Monday, September 23, 2013

Story starter: Mystery Object #1

Hello, all!

If you’d like to see how Teh Novel is coming along, scroll down for a photo of the binder. I’m just shy of the halfway mark—not where I wanted to be at this point, but making progress. Yaaayyy me.

Meanwhile, since many of you are writers or would-be writers as well, I thought I’d share a little exercise that I like to use with my students and that might get your creative juices flowing. Sometimes the hardest part of writing—especially when you have to do it for a class, or for a deadline—is coming up with an idea. If there’s anything harder than that, it’s having a dozen kids asking you for an idea because you’re supposed to be good at this writing thing. So, not having any real inspiration one Wednesday, I randomly brought in an interesting object I had found while cleaning out an old box. To my surprise, the kids wrote a wide range of highly imaginative stories and poems about it. No two works were alike. Hell, no two were even vaguely similar. And the kids had a great time.

I eventually started putting together a collection of vaguely intriguing objects for this purpose, and to this day students and former students come up to me to ask whether they can “do a mystery object” today. Maybe it’ll help you too; I’ll post pictures of them from time to time and see what happens. If you get some good writing out of it, be sure to tell me in the comments.
The rules of the game are as follows:

1. You must include the mystery object in your writing. It can be central to the plot; it can be incidental. You might mention it literally; you might just use it as a metaphor. But you have to use it.

2. Your writing can take any form you choose—story, poem, essay—but you’ve got to stick with that form once you’ve chosen it. No bouncing around between them within a single piece. Take an idea and run with it. See where it goes.

3. You must write to a time limit. The goal of this exercise is to get you to sit your butt in the chair and just write something—anything—so use that ticking clock to get your pen moving. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Half an hour. Whatever it takes, and whatever you’re comfortable with. Don’t give yourself so much time that you’ll get bored; don’t give yourself so little that you won’t hit your stride. I generally use either ten minutes (just to get the ideas flowing) or thirty minutes (for a more fully developed story), depending on the needs of the day.

Ready? Here’s the very first mystery object I ever used, photographed for your writing pleasure:

Aaaaaaand GO!

All right, now that everyone’s off and scribbling, here’s how Teh Novel is looking these days:

Today I'm rewriting Chapter 18 of 38. The shorter pages at the back are blank paper.

See you next week!

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