my students any warning. I ask then to take out paper and pen and to prepare to write a stream of consciousness story or movie script based on what they hear. I provide the background music, and their characters must engage in dialogue and action as the music guides. For years I’ve used snippets of instrumental rockabilly, ska, Irish bagpipes, electronica, rap, blues, big band, etc. I try to pick music that’s not on their iPods.

Maybe you could set your iPod on shuffle and write to whatever tune pops up.

Dangerous Dialogue. The day before this exercise I have my students choose well-known characters (real, fictional, and even cartoon) and drop their names in a bucket. The students then pair up and draw a name. I create a scenario, and my students must make their two characters meet and solve a problem. It’s a GREAT way to help students learn how to get into the heads of their characters and to write the way their characters speak—not the way they speak.

Just for fun you could imagine “what if” two totally opposite characters from your two favorite shows met up for a blind date. Who knows? Change the names and their descriptions, and these characters may develop lives—or a romance–all their own.

Character Creation. Similar to the Dangerous Dialogue exercise, the Character Creation exercise allows students to become masters of their own universe. I give them a sheet of paper with background questions similar to those a dating service might ask. My students can create whoever or whatever they want to create. Sometimes they choose their alter egos, their evil twins. Sometimes they create their fantasy dream dates. Sometimes they go for shock value and try to make me laugh by their outrageous personas. It doesn’t matter. I then put the students in groups of three or four and make their characters interact. I ask them basic questions about where they met and how they came together, along with conflicts and resolution. But then I throw in twists. For example, as the students create their stories, they must incorporate one character’s pet peeve and another character’s annoying habit. This exercise forces them to fill in gaps and to learn transition from one scene to another.

You might consider choosing three random names from the phone book and creating personas for each. Then let your imagine take the story where it will.

I Spy. This exercise is the most dangerous yet. It borders on stalking—and my students get a thrill of “going undercover.”  I ask them to observe a random person at the mall or the coffee shop. They must stay a respectable distance and do nothing that will get me or them arrested. All it takes is a few minutes of observation. The students must then create a background story about who the random person really is. Sometimes the stories get really wild—but so far we’ve all remained jail free.

There’s no need for you to alter the plan here. Just go and have fun. But please don’t carry it to the extreme. Always respect other peoples’ privacy and dignity—and, you single people, this should not be used as an excuse to get a date.

Date Night. For me, nothing sparks my creativity than to become a part of the story and to spend some quality time with my characters in their environment. As I’ve mentioned before, my current WIP takes place in Memphis during the Christmas season. Oh, how I wish I were there to “feel” the atmosphere. But the days are packed. The town is so far away. If I can’t make it to Memphis, I’ll just have to bring Memphis to me—maybe indulge in some soul food, maybe listen to a really good blues guitar player. No writing, just thinking. The writing can come later.

Pick your spot and go. Does your character like espresso, greasy cheese burgers, sci-fi conventions. Go! Have a blast. “Feel” the atmosphere. “Feel” the story. And then write it.