Stuck for Words?

It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words but sometimes my imagination goes temporarily awol when I’m supposed to be creating a coherent piece of writing. Staring at that blank page can be daunting so I thought it might be handy if we revisited some tricks for waking your writing mojo.

Remember those six honest serving-men from Kipling’s Elephant’s Child: What? Where? Why? Who? When? How? They help us evaluate every situation and character and once we’ve got past the seemingly obvious questions about who the character is, what they are doing and how they come to be doing it, we can widen our scope and pose other questions that reveal different facets and characteristics and help us build up a character, a situation, maybe a story.

• Do they like sport?
• Do they violently dislike anything?
• What makes them shudder? Or giggle?
• Are they terrified of ladybirds? Or elevators? Or buttons?
• Are they vegetarian?
• Do they support animal rights?

If we need more inspiration, we could use some of those ingenious story cubes with their little cartoon icons to fire our imaginations.

With 9 cubes and 54 images there are almost limitless combinations that we can use to invent a storyline. We tried them at our writing group a few weeks ago. Each member of the group chose 3 cubes at random, shook them like dice and noted the uppermost icons. We then wrote for several minutes, incorporating the images into the beginning of a short story. Next, we passed our piece of writing to our neighbour, threw another 3 cubes and continued our neighbour’s story using the 3 new images. Finally, we passed the pieces back to their original owners, threw another 3 cubes and completed our story with another 3 images. We had some very unusual tales that day.

You could always substitute objects for story cubes. Collect several artefacts and choose one that appeals. If the objects aren’t familiar, so much the better: you can invent a whole past life for them. This works very well in a group situation with everyone contributing objects.
Another one of my favourite ways of igniting a sleeping imagination comes from an unusual source. In the 1980s tobacco companies in the UK were no longer permitted to show cigarettes in their advertising, although they were still allowed to promote their products. This led to some very imaginative and surreal advertising campaigns – remember the Benson & Hedges pyramids and the Silk Cut scissors? You can see them here:

Anyway, the ad I’m thinking of is for Winston cigarettes and would have appeared on the London Underground. The strapline reads ‘We’re not allowed to tell you anything about Winston cigarettes, so here’s something to pass the time.’ The text that follows inadvertently provides a pretty perfect way to build a character study:

Look at the person sitting opposite you.
Just a quick glance. Try not to stare.
What do you think they do for a living
How much do you think they earn?
More than you?
Could you do their job?
Think of 5 possible Christian names for them.
And one nickname.
Are they married?
Imagine their home. Their furniture.
What do they keep on their mantelpiece?
What colour bathroom do they have?
Consider the ANY DISTINGUISHING MARKS section of their passports. What does it say? What should it say?
Where are they heading now? And why?
To meet somebody? Who? For what reason
Do they look like they’re late?
And if they suddenly leant forward and offered to buy you dinner, what would you do?

No excuses now – writer’s block is a thing of the past, isn’t it?


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