Did you know that some people like to write creatively? Well, they do. Yes, indeed! In fact, some people like to get together in a group and do (hopefully) fun exercises to do this creative writing. I’ll let all this mind-blowing stuff sink in for a moment, I know it’s a lot of information all at once. Anyhow, since the beginning of this year I’ve worked on leading a few workshops which notably includes coming up with a plan and structure as to how to run them.
Whilst you can find a lot of exercises and workshops through a simple Google, as indeed many of my workshops are adaptations of ones I found online, I thought I’d share what I’ve done so if you, dear reader, wanted to do some exercises to stretch your creative mind, then you could use these which by-and-large have been successful. Due to the sporadic nature of me leading the workshops, I’ll be putting them up here equally sporadically and in the interest of not having the largest page to scroll through, uploading them in pairs.
The key thing to bear in mind with these workshops is that they’re designed to be worked on in groups for around two hours, so a lot of the references to sharing and providing feedback is intended for a group sharing and providing feedback – really, exactly as it sounds – and some of the exercises might be a little hard to do by yourself, but I’ll try and suggest alternate approaches for trying to come up with them by yourself. Similarly, unless you have willing listeners/victims (depending on how you view your writing) you can probably skip the sharing and feedback sections which’ll dramatically reduce that two hour mark. I’ll also provide some notes, where I feel necessary, explaining or expanding on certain things.
Finally, the aim of these workshops is to allow people of any skill level and interest to write creatively for fun. Whatever aim you have going in to wanting to write creatively, well, these workshops should cover that general ground.
Note: Any time marking (in minutes) with [Group] before it means it’s specifically for structure in a group environment and can be safely ignored if working on it solo.
WORKSHOP 1 – Making a character
[Group] 0.00 – 0.10 : Wait for people to arrive, have everyone introduce themselves and brief on the aim of the workshop, to produce an interesting character and put them into a short story.
0.10 – .25 : Exercise 1 – The List. Participants submit ideas for a communal list that is made up from larger primary and shorter secondary categories that are then written down on a large piece of paper that everyone can see. Ideas can be vague or specific. The primary category is “Things found in the bin.” The secondary category is “Date and/or time.” Once the list is filled out, participants must then randomly pick 3-4 items from the primary category and one from the secondary and determine an overview for a character. (Eg. Banana peel, pair of shoes, empty bottle and “July 25“ – This person has been trying to keep fit recently.)
[Notes – Whilst having a pool from lots of different people is designed to have you provided with ideas you might not have otherwise thought up, in trialling this exercise, I simply got a piece of paper and wrote down as many ideas as I could think up and that was sufficient. Nevertheless I also asked my parents to add any that they could. Similarly, you could try asking people near you for any ideas they can come up with. Additionally, the idea of ‘things found in a bin’ is simply a way of trying to put together items that could form a larger idea. It needn’t be a bin. It could, for instance, be a fridge or freezer, a cupboard drawer etc. etc. Finally, whilst the example items are ‘straight’, you can still add in some more unusual items, such as ‘a dragon egg shell’. It’s about as open as you want it to be.]
[Group] .25 – .35 : Feedback 1. Participants share what they’ve picked and why leading to their character overview. This is mostly to make sure that everyone has something to work with for the next exercise as well as making sure there isn’t too much overlap, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem anyhow as everyone will have a different interpretation.
.35 – .50 : Exercise 2 – Questions. Participants pair-up with the person next to them and briefly exchange their character overview. The initial few minutes should be used to independently write seven to ten broad questions that they can ask their partner who must answer for/as their character. The remaining time of the exercise is then used to answer the swapped questions in an attempt to round out their character. (Eg. When was your character last happy? What was your character doing on new year’s eve? Do they have any family? What is the next expensive thing they are buying? Etc.)
[Notes – Whilst a little more difficult to do solo, try ‘asking’ your character some questions to try and answer as them. Alternatively, you could have someone near by ask some questions which you can then use to answer and provide more character depth. Additionally, this exercise significantly overrun when doing it. It perhaps needs more time with the rest of the workshop accommodating this change, or fewer questions.]
[Group] .50 – 1.05 : Feedback 2. Participants share detailed information about their character and confirm if they’re happy with the information they have to be confident to write a scene. Participants who maybe aren’t confident can explain where they feel they are lacking to get started which can then be helped by other participants asking questions that may be able to plug in any holes. [Notes – It’s quite possible to make up time here if no-one has any significant problems.]
[Group] 1.05 – 1.10 : Break.
.10 – .30 : Main Writing. Participants can write about their character in any way they see fit for this section. This could be the start of a story or just one specific scene ‘later on’. [Notes – Obviously if writing solo, you can extend this out in a couple of ways. You could keep yourself to a time limit and see what you come up with, alternatively challenge yourself to a word/line count or until you’ve completed a scene you’re satisfied with. Or, of course, you could write until you wish to stop!]
[Group] .30 – 1.55 : Sharing. Participants take it in turns to read their work to the group followed by some brief positive feedback from the remaining participants. Obvious note, but if someone doesn’t want to share, they don’t have to. It should be greatly encouraged though as everyone will have different aims to take away from the workshop. [Notes – It’s exceedingly easy to underestimate how long it will take to share work then discuss it briefly afterwards. With a large group, this can take a significantly larger amount of time.]
[Group] 1.55 – 2.00 : Finishing sentiments.
Overall notes – For my first planned workshop, the response was very positive, however it overran by almost half an hour. For an organised time slot, that’s not great. A lot of time was lost on the sharing, as mentioned in the specific notes, as well as the second exercise. Nevertheless, as a ‘basic’ workshop and set of exercises, it’s a pleasant ease into writing short fiction, or for coming up with multiple characters for anything else you may be working on.
WORKSHOP 2 – Music Evokes
[Group] 0.00 – 0.10 : Wait for people to arrive. Icebreaker exercise – participants must think of their favourite song or piece of music, then say this along with their name.
.10 – .20 : Starter task – associating images and sounds. Excerpts of non-lyrical music will be played and the group must provide immediate feed-back by way of brief description as to a potential scene or action that has been invoked by hearing the music (in the case of the starting example, it is likely most people would say “Mickey Mouse in a hat” or “Walking brushes” etc.). Or in other words, “say the first thing that comes to mind.” All the excerpts, around a minute long at a ‘notable’ part of the track, will have a video clip to go with them showing a potential interpretation of the music.
Example – ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (Paul Dukas) [Fantasia]
1 –‘Blue Danube Waltz’ (Strauss) [2001: A Space Odyssey]
2 – ‘Carnival of the Animals, Finale’ (Camille Saint-Saens) [Fantasia 2000]
3 – ‘Airwolf Main Theme’ (Sylvester Levay) [Airwolf intro]
[Note, some of the URLs used here and below may end up broken at some point, sorry!]
Important to note afterwards that given these pieces of music have pre-existing narrative contexts, it might be difficult to associate them with something original, but that inherent challenge is at the same time not necessarily bad. It will also hopefully become apparent (and if not, it will be mentioned) that a lot of the musical cues carry an associated action with them, from instruments to timing, style and volume etc. , which is something to consider.
[Notes – Phew, there’s a little to unpack here. Firstly, the music picked was based on my own knowledge of non-lyrical music that had accompanying video. In the case of Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Blue Danube Waltz, they’re both famously attached to video already and as such were placed early on to try and ease people into the exercise. Thematically, all the pieces have a difference in tone, speed, intention etc. If I were to do the workshop again, which I intend to, I’d keep Sorcerer’s Apprentice and replace the other three with a similar aim of easing people in.
It is certainly possible to do this solo, even if you are picking the music, as you can try and think of instances of music that perfectly marries with vision and the point of this exercise is simply to get you thinking about simple interpretation of sound into your own idea. Alternatively, have someone near by find some music/visual combinations that you don’t know and try and draw from that. Secondly, the reason for using non-lyrical music is that lyrics provide a (usually) clear meaning for the music it accompanies. Especially if you’ve heard that piece of music before, it will likely be unnecessarily hard to try and separate the singer’s intentions from an original idea you’re trying to conjure.]
.20 – .25 – .40 : Exercise 1. All the following exercises will follow a general pattern. The first few minutes will be used to listen to a track and the remainder of time in that block will be used to write (the music will be then played in the background on repeat for that duration of that block, but perhaps slightly quieter). As to how people go about writing, this is left up to them; people may decide to write in long-form prose, diary entries, etc.. The idea again in this workshop is not to look directly at written form, but to look at interpretation from another media so if that interpretation is for one person poetry and another poetry, that’s fine (which makes it even more interesting if both those people happened to include similar content).
There is obviously no right or wrong interpretation, however if people are aware of the tracks used and any imagery or narrative that has been linked with them, it is advised that they try and think of an alternative narrative (as difficult as that might initially seem). In addition, whilst the genres of music used will be intentionally different as to try and evoke different reactions, there is nothing to stop someone from attempting to link up all of their written content between the three exercises.
Stated before starting, if someone is unable to come up with anything, they’ll be free to write about anything or recall another piece of music that they know that gets their imagination going. Once all three exercises are done, I’ll say what the tracks are and where they’re from.
The three tracks are:
[Notes – Like the previous note, there’s a bit of an explanation underlining this section. I’ll start with the timing, which jumps 5 minutes then 15. Each of the tracks picked were intended to be at minimum 4 minutes, no longer than around 5 and a half. This was done with repetition in mind so as to allow everyone at least four times of hearing the music, the first listen being where no writing was directly encouraged, although if people wanted to start writing they absolutely could, then the repeating of it in the background not too loudly allowed people to carry on writing with the mood they’d internally drawn from the track to remain in place whilst they wrote.
As for the tracks picked, I employed the use of video game soundtracks because I could be reasonably sure that the people who’d be at the workshop would in likelihood have been unlikely to hear them and thus not be influenced by them. I didn’t want to resort entirely to games though, especially as they carry their own intentions for fitting in to a sequence, so I wanted at least one film track. I first looked at Oscar nominated soundtracks along with any films I knew of where soundtracks were quite notable. I also followed up specific composers where they had a larger collection.
Similarly to games, the difficulty was finding something people were less likely to have heard (granted, looking at Oscar nominations doesn’t help, but I was specifically not looking for winners at first) so looking for something with a bit of age to it helped. In addition, try looking at soundtracks you haven’t heard; both Transistor and Journey are games I haven’t played, so I could be reasonably sure I’d have minimal preconceptions about them. Obviously while picking and listening to tracks you’ll start coming up with ideas, but it’s no problem to simply employ those when you later come to writing about them in the workshop itself. And, like the previous note, you could have other people send you pieces of music.]
.40 – .45 – 1.00 : Exercise 2
[Group] 1.00 – 1.05 : Break
1.05 – .10 – .25 : Exercise 3
[Group] .25 – 1.55 : Sharing and feedback. All those who wish to share what they’ve worked on can do so here. In the interests of time, people will be asked to share only one portion of writing they might have worked (regardless of whether or not it is connected to the other parts). It will be highly encouraged for everyone to share something.
[Group] 1.55 – 2.00 : Finishing up. Summarising the ideas, of interpreting one form of media and seeing what that can inspire in another.
Overall notes – It’d been something of an idea long-time brewing of trying to tie music and creative writing together and based on actually executing the workshop, I found it very enjoyable to lead, to share this idea, and to actually work through it too. The latter sentiment was reflected by those at the workshop too, which was obviously a pleasing validation of the fairly experimental nature of it.
Naturally the notes I’ve added now go quite some way into explaining each of the exercises and the logic behind them, but in talking to some of the people at the workshop there were some interesting suggestions about how this could be slightly changed and employed in a different way. One of which was simply to listen through a complete score (or as much as time permitted) with no time to pause and think and see how a more flowing selection of tracks would influence the material written. Also worth noting that the overall structure has timing a bit more fleshed out so as to not overrun in places and to allow the exercises a bit more time to breathe.