The last ever Monday creative writing exercise. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?
This is the very last Monday creative writing exercise so I thought I’d go out with a smile. (I’ll explain why I’m dropping this feature in another post today .)
Journalists ask five questions :Who is the story about? What happened? When did it take place? Where did it take place? Why did it happen?
Creative writers, on the other hand, ask What if…?
They can also ask: What’s the worst that could happen?
Stephen King says what we do as writers is make people up, breathe life into their souls and then throw stones at them. Asking what’s the worst is a good way of finding the biggest, most painful stone. (Raymond Chandler, on the other hand, advised firing a gun whenever you were stuck in a story. He seemed to find it stopped a scene from dragging.)
What’s the worst you could do in a creative writing class?
Cathy Dreyer explores that subject in humorous example of epistolary fiction. The letter from Jimbo Sneathe – delicious name – to his creative writing tutor in the Department of Literary Fulfillment was runner-up in an Oxford University writing competition run by the Department of Continuing Education. I got in touch with her after reading it and she very kindly allowed me to use her story as a teaching aid (and warning) in creative writing classes
Here’s a taste of the story – you can read the rest HERE
After everything that’s happened, I feel the very least I owe you is a full explanation. You’ll have had my formal letter of apology via the Dean’s office, of course. It was written by the lawyers and scarcely offers much insight into what took place. With all hopes of meeting you in person finally dashed by my ban, ‘in perpetuity’, no less, from the university, its premises and personnel, I am writing to you, and perhaps that’s appropriate.
Whilst I take full responsibility for my conduct, please believe that my motivation was only ever to win your approval for my work. I was tremendously struck by what you said about the importance of impact, surprise and theatre in the opening of a story. And more so by your remarks about the competition we novelists (and would-be novelists!!) face from today’s ‘multi-media, multi-channel world’.
But I confess, when it came to it, I was stumped. I spent the first three days inventing reasons not to write and the following three in bed with a high temperature. So it was already late on the eve of your class when I finally felt able to gather my thoughts and put pen to paper. (Or, more properly in this day and age, fingertips to computer keyboard.)
‘Dazzle me,’ you said. But all my ‘bright’ ideas seemed dull. I had nothing, no spark, let alone a flame. Doubt snuffed out every glimmering idea. Then, quite suddenly, it came to me: laughter, my old friend in adversity! (I am rather known for my sense of humour, as you may have gathered from my contributions in class.) I thought, if nothing else, I’ll raise my flagging spirits on one of the many jocular cyber websites out there.
When I saw the gag on Wikilarfs it seemed like the answer…
Ok, you’re task is to take up Cathy’s baton and find a situation, any situation, and ask what’s the worst that could happen. Work it out in your mind and then push the boundaries a little further. Whether you are going for humour or something deep and serious your writing can’t be timid. I’ve put a list of situations down below, but you may already have a much better idea.
Registering a death
Buying a wedding present
Going for a job interview
Losing your purse/wallet
Meeting a parent for lunch
Be big, be bold, be wrong even, but above all be brave.
(Hope you’ve enjoyed these weekly exercises. I’ve read some of the stories that have grown out of them and met a few people who use them as a way of limbering up at the start of the week, a sort of mental exercise bike. Sorry that I’m packing it away for the time being but hey! what the worst that could happen…?)
If you enjoy this exercise there’s a good chance you’ll like my ebook Back to CREATIVE WRITING School – 30 exercises, 33,000 words, available now in paperback and as an ebook.
photo credit: Still Moments via photopin cc