Creating Writing Workshop Plans Collection 2

“*Gasp* What’s that?”
“It looks like a bird!”
“No, it’s a plane!”
“Wait, it’s a collection of creative writing workshop plans!”
“…oh. Well. That’s a let down.”
“But look over there, it’s Superman!”

No, hell if I know.

Hello again! Last time I put one of these up I said that they would be sporadic in nature, that these plans were designed for group workshops (although I’d provide alternatives where I could think of to do exercises solo), that it’d be a critical reflection of what went right and wrong and some other stuff. For the probably important pre-amble, take a look at that link for all the glossy details. That said, there’s two things that should be seen again, plus one new detail, so here they are.

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.

Given that I had had a couple of attempts at delivering workshops by this point, my timing was vastly improved. Perfect? Probably not, but that’s okay. What I will say though is that a minute here or there I won’t comment on, but if you do want to see thoughts on losing/making up for time, I make mention of it a few times in the previous collection. I suppose that’s both my way of saying “I don’t want to talk about that aspect any more unless I have to” and I got better, nar nar ne nar nar.

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.

Let’s do this thang.

scifi

– WORKSHOP 3 – (Weird) Science

0.00 – .15 : Arrival and icebreaker exercise; defining science fiction. Everyone has a minute to write down their own definition for Science Fiction followed by a discussion of these and those from actual SF writers. The idea here isn’t to imply a correct answer, but that due to the number and variety of the definitions, it allows the genre to be quite wide. Reminder: Make mention of the ‘scale’ of SF, from hard (makes scientific sense) to soft (anything goes) and somewhere in between (made up for the fiction, but makes sense in-universe).

[Notes – It’s really very important to make sure that when you’re going to be writing in one genre that you pin down what that genre actually is. SF is generally quite the broad church, so making sure everyone was clued into that was naturally so important for getting the best out of the workshop. Besides, throwing in some definitions from SF authors probably didn’t hurt with emphasising that point too. Those who were at the workshop enjoyed this little discussion before we got going, its easing in definitely having the desired effect (yay)! When I initially wrote this it was with the group tag, but whilst the discussion element will be missed doing this solo, looking around and reading different thoughts is a good substitute.]

.15 – .35 : Alternate Thinking, Main Task 1. A largely open task split into three quick-fire parts. Five minutes will be spent on each. How they’re written is likely guided by the task, but ultimately up to the individual, be it reading like a short-story, a descriptive synopsis, etc. The focus is on simply getting the idea down.

1) Something Different – Write about the world without a certain person or piece of technology. The emphasis here is on difference and the scale is up to the writer – would they be living in a different location, how would that affect them? What would we do without toasters? The age-old “What if Hitler didn’t come to power?” etc.

2) Something Alien – Describe an alien life-form, but explaining why this life-form is as it is using ‘hard SF’ rules; if it has four legs, why does it need them? What habitat does it live in or come from? Reminder: All life-forms come in different shapes, sizes and intelligence on this planet, let alone any other! (Also worth noting, we don’t even know of every species on this planet!)

3) Something Shiny – Using ‘soft SF’, come up with a new piece of technology/equipment. What is its function? Is it expensive, cheap, easy to move, life-changing, life-aiding? As an added challenge, try and apply hard SF rules and think of the implications of this development, or perhaps what was required to get there.

[Notes – So, why these? Good question. If SF is a broad church, it helps if you dip into some of these different areas and why not these scattered thoughts? Again, I try and design these workshops to be enjoyable but in-keeping with theme, so I tried to think of some of the most common SF areas and pitch something very brief around them; it was a case of intentional throwing everything at the wall and seeing how much stuck for who. I was not intending everyone to find every one of these short tasks easy, but by keeping it brisk it allowed for some quick thoughts down, brief descriptions and a bit of ungrounded writing. This was the “free your mind” moment of the workshop and I hate myself a little for quoting that, but hopefully you get the point. It was to set-up the main writing task, but it had an unintended impact which I’ll note later.]

[Group] .35 – .45 : Sharing. A chance for everyone to share one of the things they wrote about.

.45 – 1.00 : Main task 2a, character, setting and vehicle. Participants will be tasked with coming up with a short story that will be based on a journey or some sort of exploration and will come with the strict requirement of including a vehicle in some sort of capacity. How each person goes about adhering to the ‘hardness’ of SF is entirely up-to-them, as well as the tone and style.

Some context though; a lot of sci-fi stories have a vehicle as a core element to the extent that the vehicle is often treated as a character itself (which is taken to logical extremes with organic and/or sentient craft) and serve to highlight either a reaction to that universe, an extension of characteristics for the owner or act as a sort of emotional touch-stone for those using it (by providing human characteristics).

Besides that, there’s the obvious aspect that you need a vehicle to move and exploration is a core tenet of SF stories so the two go hand-in-hand. Additionally, sometimes the vehicle is fused with the catalyst for the plot (eg. Time travel). The most famous vehicles are often symbolic for the story/franchise they represent and will tend to be widely recognised in wider culture, even by those who haven’t actually consumed the source material.

And finally, to quote Doc Brown, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a car into a time machine, why not do it with some style?”

Examples include, but are by no means limited to:

The DeLorean – Back to the Future, any Enterprise – Star Trek, the Millennium Falcon – Star Wars (and literally any other craft from it, really), Serenity – Firefly, Red Dwarf and Starbug –Red Dwarf, the Planet Express ship – Futurama, sand worms – Dune, the Nautilus – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, V8-Interceptor – Mad Max, the T.A.R.D.I.S. – Doctor Who, USS Discovery – 2001: A Space Odyssey, any of the Thunderbirds.

Part A:

Before the break participants will have to come up with a main character(s), a setting and a vehicle. There isn’t supposed to be a focus on the plot at the time, but obviously as these components come together a plot is likely to be formed. Alternatively, there’s already a plot in mind and the components are formed as a result of this.

[Group] 1.00 – 1.10 : Break.

.10 – .35 : Main task 2b, writing. [Notes – I’ll explain this one here as to avoid extending that wall of text and instead for making a new one here. There’s quite a bit to break down, both in reasoning and execution. Why a vehicle then? Well as I mention in the script for the plan, SF vehicles tend to be characters in their own right, so it’s an interesting challenge of having to write about an innate object (usually…) but more importantly, it opens up the setting because it could be anywhere, any when. Sometimes creativity is bolstered by restriction, that you have to try and find a way around a problem and in that solution you find creativity to make your way around, but complete openness can sometimes be too open and leave nothing to work with.

At least having a root, a vehicle in this case, helps keep it somewhere between the two, something someone in the workshop actually mentioned as a benefit, so a biscuity reward there for me, I think! So by making sure that the setting, main character and vehicle are determined as a separate entity to the extended writing makes sure that whoever is writing has a chance to develop a world, catch their breath, and then just tell a story within it.

This is where that comment from the previous task comes into play. So during the sharing of stories, all of which were really interesting and went in directions I wasn’t expecting, which is exactly what you want, two people said that a world they had created in the short exercises they went back to to explore in this extended writing. As such, they already had a setting and a vehicle and main character were easily derived from there.

I had never considered it a possibility, despite me saying in all my workshops that if people want to continue with one thing, be it a requirement or optional, that in this particular workshop it could be worked that way. I am absolutely happy that people got more out of that quick set than I anticipated and that they bought into the workshop which no doubt helped with a confident coming into this main task. Otherwise it was just open prose, but with a more specific aim in mind.]

.35 – .40 : Mission statement. Participants will be asked to come up with a ‘mission statement’ for their story. A lot of SF stories, particularly serial ones, tend to have a short introduction to the story/universe. Also known as, “The first line of a blurb,” but mission statement sounds cooler. [Notes – Hmmm. Firstly, the three opening narrations used. Secondly, HMMM. The aim here was to lend the writing some of that sci-fi style, but in practice it was a little unwieldy. People were still writing and I don’t blame them, if you’ve really got stuck into something you either stop or carry on, not stopping to do something related, but could just be used to carry on instead. If I were to deliver this workshop again I would absolutely not run this part. Granted it’s only five minutes, but I’d rather not have disrupted writing time for something that felt fairly unnecessary. A nice idea, but maybe for another time.]

[Group] .40 – 2.00 : Main sharing. An opportunity for people to share their longer pieces of work. For those who do not wish to do so, they will be encouraged to share their mission statement or one of the earlier ideas from the first task.

Overall notes – Phew! There’s a lot in this one. Most of it I was happy with, the mission statement, as mentioned above, being the lone exception really. More importantly though is that everyone had fun; a few people were won over by SF too! Perhaps a bit too zealous with how much I wanted to do, it ultimately worked well and kept a good, brisk pace about it.

Were I to do it again, which I very much would like to, I’d certainly consider adding to the quick exercises at the beginning a general ‘World building’ task. Given how much set-up was taken from them for the main exercise, having a specific one might help further. It probably also took me around 2 hours to make this workshop. Most of that was fitting in the extra details, like finding quotes and putting in examples. I think Fury Road earlier in the year had a big influence on the main writing exercise, whilst the first exercises came to me quite quickly.

knickknackboard

– WORKSHOP 4 – Small Stories

[Group] 0.00 – .10 : Arrival/Icebreaker. Participants will be given a few seconds to think of their favourite knick-knack and how/why they have it.

.10 – .25 : Exercise 1a: Building the list. The emphasis in this workshop is to build a low-key story, one that’s a fairly intimate look at one person and their behaviour, but has minimal impact on anyone else.

We all have possessions of various sizes and monetary value that are important to us for whatever reason. Channelling this idea…

Building the list:

Participants will be asked to come up with three lists that will be added to a large piece of paper. The lists will be: possessions (including furniture, knick-knacks, stationary etc.), events (including ‘firsts’, moving out, family bereavement, seeing an old friend etc., but excluding own birth and death) and first names. Once the lists are complete, participants will be asked to match up one from each (eg. Paper shredder, marriage, Phoebe).

[Notes – Getting the obvious out of the way, this is a collaborative exercise, but like any that involves list making do have a go at making a list yourself and maybe ask for some input from people around you. At the bottom with the overview notes, I’ll include the list that was made during this workshop too. As for the list itself, I was originally going to keep it to knick-knacks, but felt that that’s unnecessarily restricting when you can get the same material with any item really.]

.25 – .45 : Exercise 1b: Follow-up. With their combination picked, participants will have to write a short piece as the person they picked a name for, explaining why the item is connected to that event and any emotions they have about that (e.g. If they received a knick-knack as a present for a birthday, did they like it, was it a joke they found funny, etc.). There are no specific requirements here, it is up to the participant how they wish to approach. It is not important that this portion of writing is finished, but there should be a clear emotive connection established. It’ll probably be handy later…

[Notes – The purpose of having a clear emotional connection or imprint between character and item is important for the follow-up, but it also served as a means of focusing in the writing. Otherwise, like the list making, a simple exercise that had people both make a character and make us sympathetic to whatever it is they’re connected to.]

[Group] .45 – .55 : Sharing. A chance for anyone to share what they’ve done, as well as provide feedback.

[Group] .55 – 1.05 : Break.

1.05 – .35 : Exercise 2. Participants at this point will have a chance to go two ways based off their previous piece of writing. They can opt to write about:

1 – The character no longer has the item in their possession. It is up to the participant to explain why this is and their character’s reaction to this as if explaining it to another person (of their choosing). The form is up to the participant.

2 – They can pick a new combination from the list.

(3 – The secret option. A combination of the two above. Can it be done? Who knows?!)

[Notes – The making sure of an emotional connection then was important for seeing what would happen if you split it, if that was chosen of course. I think it’s naturally quite intriguing to see what happens to a character after a change of state, something you may not necessarily have time to do in smaller, one-off workshops where you tend to see just a scene in that character’s existence instead. The extended time for writing allowed chance to take stock of what was done before and then naturally move it forward. It’s also just nice to have one, unbroken task and the paper in front of you. Worth noting that it only occurred to me during the workshop that there was no reason why someone couldn’t have simply picked a new item and event with their previous character. So if you’re looking for additional options, there’s one!

Also worth noting that it was asked when this part could be set, namely if they could lose the item and then have it returned to them (essentially, writing backwards but still telling it chronologically). Again, not something that I thought of but definitely a cool idea that might be worth recommending or pointing out as an available option.]

[Group] .35 – 1.55 : Sharing. Participants can share any piece of writing they’ve done in the workshop. Feedback, too. [Notes – Worth remembering that longer periods of writing require longer sharing.

[Group] 1.55 – 2.00 : Farewells.

Overall notes – When I was designing this workshop I was aware of two things. The first was that it was going to be the last before before Christmas and I wanted to work that in in some way. With my general loathing of “Christmas specials!” I wanted it to be indirect, so I opted for looking at gift giving, a big aspect of this general holiday period, which neatly tied into my second thought of wanting to keep this a fairly simple workshop. After the Music Evokes and Weird Science ones, I wanted to bring things back down to normalcy, keep it small-scale. I often find the most interesting stories are not the expansive ones, but the quiet, intimate looks that get very character heavy.

Working through it I wanted to also mirror my original workshop and the one from the beginning of the year. It was then a conscious decision to have list making leading directly into building a character again. At any rate, it’s quite fun to just be let loose and be told you have a ton of time to just write, with a few guiding points here and there. It was also my quickest workshop to make, somewhere in the region of 45 minutes. Simplicity can work wonders sometimes.

knickknacklist

Overall overall – These two workshops were a real sign of confidence for me. There was a refinement to them, their timings (both sticking to them and knowing when to be loose and to allow a little and where to take back some). It certainly helps that not too long after the Weird Science workshop was first made I ended up making a special workshop on how to make creative writing workshops, although whether or not you can say “Let them write for an hour” is a result of carefully plotting how to make exercises and put them in a neat structure is up for debate! Anyhow, I’m not sure when I’ll next be leading some workshops, so until next time, too-da-loo!

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Short: Crocodile Blitz

You know how it’s cool to have a space to just do your own thing? Well, on some Saturday afternoon’s, I attend a creative writing workshop to do just that. This is one of the pieces of work from one of the workshops. Not every piece of work in this category will be complete, although I might feel compelled to carry it on after the workshop. Hell, they might not even be good, but in the interests of showing a vague creative process and its product, well it’ll go up on here anyhow. And for good measure, I’ll try and explain the exercises that led to the work (and at this point, I’m starting to know a thing or two about those).

This short is from one of the first workshops I attended. Notably for me, it was the first one I attended with my own note book to write in. Exciting stuff. The workshop started with an array of pictures on the table. They all depicted various scenes and were of various ages. We were tasked with picking one that appealed to us and I was immediately drawn to a picture of a child being handed an inflatable crocodile by a man in what looked like 30s or 40s London.

We were then asked to explain around the picture, to which I wrote that the person looking on, taking the picture, was the mother of the child and the wife of the man. These pictures and scenes were intended to be, if you’ll forgive the pun, a snapshot into the life of those involved. The exercises were built around drawing out details and filling them with a life around them. Some of the material people came up with was funny, some sad, some interesting. As for mine? Well, I really enjoyed that workshop and what I produced. I was more than happy to go back home and finish it up, the result of which you see below…

crocblitz

Crocodile Blitz (5/4/14)

May 10th – It’s bin a long time cince Daddy left home. Mummy has bin relly upset. She crys when she comes into my room and sees the big, green, silly crodile crocodyle he got me befour he went. I think it’s relly funy, but I miss him. I hope he’ll come back soon.

June 2nd – Tomorow its’ my birthday! I am very excited! Mummy has started smelling funy though. It was very suny today. We went to the park.

June 4th – Daddy sent me a postcard! It said that he was safe and that France was very nice. Mummy still has the postcard. She keeps it in her room. I would like it back.

July 9th – When I came back from scool I herd Mummy talking to two grown ups. I went upstairs and started doing my work, but then I herd Mummy start shouting. It was a bit scary. Mummy slammed the door after they left and came upstairs and gave me a hug. Her face looked upset. I think she just missed Daddy. I miss him too.

July 20th – Daddy likes warm weather. I think he would like it here right now. I hope it is nice where he is in France.

August 23rd – I have had a very nice summer. It was very warm and sunny. School will be starting soon. Mummy has helped me with my spelling so I cannot wait to show my teacher!

September 4th – Mummy had the wireless on all day. I came back from school and she hadnt’ moved at all! I saw a dish with grey stuff in it that she tried to hide from me. I think it was making her smell so I don’t now why she had it.

September 6th – One of my friends at school said that their house was almost knocked down! That sounded really scarey, but she was safe.

September 9th – I heard a big bang during the night. Mummy rushed in to make sure I was okay. I thought it was exciting, but when we looked outside the houses at the end of the street had fallen down. People were crying and upset. Mummy wouldn’t let me stay out for long. I still had to go to school. One of my friends was not there. They must be ill! I am very tired today!

September 10th – My teacher didn’t come into school today. We were taught by the head teacher! He is not as scarey as I first saw him. We were also mixed with another class from the same year because they had a smaller class today. It was very exciting, but the room was full.

September 11th – We had the same class today like yesterday. My class had a couple of friends missing. It was not as exciting. The head teacher looked a little upset at the start of the day as well. I bet he just got out of the wrong side of bed!

September 14th – Two grown ups came round to the house today. It was very scarey. They said they wanted to take me away, but I did not want to go and Mummy was holding me and began crying and shouting at the mean people. They left after a bit, but Mummy kept hugging me for a long time after. They did say they would come back. I don’t like them at all!

September 16th – The head teacher said that a lot of the classes were going to be mixing together. Alot of my friends were not at school today. The head teacher said that they had gone away or were going to soon. I wander why me and Mummy didn’t go away?

September 19th – I don’t usualy go in the under ground, but there was a really loud sound that made Mummy take us to it. I was playing with the crocodyle and brought it with me. Everyone under ground was anoyed because there was not much space and it took up a lot, but when someone got angry, Mummy took them to the side and when she came back, the other person did not seem as angry. It was a bit exciting at first, but we were in there for a very long time and no one else seemed to be very happy about being in there. Many people looked scarred and unhappy. When we finally left, another building on our road had fallen down. I hope our house does not fall over. I really like it.

September 20th – Mummy explained to me that there are some bad people in the world who want to hurt us. I don’t know what we did to make them so angry, but Mummy was very serious when she was explaining this to me. When I asked about Daddy, she stopped talking and started crying. I gave her the biggest hug I could and that made her happy again. I am glad that I could make her happy!

October 11th – The grown ups from before came around again. I let them in as Mummy was making some food and they said that they wanted to make sure I was safe and could live somewhere else where it was safe. I said I would only go if Mummy wanted to go, but they said that only I could. I shook my head and told them that I would not go without Mummy. Mummy came out and spoke to them with her puffy stick and told them to go away and puffed some smoke in their face. They said they would come back again and left. They seemed pretty angry, but my Mummy is the best.

October 15th – My class is really small now. I don’t have many friends left here any more which is sad. My spelling is definitely inproving though!

November 20th – It is getting cold here. I wonder how cold it is in France for Daddy.

December 11th – IT IS ALMOST CHRISTMAS! YAY!

December 25th – I got another postcard from Daddy! He said he had been moved to the south of France. It is very pretty there! He had a photo of him and his friends and there was lots of snow that made it look very nice. They didn’t have smiles, but I think they were having fun. Also, I moved the crocodile onto my wardrobe so it guards the door. I thought it was good, but Mummy seemed surprised when she came through the door.

January 1st 1941 – It is the new year! I will be eight years old this year. I think that is very exciting! Mummy said that she hopes Daddy is able to come home this year and I do too!

May 27th – I am writing this at school because our home was damaged by the bad people. We were not in at the time which is very good. The front of the house was hit by something called sharpnel and we were not allowed in for ages. Our living room was a bit broken but everything else looked okay. Mummy is at the church which has a shelter with a lot of the things we own until our home is fixed. She said that “luging around this crocodile is rediculos” but I think she was happy to do it. I do miss my bed a lot.

July 6th 1946 – I found this diary of a child in some of the stock underground in the Church. I do not know to whom it belongs or if it is even belonging to the child of a parishioner. So many people came and went during the war that it seems hardly fathomable that I shall be able to return it to its owner. Nevertheless, I shall keep it here in safe keeping along with this note such that if its owner does, somehow, find themselves reunited with this bastion of youth and innocence that they might once again utilise its empty pages.

February 9th 1948 – I couldn’t help but hasten myself to the location of this diary after a most joyous conversation I had with Mr. Stennis. The man, whilst clearly damaged from his valorous efforts during the war, spoke at great lengths about his family and how his most delightful daughter, Clarissa, had a large green crocodile that she insisted they bury in their garden after it had become broken and deflated. It is a shame that there are no pictures in this treasure, but one must imagine that this is no mere coincidence? An act of The Holy One (Blessed be He) to which I am sure there is little doubt. Next Sunday, I shall be sure to make sure to show Clarissa this book. Or, perhaps, I should do it sooner? I must admit that I find this rather exciting!

February 10th – I must confess to some disappointment. Mr. and Mrs. Stennis had not made it clear that their daughter Clarissa was away at school and had merely come back for the weekend. They could not recall seeing this article before and when I offered to let them read of its pages, they declined. My excitement seems quelled, but I shall hold onto this until I next see dear Clarissa.

June 4th 1961 – It is a most peculiar thing, memory. I could not remember why, at first, I felt such a need to speak to the delightful Miss. Stennis. It was only after the parish had left that I found myself mysteriously peering into the drawer that contained this relic. I should say it was forgotten, but clearly it was not! I am not sure why I waste time writing this, perhaps because it will be my last chance to write in this tome, but I felt the need to. I depart immediately in hope of finally returning this to its rightful owner!

June 18th 1961 – I read through these pages and remember the childhood that has long since been. He asked me if I had read through this yet earlier at Church, but I confessed the sinful truth, that I had not. He understood why, but I could feel him pleading with me through his words that I do so. So, here I am. This remains a fine specimen and the memories rekindled are loving ones. That things have changed so much with time, both with understanding and circumstance, I feel are worth written down here such that someone may know about me all there is to know.

Once my father, Andrew Stennis, returned from the war, he was a broken man. I did not realise it at the time, but the scenes he must have faced must have left him questioning his own purpose and reason for living. The horrors he witness bring a grave chill to me and I know that my imagination is but a distant call away from reality. Yet, he loved me more than I think he ever did before he left. He is a man that can only offer loving kindness, a facet I am glad remained unchanged by conflict, but for a man of such stern beliefs to see what he saw, to do what he did…it is unsurprising how angry he can get. I choose to believe it is anger built from love and fear of loss, but perhaps time will prove the truth. Whatever that may be.

My mother, Jennifer, seemed similarly impacted by the way. Though it saddens me to read some of what I’ve written with the naivety that I then had, her reasons for anger and sadness were mine shared; my father was not around and their bond of love had been shattered by the hatred around us. Her smoking and eventual drinking almost devoured her soul and whilst it remains whole again now, I dare not think what could have been. When they told me of how they met, how they fell in love and that that was it, they knew their lives were to be with each other, it makes sense how badly she took it and the extra burden that was on his mind. I believe that whilst he was fighting for his country, he was chiefly fighting for three.

It is hard not to laugh at the things I wrote. My spelling was simply atrocious! Yet, the constant excitement and unknowing became me. I live now deep in books with the hopes of educating others in the vast fields of science. It seems fitting I suppose that Biology is where my heart lies. That stupid crocodile crocodyle! I cannot believe I took it with me into the Underground so many times. I mock it, but at the time it was very much as part of the family as thee. It is though nice to have this part of my life documented, as badly and as well as it is in equal measure.

You know, I think I might go and show this to them. Will it turn us back into the family we were twenty years ago? I doubt it, but if only for a few moments, then I shall be happy.

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Creative Writing Workshop Plans Collection 1

Hello.

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.

Makingcharacter

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.

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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.

Excerpts:
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:

1. ‘Tornado in the Barracks’ (James Horner) – The Mask of Zorro soundtrack
2. ‘Heightmap’ (Darren Korb) – Transistor soundtrack
3. ‘The Road of Trials’ (Austin Wintory) – Journey soundtrack

[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.

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Short: Samantha’s Conversation

“I mean, err, it’s not an easy choice.” Samantha realised her hand had moved from hovering over the enter key and was reaching up to scratch the back of her neck, a reflex for whenever she felt anxious. She otherwise remained motionless on the spinny-chair in front of her desk and after a brief scratch, she looked wearily out the window to find a distraction.
“Believe me, you were about to make the right one. I should know.” The replying voice bounced around the room and its similarity to Samantha’s still confused her.
“Yeah, well, I mean, how should you know, huh?” Samantha fixed her view on a particular branch that housed a bird’s nest, complete with bird, on a tree on the other side of the road.
“Well I am a demon, it comes with the territory.” Samantha turned around, her morbid curiosity getting the better of her. On her bed sat a mirror of herself twiddling with a doodad that was projecting different colours on the opposite wall, in this instance red, and bouncing some of it back onto her providing a faint glow. Her hair was different to what Samantha’s currently was, but Samantha quickly recalled it was in the style she had it during that summer holiday. Still, there that double sat, talking as if it didn’t care at all it had a lookalike in the same room.
“A, ummm, a demon?” She examined herself, or at least the herself that was on her bed and made it clear the red light wasn’t helping, to which the doodad was turned off and put to the side, prompting the double to stare intently at Samantha.
“You never heard of people having personal demons? Well, obviously you have, but it’s not just a phrase. Well It is, I suppose, but for a reason. Anyhow, this is that.” Her hands reached up to her head and felt the hair, nodding in appreciation as the hands traced the agreeable style. The bird from across the road raced off from the branch with a furious flap of its wings, the sound of which caught Samantha’s attention for a moment. As she turned back around to face the double, her head only got half-way as it encountered the double perched on the desk, kicking its legs against the shelves on its front, having moved to that position in an impossibly short time.
“Well shouldn’t there be an angel to watch over me, like, to balance you out?” Samantha didn’t seem too taken back by the double’s speed of movement. In that time there had been a subtle warmth passing through her body that calmed her in the presence of the double, not enough to be truly noticeable, just enough to make her feel comfortable.
“That really begs the question of us two, does there deserve to be one in this situation? Let’s be honest here, the choice is either something you know to be ‘bad’, hence me, or neutral. The mid-way point is you.” The kicking against the shelves was rhythmic and accompanied by a hum which prompted the realisation from Samantha that her double was performing a rendition of the Danse Macabre.
“That’s, ah, not exactly a subtle tune.” Samantha meant to say it with irritation behind the words, but it came out more jovial.
“I can’t really help it that that’s the tune I’m making, that’s on you.” The response came with a smile that helped put Samantha back at ease again, along with a stopping of the kicking and humming.
“So I need to argue with you until one of us wins and then, then I guess I go with that?” Samantha felt her hand reach up to the back of her neck again, but brought it back down before it got above her shoulder.
“It’s not so much an argument as points of reasoning against each other. You then pick the side you agree with. It’s all you, at the end of the day.”
“Okay. Well, point, err, point one is that…” Before Samantha could finish the double stared her down in a way that made her stop talking.
“Be honest now, you’ve already weighed it up. It’s the results you’re worried about, not the arguments for actually going through with it, or not. I’ll make it easy; you’ll probably get what you want from this, but of course you know that, it’s why I said you were making the right decision.” The double had now found a slinky on the desk and was tossing it between its hands.
“So you’re saying I should do it?” This time Samantha caught her hand before it had even left the rest of the chair. The double‘s response was simply a lack of expression and a still slinky. “Right, right, right, it’s up to me.” She lifted her hand, but this time to reach for the enter key once more.
“That said…” was all the double needed to say to stop Samantha from following through.
“That said of course you would say that, because that’s the part of me that wants to think it’ll be that easy…right?” Samantha’s plea was initially ignored. Within a few moments the only sound filling the room was the slinky that had been picked up again and was expanding and retracting.
“There’s an easy solution to this. I press the button.” The double broke the near silence, shrugged and opened her hands out in a nonchalant manner and then witnessing no response from Samantha, reached for the button.
“That doesn’t really, I mean, it doesn’t change me doing it, if I have this whole situation down right. Right?” Samantha twitched as she realised her hand was behind her neck scratching it. As the double’s finger got closer to the button, tantalisingly so, Samantha found herself unable or unwilling, to stop her. And then it was done.
“There, all done. How do you feel about that?” In the time of a blink, the double was lying on the bed playing with the doodad again, specifically pointing it at Samantha in a variety of colours.
“Err, good, I guess? Yeah, good. That was what I wanted.” Samantha smiled at the version of herself on her bed.
“Then there we go then. See you again sometime!” The double suddenly shone the doodad at Samantha’s eyes momentarily blinding her. As her eyes regained focus she realised she was finally alone in her room.

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Unfiction: The Best Of You

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Because of the broadcast agreements for showing the Formula 1 in the UK, the BBC doesn’t always have access to live coverage of the race weekend. Every few race weekends then I’ll be watching the race highlights on Sunday evenings. In theory the highlights will do just that, but even in a sport where there are people travelling along a road at 200mph it can still yield incredibly dull sessions that’ll send me to sleep. At the very least it paints an accurate picture of the race, even if it’s a boring one. Or maybe it’ll be a great race and I’ll miss all the boring parts to the extent that in my memory that entire race was just fun, exciting things and none of the tame parts ever happened.

Whilst we don’t all live life at 200mph, I think a good number of us are certainly presenting ourselves like this through a highlights reel of our life via our social media presence, a notion that isn’t exactly new (but let me have it, that was a good segue). Around a decade ago we began to embrace our digital presence without anonymity, a stark contrast from hiding behind avatars and display names we had on forums and games. Sure people on instant messenger would put up a profile picture of themselves, maybe actually use their real name too, the same maybe being said for MySpace even if that seemed intentionally a little off-beat, but it wasn’t really until Facebook gripped us providing a platform for a straight-faced information dump of your personality that the mask we wore when going on the internet, a mask of anonymity, really started to slip off our face.

Of course now it’s common-place to embrace social media in a significant portion of our lives. You could use Facebook to ask people for recommendations on somewhere to eat, go on Twitter to comment on a funny incident you saw travelling there, post a picture onto Instagram of what food you had whilst eating with the contact you found on Linked-In to go home and review the place on Yelp. You could do all of those things. I don’t believe many (any?) people do that, but they’re the options available to you, amongst many others. Even as an exaggerated example though, it serves to show just how many of our actions throughout a day can be showcased to the world if we chose to. And of course we chose to, everyone else does it.

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We’ve sort of all been whipped up into this vicious circle of having and maintaining a social media presence and like most times when we’re showing off who we are to other people, we want to show off our best bits. This means only putting up pictures of ourselves that we really, really like (and maybe untagging ourselves from any we don’t), liking our favourite media (and maybe not liking our guilty pleasures), restricting who can see certain bits of information and so on and so forth. Now none of this is inherently bad, it’s just that the combination of all of these things, well, paints a clear picture.

I would be remiss though in not saying that we cultivate how we want other people to regard us the rest of the time too, but that’s a naturally more limited to your physical presence rather than something you can just put up and forget about. For instance, you might dress up decently when meeting up with friends, or maybe what you’re doing is fairly low key and you put in a little less effort because they’re your friends and they know that if you need to, you can dress better, but who cares you’re just all there chatting away with a film on in the background. So there, that’s mentioned.

What it really comes down to is intention. Are you doing the thing because you want to or because you want to show it off to others? What if that’s one and the same for you? Again, this isn’t new or necessarily good or bad, it’s really just an extension of the idea of introverted and extroverted personality traits, but I think rather than a natural extension of who we are there’s a forced method in play. So an extroverted person might put up a ton of pictures and share everything they have ever liked, whilst a more introvert person won’t. A pic here and there, a like of something, maybe. This obviously assumes an audience (and the perception of what you put up by said audience), but that’s why there’s a news feed of what everyone else is doing to encourage you to put up more of yourself. I’m sure for more than a few people that’s turned a relationship into a passive-aggressive competition as to who can have more information presented up there.

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Of course all this information can be channelled in a specific way to attract specific attention masked as general interest. The obvious example really is the Facebook stalking we’ve invariably done (or if you’re a liar and won’t admit to that, thought about doing) that in some cases will be turned against a crush. Oh, they like this, that and that? Well, I’ll like this, that and that, or maybe make mention of listening/reading/verbing it and hope they respond. Maybe put up a particularly flattering picture as a profile pic. Again, this isn’t a new behaviour, when you’re around someone you want to impress, you do things you’ll think will impress them, but the information you show can be quickly changed and for those who thought otherwise of you, well they know that there’s stuff they haven’t put up there as a like, so why wouldn’t someone else?

I think my issue of this presentation ideal online over physical presence is that you can really easily, very quickly manipulate the idea of who you are. Change in the physical takes a bit of time, but online? Well, it’s already done. This, to me, seems really odd when you consider that you tend to behave slightly differently depending on who you’re around, despite the fact that this one cultivated persona is the one you show online to everyone at the same time.

Where’s the real you then online? Do you even know for sure? Hell, I haven’t even explored how language carries without the inflection that’s specific to us in person (although you’d hope that the people who know you and follow you on social media have a clue) or how older comments are saved and can impact your current situation despite not being the You presented right now. I suppose the real test will be the generation growing up with all of this well ingrained and integrating themselves into it as opposed to growing up and taking advantage of these new interesting things. Perhaps the end result will lead to some sort of weird dystopian future where we in a virtual world and who we are in the physical is meaningless and…

well. Huh. I, err, guess…see you in The Matrix, everyone!

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Unfiction: A Quick Note On Politics…

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I think it’s really important to acknowledge that no matter if you’re left-wing, right-wing or racist, there’s a democratic party that broadly represents your beliefs in government. That’s the core principle of a democracy, right? That there’s this wide variety of representatives to present the variety of views of the public. You, as a member of the public, are asked to find the belief that best represents you through a discourse of compromises, whilst the representative has to compromise with some of their own beliefs so that they can better represent the greater whole. And by now you’re bored of having to read the word ‘represent’. Democracy has some flaws, like any political structure, but it’s pretty good. It’s not bad. It could be worse.

What shapes the cycle of politics, a situational change affecting the individual or group that then pushes to have changes made in reaction that then impact the situation, on an immediate, personal level really depends on where you are in that cycle as well as your proximity to it. The issue that the Labour leadership election is highlighting at the moment is that your position can change in as little as a few months and in some cases barely changes at all. So yes, this is a reaction to the Labour leadership election and all that that would entail: mud-slinging, dredging up of old points to try and reduce a competitor’s standing and every so often some actual political beliefs that people champion because…well, and this is one of the two reasons I wrote this.

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It’s not that the general public is stupid about politics. Fact is most issues can be broken down so that even the most complicated can make a bit of sense, even if it skims some of the details. No, in reality the public doesn’t care, highlighted by the general election turn-outs. Between the bullshit in the press spouted from PR-trained ministers and staff that vocalise bullshit penned by people who know how to write their bullshit in a convincing way, why would you care when you’re not getting the truth? You can’t make politics sexy, it’s an inherently boring topic to many, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. So when the bullshit from any which way is largely the same, distance is created and that democratic compromise gets broken down.

This Labour leadership election has just been a demonstration of the purest irony in politics for a long time. The lack of a clear distinction in political leaning during the general election which pushed many away on the left away from Labour to elsewhere (the Scottish National Party, Green Party, etc.), parties that broadly speaking couldn’t afford to present too much bullshit and instead focus on the politics for the most part, is yet again reflected in the leadership election with the one person who was presented to us politics first then being chased in a race to see who could out-bullshit everyone else in order to grab that attention, completely missing the point that the attention was on the politics. It’s astonishing, really. All these people so locked into their PR structure and series of expected events that when something comes along that doesn’t fit into it, they sort of go into over-drive rather than adapt.

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The other issue is that of the ‘purge of voters’ happening. Namely, people who for whatever reason are now members of the Labour party and not able to vote in the leadership election. I’m obviously happy to dismiss the people who are intentionally signing up to cause havoc and be a general nuisance, such as members of the Conservatives signing up to try and push for one candidate for no reason that makes much sense. No, my problem is with the people who, say, demonstrated on social media that they didn’t like what Labour was in the run-up to the GE and suggested voting elsewhere.

That cycle of politics? Yeah, it can change for the individual at any point for a multitude of reasons. Maybe even in a few months. Maybe it’s been a gradual change that’s suddenly happened because you’ve found yourself galvanised. So what if I had signed up to vote, would I have been rejected? I mean, I don’t count myself as voting Labour in the GE even though I technically did because what actually happened was I vote swapped for Green. I didn’t make a big thing of it on social media, at least not that I remember, but god help someone if they have to trawl through the nonsense about games and writing workshops I put up on Twitter to try and find something incriminating.

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I don’t buy into being locked into a political belief, or vice-versa. I believe that I agree with a party that I share the majority of my most critical views with. Sometimes I have fewer immediate issues that I want addressing, other times it’s a sweeping movement of thought. But I’d have probably slipped through to be allowed to vote in this contest because I was quiet about my utter disdain at Labour. It’s simply nonsensical. And I can guarantee I won’t be the only one in a similar or exact-same situation.

Still, you’ve given people the opportunity to try and shape that representation. They’ve compromised what they held before, adapted it to the now and are being told “Nah.” Politics is malleable and should evolve with its populace, but instead we have a structure that’s just lagging behind and the people it should work for are just shrugging and waiting for something to happen to make them feel it’s really for them. So the bullshit comes out and that’s enough for some people to just go “Shut up, fine, I’ll vote. Eesh.” And that sucks. No-one is really happy with that.

I wonder where the public and I will be in the political cycle come the next general election, but I really hope that we’ve got things a little bit better.

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Unficition: A Snapshot of Nothing

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I’m sure you’ve heard of the idiom that too much of a good thing makes it bad. You can only eat so much chocolate before you feel sick, as ridiculous as that actually sounds. (Really, too much chocolate??) The reality though is that, like most idioms, its frequent usage is because it’s largely accurate. Doing something so much begins to devalue the purpose of doing it and will come with a negative consequence. Some of these are quite obvious, like feeling a bit queasy after the aforementioned chocolate binge, but plenty of others might be rather subtle.

Most people now have access to a device that allows them to take a photograph. In fact that’s been true for a while. Before smart phones and devices became so wildly possessed digital cameras weren’t exactly that expensive and came in so many different models that the distinction between a professional and amateur photographer was strictly the being-paid component and not really a signifier of a dramatic increase in quality that you might expect elsewhere. Even so, you were still restricted by needing to have the camera on you and really, you were unlikely to have it with you on your way round the corner to the supermarket. Sure you could chuck one in your bag and take it out if something amusing or interesting took your fancy, but they still mostly came out during big events, like a birthday party.

Even when camera phones (remember when that was a specific term?) came to be, the quality of the shots was usually so poor that in many cases it just wasn’t worth taking because you wouldn’t really be able to accurately capture what you wanted to. Of course this all changed when the megaton of the next wave of smart phone came along. Phone cameras had drastically improved and didn’t look poor and the connectivity of smart phones meant it was only a few clicks away from taking a shot to sending it out to the entire world, or at least that pocket of it you inhabited and could influence.

Now this is obviously common knowledge, but I think it’s worth remembering that it was a couple of steps from minimal camera coverage to seemingly everyone having access to a selfie-machine.

Where’s this all left us then and why haven’t you go to the point, you ask. Well, I’m getting to it, don’t push me!

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Just a look on Facebook once a day shows it littered with pictures and they just don’t mean anything to me. Even if you ignore all the other images that you get bombarded with, I feel like I’m inundated with stuff to look at that it just washes over me, I don’t take in any of the particular details. And the thing is, it’s been like this for a long while. There was a time when everyone was making fun of apparent idiots (read now: trend-setters) taking pics of their breakfast or their Converse shoes (and it was always Converse) because of how silly and inane it all seemed and then mockery became ironic usage became habit. That’s not to say that a lot of pics are inane in that way and certainly, I can see an argument for having food presentation that is interesting be worth taking a pic of (and if you were trying to describe the meal, having a visual representation would probably help your imagination work) it’s just that there’s only so many feet-up-with-plate-and-glass-in-front-of-bright-light/sun-set shots I can take in before they mush into one and that amount isn’t exactly too high in the first place.

By having the means to take pictures of anything and everything I actually think our observational skills have drastically declined. What we see now is immediate and looking to the side is a novel concept. The unusual becomes usual and uninteresting. There’s very little context to a lot of pictures I see now other than the obvious “I was here and needed to document that.”

I’m not going to say that before smart phones every picture taken was something of a definable high quality, but I think the noise to signal ratio was far more weighted to the latter. Hell, if you think back to film, you had to make every shot count because you had limited chances to get it right and you needed to save room for later. As a technological progression, I’m alright with the numerical limitation being removed, but it opens the flood gates and completely shifts that ratio to the former. We lose that critical eye and the need to ask “Is this the one?” for “So long as everyone is smiling this is a good picture.”

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It’s hard to entirely say though that everyone having access to high quality pictures is a strictly bad thing as it does mean more memories can be forged, but that doesn’t change the mass of noise that’s created. Nor do I want to have a snobbish attitude of “Why are you taking a selfie? It’s so pointless!” because something being fun is usually enough of a justification to do it, but in a lot of cases there doesn’t seem to be much consideration for the following step apart from what filter to apply and if it’s going to be shared on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram first.

And here’s the main thing I see, especially given the fact I work with children a fair amount of time; the people who grew up without knowing the limitation to taking a picture are capturing everything, but in doing so aren’t really capturing anything at all. That this then gets shared online without a real education for the impacts that carries means that so many people are putting out a lot of information about themselves into the world without really thinking that they’re doing it. As I joked with someone, “On the plus side, in the future it won’t really be scandal to have a silly photo of you from your past be brought up given that everyone will have one and it won’t be a big deal.”

Whenever I go to any sort of party I know that really, I don’t need my camera with me because almost everyone else will be able to take a picture and they can just share it. The likelihood I’ll want a picture of something someone else won’t is so small that I’m not too worried about missing anything and it allows me to enjoy and experience what it is first-hand. It can become so easy to view life through a screen that blurs out the noise around without realising that you’re just adding to the noise in a different way. We’re so engaged in documenting everything that we forget to actually experience it first. It’s the simulation of a lot of modern life.

So here’s my parting shot, no direct conclusion, but instead a challenge for you. Take one less picture a day. Let your mind waver for just a second before you decide to snap something. One a day, shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Right?

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