Fearless storytelling

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Several writing workshops I’ve run recently with a fab group of year 6 kids have been enlightening.  Their ideas and what they’ve written have dazzled me.

Last week’s workshop was to edit a deliberately pedestrian seven sentences:

There was a full moon.  Tyra and Jason were sat under a tree.  They were in Jason’s garden.

“I love the moon,” said Tyra.

“Really? I think it looks like…” said Jason.  He was interrupted by an owl.

They were allowed to change the setting, the names, what happens.  They could make it spooky, funny or quirky.  There were no rules.  They could add more description, or delete phrases.

By the end of the session there were witches on broomsticks, delicious picnics, an asteroid strike wiping out humankind and a particularly moving piece about a memory bench under a cherry blossom tree.  I was blown away.  They were fearless in their imaginations – nothing was beyond what they could dream up.  And it got me thinking.

When I started writing I attacked every story with a fearlessness – no storyline was dismissed.  I figured I wouldn’t know unless I tried, so I wrote every story I thought of.  House goblins, tunnels under villages, larger than life characters – nothing was rejected as too unrealistic.

Now, five years later, when I’m yet again on the cusp of a couple of first drafts, I find myself dismissing storylines before I’ve tried them.  This could be that I’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t in a story’s context, but I suspect it is also fear that an idea is too outlandish or ludicrous.  Could it be I’m missing that magic where anything is possible?

So what does fearless storytelling look like?

  • Brainstorm about possible storylines. Only rule: no idea is too daft.  Write down as many as you can think of.  Leave it a day or two, then write down some more.  Go for a walk, have a shower, sit and daydream – do whatever it takes to free your mind.  Don’t think about whether you can write it or not, or whether it suits the market or not.  This is purely about story.
  • If you struggle with imposter syndrome or self-doubt, try and think about a story you’d like to read, or imagine the most accomplished writer writing it, then think of the story. Hopefully this will reduce the ‘but I could never write this’ thoughts.
  • If you think of a story but it’s beyond what you’ve written before, teach yourself some of the tricks. As adults we can become closed off to learning, or a bit too comfortable in the rut we know.  Teach yourself something new, try a different technique, try writing from a perspective you find challenging.  You might not get it straight away, but isn’t that what edits are for?  Push your boundaries.
  • Ignore the voice that says ‘but everyone will think it’s silly’. Some of the best books, particularly books for children are the silliest, daftest, craziest stories and we love them.  We love them as children and we love them as adults.
  • If an idea gives you a tingle of excitement, don’t ignore it. If a particular setting gets you thinking, or a character makes you ponder, you won’t be the only one.  It will appeal to others – follow the tingles.

Some good advice I read somewhere recently was don’t wait for the fear to go, do it anyway.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to write it anyway.

 

Image courtesy of Freepik.com / dashu83

 

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