This is the third, and final, instalment of my entries regarding the outcomes of my participation in a creative writing workshop on September 29 2012. For the second entry, click HERE.

Exercise Eight: Characterisation

This activity required us to use a profile sheet to identify features of a character (any character, already created or yet to be) from which to write a narrative that describes it. Remembering to SHOW rather than TELL, I made an attempt based on the following profile:

Character Profile
Definitely borrowing this for the classroom. Already do similar things already, but this is so clear and crisp. Love it.

Here’s the result:

He walked down the steps knowing exactly when to hold the damp rail to alleviate some of the pressure to his on his leg. The smell of batter and salt following him before drifting off on the breeze. He passed the newspaper stall, furnished with old news of reconstruction and forgiveness, needing only just to duck below a passing umbrella. His coat, with collar turned up, was enough for him to last the brief walk to the church. Not that he was going for a block who was nailed to the wall over the entrance, but instead for the other men with less than a full set of limbs but chests full of adorned with metal and a union jack.

The woman at the door had to ask him to repeat himself as his voice was stolen away by the mumbling, shuffling crowd around them. Religion moving out, old memories moving in and 10am every Wednesday.

“Put that out before you come in too” she said, before he politely nodded his greying temples and drowned his morning tea of smoke and tar in a handy puddle.

Feedback: Still telling a bit, but better with painting a picture.

Exercise Nine: Using an image to develop characters

Self explanatory. But notice my history hat on whilst I composed it. The image is here:

Two Women
Any photo or image can be used, and often is, for stimulus. Prepare with clustering to make sure you know what you want to talk about rather than flying blind.

It wasn’t a surprise really. Both Victoria and Anna had expected this note, this wonderful and terrible revelation, to arrive every since they had left. A life time ago. The desperate escape from burning palace to carriage to ship to safety. It was so very vivid that, without the crinkled hands holding fresh paper…it would have been just last week.

A lifetime filled with praise, sanctuary, threats and sagging hopes. Children, grandchildren and, for Anne who now held the letter, a third generation about to spring into the world. This letter this… invitation… she read whilst sitting in the photographic studio. The boy who had delivered it lay gasping for air after his ceaseless run from their home, having found it empty of the Duchess but full of her servants who hastily pointed the young messenger to the high street.

Anna read and reread the carefully scripted ink and, sliding the note back into its sheath, decided that they would not return to a country that had expelled them with such anger and hatred all those years ago. Victoria took the note and buried it in the fireplace, where embers embraced a future that would never be.

Feedback was good on this one.

Exercise Ten: Proverb Prose

Using selected proverbs such as “out of sight, out of mind” and “many hands make light work”, we were to compose a piece that took the phrase beyond the literal. I did two quick ones.

Out of sight, out of mind

I am insane. But only when I’m by myself. I wear pants on my arms and blend sausage rolls for breakfast. But noone seese me. To the world, I am a doctor, an athlete, a father or a son. When I am out of sight, I am out of my mind. I know I’m not alone in this. Everyone is different when noone’s watching…or is it just me?

Many hands make light work

Billy held the ladder, Jane held the box. Mum looked on in abject horror as the ancient wood complained and struggled to take Dad’s weight. Dad, looking like an act from Cirque de Soleil, seemed to need only one foot on any surface whilst he turned and pulled his way through his mission. We all thought he would spend the afternoon in Emergency. Mum was within sprinting distance of the phone. Grunting, puffing, his belly dancing through the bottom of his flannelette shirt, he stopped, climbed down, flicked the switch and triumphantly declared: “See kids? Many hands make the light work!”

Feedback: A few giggles and nod of approval for the effective use of a Dad joke.

Final Exercise: Using dialogue

To use dialogue instead of narration is critical to engaging the reader and painting that picture of words rather than ‘telling’ all the time. Below is my reworked scene from Exercise Eight, using dialogue instead of narration.

“Morning Captain,” said a friendly female voice from the doorway.”

“Morning Mrs Combs,” replied Noah with a nod.

“Still having trouble with the leg? That last step down seemed to be the worst.”

“Have you been watching me all morning, Mrs Combs?” asked Noah with a raised eyebrow and a hint of a smile.

“Well on these wet mornings I do like to look out for our servicemen you know!” She blushed whilst taking his coat. “And that horrible Mr Holland nearly knocked your head off with that umbrella! Imagine those lovely shoulders with no dark mop on top!”

“Lucky I’m shorter than he is I suppose. And it’s less dark and more grey every day Mrs Combs.” Still polite but more quietly he asked, “did you see the headlines today?”

“Mmm” she mumbled, “don’t know what to think really.”

“Just don’t believe everything you read and you’ll be alright.” His voice suddenly firm and laced with authority. She was hearing the voice not of a tired veteran. This was the inner warrior.

“I’ll bring in some of your drink after a few minutes, Captain.” The words stumbled obediently out of her mouth.

“You make the best LLB in London, Mrs Combs.”

“Only for one as polite as you, Captain.”

And there you have it. A series of compositions that may or may not lead to something more. Regardless, I have learned some sound techniques for assisting myself and my students in their creative writing and I thank Dora for unlocking some of that hidden creativity.