When you’re delivering a creative writing workshop, you often have to help people cut through layers of inhibition to help people access the story they want to tell. People are worried that their writing won’t be good enough, for various reasons. Writing is a new experience for many of them. It requires you to look at the world in a new way and to leave your comfort zone behind.
On those nights when you feel that your group just aren’t getting it, it’s good to have a few exercises up your sleeve to remove the barriers to creativity and get the words flowing. Here are three exercises which have worked with pretty much every group I’ve given creative writing classes to.
1. 20 Questions
I do this at the start of my classes about character, to demonstrate how you can leave clues about a character and the reader will pick up on those clues. Strictly speaking, it isn’t 20 Questions. I ask the participants to write a six or seven line description of a famous person, either real or fictional, and the others must guess who it is from their descriptions. People love to get it right, and some people are particularly gifted at coming up with descriptions that tell you who a person is without spelling it out.
2. Chinese Whispers
This is a writing version of the children’s game Chinese Whispers, where people whisper a sentence to each other and the sentence turns out completely different from how it began. People work in groups of three. Each person in the group starts a story. After five or 10 minutes, the group swaps and each person continues with a story started by someone else in the group. They then swap again, and they finish the third story. This exercise can have quite a startling effect on people, as they realise how far a story can travel, and what thoughts can be unearthed by a simple prompt.
3. Small Injustices
I use this exercise in my class about point of view. Everyone has a memory of a small but significant injustice that they experienced, usually as a child. It could be a promised reward that never materialised, or being accused of wrongdoing. I ask the participants to tell the story of that injustice, in the first person as themselves and in the third person as the person who committed the injustice. Aside from its therapeutic benefits, the participants start to see that the point of view a story is told from affects its tone and how the reader perceives the events.
What exercises have you found particularly effective, either as a creative writing tutor or as a participant in a creative writing workshop.