A few months ago I led a workshop on writing, which was a challenge, since I hate giving writing advice. I just think it’s a bit awkward: what works for you might not work for me, and I only had one hour, which wasn’t long to be of much use. So I decided to talk about good ways to avoid rejection (not a money-back guarantee).
I remember my editor telling me how so many of the novels on her slush pile were so similar – with stock characters and plots. I thought a great way for new writers to around this, a great way to challenge yourself, and one of the techniques I often used in place of people watching, was to pair up two photographs: one of a unique person and one an unusual setting. Any images would do, but the more interesting, the more inspiration.
So I ran with this concept, and in the workshop I showed the writers several pairs of images: for example, one pair being a plague village and a photo of two business women. Another was a child soldier and a church. (I would post the images here, but I would almost certainly be breaking copyright law.) Then I asked the writers to very quickly jot down what those people might be doing in that setting, what their thoughts were, where they were going, and – voila! – they had the start of a story. In fact, a lot of stories can be boiled down quite simply to characters and setting.
It was more an exercise of thinking differently, of not doing the same-old same-old story, and piquing an editor’s interest (and let’s face it, you’ve got about five minutes of their time, and that’s it). Also, it was a good challenge at thinking up wild story ideas quickly.
So I was delighted when, on Twitter, one of the writers in the class (you can find her on Twitter as Journeymouse) actually ran with one of the photo pairs (the child soldier and the church) and wrote a story, which you can see here. It’s fascinating to see what she’s come up with from those original photos.
Why not have a go yourself? Just hit Flickr until you come across some interesting pairs of people and settings, and write down what you think is going on. It’s the forced pairing that does the trick. Or why not challenge someone else to a pairing?