for writers and readers….

The last ever Monday creative writing exercise. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

creative writing exerciseThis 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

Dear Brian,

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…

Do, please, read the rest.

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

Giving birth

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

5 comments on “The last ever Monday creative writing exercise. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

  1. Cathy Dreyer
    October 7, 2013

    Thanks Bridget xxx

  2. bridget whelan
    October 7, 2013

    You’re VERY welcome!

  3. Maggs Radcliffe
    October 8, 2013

    You will never be a period at the end of a sentence. You are a writer’s wishing well of inspiration. Suspect you’re exhausted and desiring, no; demanding a reprieve. Go for it. Leave inspirational crumbs. Ambitious minds will consume, not nibble at the contributions of your brilliance. You will always be my GREATEST INFLUENCE re: Creative Writing………………please throw crumbs my way as I stumble and fall in an attempt to ascend and rise to the labour of the written word………big love……maggsxxxx

  4. bridget whelan
    October 8, 2013

    Oh Maggs…what an unexpected and glorious comment. To explain to other people Maggs and I met across a crowded classroom some years ago when I was writer in residence at a community centre. (Note the use of the word some – it sounds so much more erudite than saying I can’t remember, doesn’t it?) Maggs contributed to an anthology we produced and I have never forgotten her description of an Alabama kitchen. She is now permanently on the other side of the Atlantic, but we still stay in touch thanks to Facebook.
    And Maggs no, I’m not going to rest up. I love this stuff. I’ll explain in my next post.
    Wishing well of inspiration, huh. Beat that Stephen King! (Ok. ok. he can…)

  5. Vikki Thompson
    October 18, 2013

    Awwwww, i will miss it 🙂 You’ve had some great exercises honey.


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