fiction

“I Live With The People I Create”

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

The session this week involves a worksheet!

the mortgaged heartWell, sort of, but it goes on to give you practise introducing a character in fiction writing. The session also invites you to write some non-fiction in the form of a  review of this aspect of Carson McCullers’ writing.

Below you will find the opening paragraph to four stories by Carson McCullers. In these paragraphs, she introduces the reader to central characters of her stories through brief description and efficient yet compelling suggestion. Her choice of words and focus of attention enable us to create  pictures of her characters in our minds from the very beginning of her stories.

Activity:

In this session’s opening activity, every seventh word has been removed from the texts.

Can you think of a word that would ‘fit’ in each space?

Take a look at these:

Text 1:

When Hans was only a block ­­­­­__________  the hotel a chill rain began __________  fall, draining the colour from the __________  that were just being turned on __________  Broadway. He fastened his pale eyes __________  the sign reading COLTON ARMS, tucked __________  sheet of music under his overcoat __________  hurried on. By the time he __________  inside the dingily marbled lobby his __________  was coming in sharp pants and __________  sheet of music was crumpled.

(From ‘Poldi’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 2:

Her peaked, young face stared for __________  time, unsatisfied, at the softer blue __________  the sky that fringed the horizon. __________  with a quiver of her open __________  she rested her head again on __________  pillow, tilted the panama hat over __________  eyes, and lay motionless in the __________  striped chair. Chequered shade patterns jerked __________  the blanket covering her thin body. __________  drones sounded from the spirea bushes __________ sprayed out their white blossoms nearby.

Constance dozed for a moment. She awoke __________  the smothering smell of hot straw – __________  Miss Whelan’s voice.

(From ‘Breath From The Sky’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 3:

Hugh looked for his mother at __________  corner, but she was not in __________  yard. Sometimes she would be out __________  with the border of spring flowers – __________  candytuft, the sweet William, the lobelias (__________  had taught him the names) – but __________  the green front lawn with the __________  of many-coloured flowers was empty __________  the frail sunshine of the mid-__________  afternoon. Hugh raced up the sidewalk, __________ John followed him. They finished the __________  steps with two bounds, and the __________  slammed after them.

(From ‘The Haunted Boy’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 4:

The young man at the table __________ the station lunch room knew neither __________  name nor the location of the __________ where he was, and he had __________  knowledge of the hour more exact __________ that it was some time between __________  and morning. He realised that he __________  already be in the south, but __________  there were many more hours journeying __________  he would reach home. For a __________  time he had sat at the __________  over a half finished bottle of __________, relaxed to a gangling position – with __________  things fallen loose apart and with __________  foot stepping on the other ankle. __________  hair needed cutting and hung down __________  ragged over his forehead and his __________  as he stared down at the __________  was absorbed, but mobile and quick __________  change with his shifting thoughts. The __________  was lean and suggestive of restlessness __________  a certain innocent, naked questioning. On __________  floor beside the boy were two __________  and a packing box, each tagged __________  with a card on which was __________ -written his name – Andrew Leander, and __________  address in one of the larger __________  in Georgia.

These texts have been turned into cloze tests.

A cloze test is intended to assess a person’s ability to read and understand text and choose words accurately. They can also help to develop vocabulary. As well as these uses, they can become an interesting, and maybe fun (?), activity for practising intensive reading and sentence structure analysis, both of which are useful skills for writing.  Cloze tests are also a good way to practise proof reading for meaning.

Stimulus:

The ‘stimulus’ for this session is the four introductory paragraphs by Carson McCullers.

Here they are:

Text 1:

When Hans was only a block from the hotel a chill rain began to fall, draining the colour from the lights that were just being turned on along Broadway. He fastened his pale eyes on the sign reading COLTON ARMS, tucked a sheet of music under his overcoat and hurried on. By the time he stepped inside the dingily marbled lobby his breath was coming in sharp pants and the sheet of music was crumpled.

(From ‘Poldi’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 2:

Her peaked, young face stared for a time, unsatisfied, at the softer blue of the sky that fringed the horizon. Then with a quiver of her open mouth she rested her head again on the pillow, tilted the panama hat over her eyes, and lay motionless in the canvas striped chair. Chequered shade patterns jerked over the blanket covering her thin body. Bee drones sounded from the spirea bushes that sprayed out their white blossoms nearby.

Constance dozed for a moment. She awoke to the smothering smell of hot straw – and Miss Whelan’s voice.

(From ‘Breath From The Sky’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 3:

Hugh looked for his mother at the corner, but she was not in the yard. Sometimes she would be out fooling with the border of spring flowers – the candytuft, the sweet William, the lobelias (she had taught him the names) – but today the green front lawn with the borders of many-coloured flowers was empty under the frail sunshine of the mid-April afternoon. Hugh raced up the sidewalk, and John followed him. They finished the front steps with two bounds, and the door slammed after them.

(From ‘The Haunted Boy’ by Carson McCullers)

Text 4:

The young man at the table of the station lunch room knew neither the name nor the location of the town where he was, and he had no knowledge of the hour more exact than that it was some time between midnight and morning. He realised that he must already be in the south, but that there were many more hours journeying before he would reach home. For a long time he had sat at the table over a half finished bottle of beer, relaxed to a gangling position – with his things fallen loose apart and with one foot stepping on the other ankle. His hair needed cutting and hung down softly ragged over his forehead and his expression as he stared down at the table was absorbed, but mobile and quick to change with his shifting thoughts. The face was lean and suggestive of restlessness and a certain innocent, naked questioning. On the floor beside the boy were two suitcases and a packing box, each tagged neatly with a card on which was type-written his name – Andrew Leander, and an address in one of the larger towns in Georgia.

(From ‘Untitled Piece’ by Carson McCullers)

Guide:

The cloze tests are exercises in thinking carefully about grammatical accuracy and how it affects sentence structure and meaning.

If a writer chooses a word that doesn’t ‘fit’ grammatically, the text will read badly and may not even make sense.

Unless you are doing it for effect, inaccurate grammar is frustrating for most readers!

Sometimes, it seems, there is only one word that is possible in the cloze tests. More often, though, there is more than one possibility, sometimes perhaps only two, but often there are quite a few different words that could go in each space.

What does it depend on? Why is it that sometimes there is only one possibility and yet other times there are many possibilities?

Word count and process

You can do the first activity on the computer by copying the edited texts onto a word processing document. That way, you could fill the spaces electronically. Instead, you could print the texts onto paper and use a pen or pencil to fill in the spaces.

Either way, the task is to complete the texts with one appropriate word in each space. Simple!

Here is the suggested procedure for the whole session from the beginning:

1. Copy the texts or print them.
2. Fill in the spaces with just one word in each space.
3. Check your answers with the original texts by Carson McCullers.
4. Think about the differences between your words and McCullers’ words.

You could make notes on some of these things:

  • Are some of the differences due to grammatical error?
  • Are some of the differences related to context or mood?
  • What are these differences?
  • Why have they come about?

5. Write a few sentences in response to the questions below:

  • Who are the people McCullers describes?
  • What words or phrases does McCullers use to help us picture these characters?
  • What do the characters look like? How do you know?
  • What aspects of the characters’ personalities does McCullers describe?
  • How do you feel about the characters?

6. Turn your responses into a paragraph.
7. Write a paragraph to introduce a character of your own.

rugged lion

Image by Isabel Ayre-Lynch

If you complete the process described, your paragraph for part 6 might be between 100 and 150 words. You could certainly write more, if you became interested in the analysis.

The shortest of McCullers’ paragraphs is 75 words long, the longest is 190. This seems to be a good range for the word count in part 7.

Completing this whole session might take you quite some time. If you take it on, you will need to take plenty of breaks. Maybe you could do it bit by bit over a period of time – A day? A week?

Have a look at this session for stuff related to routine:

Day By Day – A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House

Of course, you could just do bits of the session and that would be fine.

I Live With The People I CreateWhat next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

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Day By Day

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

day by day by Eva

Day By Day by Eva

This session is about routine. It’s about the boring hard work of daily routine, or about the interesting, the amazing, the pleasurable things that you manage to fit into your day. Or both.

Do you have a daily routine? If every day is different for you, you can still try this session. Just average things out or use yesterday as an example or make things up, imagine the daily routine of another person. It doesn’t matter.

Activity

Copy the diagram below into your notebook. At The Safe House, we love squared notebooks, it doesn’t really matter the size. You should use any type or size you like. You could use a cereal packet rectangle, as described in other sessions from The Safe House.

Find a comfortable place to sit with a bit of space to spread your kit out. Complete the diagram in any way you choose with regard to your day, or that of your chosen character.

Stimulus

The ‘stimulus’ is the diagram below. You can complete it in any way you choose. Use clouds, arrows, different coloured pens, a ruler! Note significant parts of your day on the diagram – Sleeping, dreaming, eating, travelling, etc.

Obviously, if you have chosen to use another person or character, you should complete the diagram for that person.

The diagram below:

The Diagram Below

Guide

This is an exercise in thinking carefully about when things happen. It is also good practice for note taking and then using notes for creativity.

You can use the information you note on the diagram to construct a piece of narrative writing.

Here are a few things you could do with the diagram, if you complete it with enough detail:

  • Write sentences about the day in the third person.
  • If you choose to complete the diagram with information about another person’s routine, write sentences about the day in the first person.
  • Focus on a particular part of the day, break it down even further and write in more detail about the routine of that part of the day.
  • Use past tenses, as if the routine has now changed.
  • You could begin to think about describing feelings about the routine as well.
  • Describe the day as a one-off day, as if it happened yesterday or as if it happened one day last week.
  • Describe the day as a dream for the future.

Word count and process

You could probably fit your day into 250 words, if you really get brutal and edit out a lot of stuff. We would say that between 250 and 500 words is a pretty good target word count for this session.

  • Open up a clean page of your notebook, get together a good selection of pens, pencils, felt pens, a ruler and any other kit you would like to use.
  • Make a version of the diagram and fill it in. You should think about spending about 15 minutes on this. Of course, it depends on how long it takes you to make the base diagram, and how busy your day is, I suppose. But we think about 15 minutes is good.
  • Use the completed diagram to write 250 – 500 words to describe the activities, etc. noted on the diagram. First draft should be pretty much non-stop and take not more than 15 minutes. You’ve got good notes so you don’t have to think too much about what to write. We think it’s a good idea to use your plan when you write like this, but we know not everybody actually does it that way! If you don’t usually use your plan when you write, you could try it for this session. You never know…
  • When you have done this, spend time proof-reading for any spelling, punctuation and grammar problems and check it makes sense. Make sure you would be happy for other people to read it. This should probably take about 15 minutes but it really does depend on your accuracy in the first draft and your ability to spot things that need changing.

nb Look for other Safe House Sessions for ways to proof-read and edit your writing.

If you do all of this in one go, you will have been creating and writing for about 45 minutes in total.

This is the same time span as a half in a football match. You will probably be knackered, if you do it non-stop!

Of course, this isn’t football, this is writing. It’s harder. So, we think you should take breaks if you need them. It’s up to you, though.

Anyway, when you’ve done it, leave it for at least half an hour and then come back and edit it one more time.

What next?

Updike on HabitIf you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

Thanks to Eva for the diagrams.

2. A Walk In The Park

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

struggle to sketch the flow

OK, so this session is all about going inside your mind. The stimulus will be a few simple prompts which may, or may not, be linked. You then go inside your head and imagine the scenario. The aim is to try and get a rhythm going and to get words down. For this reason, you should try to be aware of time as much as you can.

Later, you could look at other Flash Fiction Writing Sessions for ways in which you could put your writing from these prompts together to work on a piece of narrative writing.

We are talking about descriptive writing here so you have to create lots of images of random things like size, physical appearance, colour, texture, smell (!).  Sometimes you might think about describing emotions as well.

If you’re going to write in the third person, you’ll have to use your imagination and think about how your character will perceive the surroundings.

Maybe you could refer to the Flash Fiction Writing Session, Elsie Ethel Court, and describe your surroundings from the point of view of the person you wrote about for this session. You  could also try and use the prompts to help you to imagine how Elsie would have perceived the scenario(s).

Activity

Write either notes or full sentences in response to 8 short prompts.

nb: You need to decide whether your character is you or somebody else before you start writing your responses to the prompts!

Stimulus

  1. You are in a park. Describe the park.
  2. You are standing on a path in the park. Describe the path.
  3. You walk along the path. You see animals. Describe the animals. Do they notice you?
  4. You continue along the path and you see, on the floor, a key. Describe the key. Do you pick the key up and take it with you or do you leave the key where it is?
  5. Either way, you continue walking along the path. You come across an obstacle. Something is in your way on the path. What is it? Describe the obstacle. Is it easy or difficult to get past?
  6. Somehow, maybe easily, maybe with great difficulty, you get around or under, or over or through the obstacle and you continue along the path. Somewhere in sight, there is water. Describe the water.
  7. You continue along the path and, in the distance, you see a building. Maybe a house, but not necessarily a house. It’s a building. Describe the building.
  8. You walk along the path to the building. You go inside and sit down. Describe the scene.

Guide

Like I said, this is about using your imagination, but it’s a good idea to try and harness your imagination just enough so that you can get it down. That means you need a decent place to sit where you can produce words.

Then, you need to have some kind of way of measuring time because there are a total of 8 prompts and you could easily get a bit disoriented, if you don’t have some kind of structure to the task you are about to engage in.

Think about adjectives, obviously, colours, of course, but also about the senses. Although you probably shouldn’t get too obsessed with what everything smells like! Unless … Well, you need to not get too bogged down. Keep your mind moving and get words down as quickly as you can.

Don’t worry too much about telling a story.

Other Flash Fiction Writing Sessions can help you make what you create here fit into a narrative. Now is the time for sights, sounds and all the rest. Straight out of your head and into written words.

Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Keep to the time scale described below as much as you can so that things stay quite spontaneous.
  • If you save what you write, you can edit and change stuff easily.
  • If you want to go more slowly, you can adjust the times, of course.
  • You could even get someone you know who can get words down quickly to do the note taking for you and then you can write it up in your own time later. ; )

nb: Look for other Safe House Sessions for ways to proof read and edit your writing.

Word count and process

Don’t worry about word count, but for this session the process should take you about 20 minutes once you’re settled and ready to start.

Have 2 minutes thinking and writing time for each prompt. That makes 16 minutes in total. You could quite easily spend longer, I guess. Or less, I suppose. But this would be my recommendation.

If you give yourself 20 seconds to think before you write anything for each prompt,that would make another 1 minute and 40 seconds. If you keep going that is just under 20 minutes creating and writing time.

Spend another couple of minutes reading what you’ve written and making sure you will be able to understand it later.

Put the pen down. Sit back. Relax. Phew!

What next?

If you feel confident, you can take your notes and you can spend time to put them together into a narrative. Here you need to think about time and tense in order to construct your sentences so that they have proper meaning for your reader. Narratives are often constructed in the past tense. But:

‘Time is the Avenger. Never the Stranger.’

So concentrate when you’re at it and read your stuff loads while you’re writing it.

Look for other  Safe House Sessions for ways to work with time.

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

 

 

The Flash Fiction Writing Sessions

geckoThe Flash Fiction Writing Sessions are for anybody to read and / or do. They can be done independently online or in structured group sessions delivered by The Safe House.

The sessions encourage structure and creativity in writing.

Each session presents a stimulus and a guide on how to approach the specific writing task. Participants are encouraged to use each session to produce a short piece of creative writing.

Click the links below to access sample sessions:

About This Person
Soup Like Windows
Lizard in the Luggage
A Bit of People Watching

If you are interested in participating in these sessions, either as a facilitator or attendee, or both (!), or if you would like to discuss developing your own Flash Fiction Writing sessions with us, just fill in the form below and we will get back to you with details of how to be involved in this part of the work of The Safe House.:

This IS The Safe House 

“We can take you to a better place.”

The Safe House Online Sessions

 Follow the links for The Safe House Online Sessions.

A Bit of People Watching

download(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

This  session involves going out and about. You could go by yourself or you could go with somebody else. You could go with more than one person, if you want to.

“Don’t forget your phone!”

Activity

Go to the nearest bus station, find a seat and look around. Pick a person and, using your imagination and your phone, send yourself a text describing this person.

Stimulus

3 people at the bus stationThe ‘stimulus’ is a real person. If you don’t want to write about a ‘random’ real person, you could ask another person to ‘pose’ for you. If you choose this option, get the person to sit or stand in a place where you can see them and imagine that you don’t know them at all. Of course, if you choose this option, you could both do the activity on each other!

Guide

This is an exercise in creating a character. Write the description and your answers to the questions in a text. It is a fiction piece so you need to make stuff up as well as describing what you see.

Focus on one person at the bus station and write this person’s:

  • Name
  • Approximate age
  • Gender, height, size, health, voice
  • Place of birh, education, beliefs, lifestyle, habits
  • Temperament, mood, attitudes

Then, think about these questions:

  • Where is this person going? Why?
  • Where has this person been? Why?
  • How does the person feel about the journey? Why do they feel this way?

Send this text to yourself. Go home.

Word count and process

The first draft in this session is a text message. You will be using ‘text speak’ and all sorts of abbreviations so a word count is difficult to estimate. Be as brief as you can.

  • Spend about 5 minutes observing the person and making things up in your head. You could imagine that this is a bus station in another part of the world and so the person’s destination could be absolutely anywhere.
  • Write your text and send it to yourself. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes, but it depends how fast you can text.
  • When you get home, sit at the computer and write your text out in full. This time you should try and use standard grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. You could add more detail here, if you like and also change it into the past tense so you can fit it into a story later. This should take about 10 minutes. Try and keep your description under 50 words.
  • When you have done this, spend time proof-reading for any spelling, punctuation and grammar problems and check it makes sense. Make sure you would be happy for other people to read it.
  • If you spend 5 minutes doing that, you should have been creating and writing for about 25 minutes in total. Apart from the time it took you to get to the bus station and back, of course.
  • Leave it for about half an hour and then come back and edit it one more time.

What next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

(Don’t Go) Back to School

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

The day when millions return to the ‘3 Rs’ (the routine, rules and rituals of school) comes round all too regularly. Holidays over. Back you go!

Have you lived it? Did you love it? Did you dread it? Why? Why not? Do you remember what it was like? Here is a writing session about returning to school after the holidays …

Activity

All you have to do is write a short piece of fiction that ends with one of the sentences below.

Stimulus

And that was why she didn’t want to go back to school.

Or, in case this is your perspective

And that was why she couldn’t wait to get back to school.

Guide

Your piece should be fiction, but you can base it on your own experience. Or, if you haven’t been to school today, you could write about the experience of someone you know. On the other hand, you could write a piece that comes entirely from your own head using as much imagination as you can muster!

Use question words to help you think of what to write. For example:

  • Who is the ‘she’ of the story?
  • Who else is in the story?
  • Why didn’t she want to go back to school?
  • What did she want to do instead?
  • Who did she talk to about it? Why?
  • What did that person say?
  • What did that person do?
  • Where did she spend the day?

Word count and process

A minimum of 25 words and a maximum of 250 should just about do it. Of course, if you get a buzz and want to write more, that’s OK.

  • Aim to take around 5 minutes thinking about your story then about 5 minutes writing a first draft.
  • When that’s done, you should spend a bit more time proof-reading for possible spelling, punctuation and grammar problems and maybe a quick edit for meaning.
  • If you spend 5 minutes doing that, you should have been creating and writing for about 15 minutes in total.
  • Leave it for about half an hour and then come back for another go.

What next?

destiny

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:

share@thisisthesafehouse.com

Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!