I mentioned on Saturday that Writing Excuses are running this year’s podcasts as a free writing course, with exercises for each lesson. To try to add to what I learn from this, and generate discussion with any of you who are interested, I’m going to post the exercises and what I produce here. No set timetable yet – we’ll see how I get on. If you feel like trying these exercises and sharing the results then I’d love to read them – please put your ideas or a link to them in the comments.
So, a week behind, here are the exercises from the first episode of this course (10.1), and what I came up with:
Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:
From an interview or conversation you’ve had
From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
From observation (go for a walk!)
From a piece of media (watch a movie)
From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)
This exercise might not generate the very best ideas you’ve ever had, but it will definitely flex your idea muscles in new ways.
1. From an interview or conversation:
A galactic empire is run by an ageing bureaucracy full of strange customs and traditions in a Gormenghast style. Our protagonist must survive the strange and deadly customs involved in joining this august body before he can bring reform.
This one was inspired by a conversation about reforming Britain’s House of Lords.
2. From research:
The story of a young bowman in Henry V’s army on the Agincourt campaign. He becomes disillusioned with the warrior king he idealised, and with the romance of soldiering, as he sees the unpleasant reality of medieval warfare. The final act sees him plunged into a horrifying sea of mud and bloodshed as the outnumbered English fight for their lives in the famous battle.
This one is kind of cheating. It’s based on research I did for a couple of freelance jobs, and I considered writing it as a novel this year, as it’s the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Then I realised I didn’t have time, so I’ll just put the idea here instead.
3. From observation:
A secret cabal of mages govern the world using magic they tap into through playing cards. But each mage can only use each card once, and when they run out their power is gone. Different cards have different powers. The protagonist is a good mage fighting the bad mages, because I am too tired for a more nuanced plot right now.
Based on seeing an ace of clubs lying abandoned in a puddle.
4. From a piece of media:
A border police story, inspired by Canadian police procedural series The Border, except in space. A group of security professionals struggle to stop smugglers, terrorists and annoying tourists crossing the planetary border, in particular a shuttle docking platform on top of a geosynchronous space elevator. Combine it with The Wire-style plots where you get to see and sympathise with both sides of the criminal divide, and every act is politicised.
5. From a piece of music:
A pair of angry lovers prepare to burn down the town that persecuted them before disappearing into the night. It all goes horribly wrong.
Inspired by one of my all time favourite albums, Black Love by the Afghan Whigs, especially the tracks ‘Crime Scene Part 1’ and ‘Going to Town’.
Great song. Shame about the video.
There we go, my ideas. Please feel free to share yours in the comments, or comment on mine – who knows, maybe one day I’ll write one of them.
And go listen to Writing Excuses. It’s great.