Red knickers

My most inspired ideas recently have been putting brandy cream on lemon cheesecake and currying pheasant. I have gained half a stone in ten days and watched the whole box set of Treme lolling on my sofa (in mitigation, I did break my toe in a champagne-bottle-related accident).
Many of you are probably in similar states of physical and mental torpor so how do we get back in the creatively-fit zone? Try this little livener as you huddle by the fire with your detox tea and Nicorettes on New Year’s Day:

  1. Pick a random word or phrase and brainstorm every possible connection. I’m looking at the presents scattered around the dead silver-painted twigs that I passed off as a Christmas tree so I’ll choose “Big red knickers” (thanks, Jo). This gives me: red roses, redhead, scarlet woman, Scarlett O’Hara, voodoo, velvet, passion, passion killers, panties, drawers, bloomers, bus, Red Rover, Big Red, Red October, danger, red alert, red rag to a bull, red sky at night, red sails in the sunset…
  2. There’s something poetic about random word lists, so try writing a poem. A Japanese haiku form might work; these consist of 17 syllables, divided into three phrases of five, seven, and five. You may not normally write poetry but experimentation frees the imagination so try it. A tight focus on a central image works. I chose red lipstick marks on a glass, a reminder of passion spent and Jo wrote this:

Lipstick kiss smudges,
on my crystal wine glass rim.
But that was last night.

  1. Next a flash fiction piece. Choose three words from your brainstorm list: an abstract, a noun, something that suggests action or a personality. I’ll go for Scarlett, red rag to a bull, red velvet which gives me an inspiring name, a mood of provocation and anger, and an object. For a setting, I’ll choose the ever-fraught festive season with all its heightened emotions and expectations.
  2. Write down five facts about your potential character, write a speech for them, see what emerges. Scarlett hates her name; she is thirty-eight, self-contained, an efficient P.A.; she has cultivated a respectable dull image to prove her name and, by implication, her flamboyant mother wrong. I might play with the associations and put Scarlett and Mummy in the bullring at Ronda on a Christmas break.
  3. Now what might challenge or change my character? What might promote some action, change the status quo, turn a moment into a story? I am thinking unsuitable red velvet evening gowns, annoying mothers, charging bulls, dark-eyed matadors, blood and sand. I want the story to end with Scarlett transformed, embracing her name, draped in red velvet – red hair, red dress, red lips – reconciled with her mother. I’m not sure how this will happen but I am going to write three key scenes from the beginning, middle and end, and see what the muse throws up.

Do try this at home. You may end up with a poem, a monologue and/or a short story. You may stumble on another idea as you write, a new angle for your novel, a descriptive paragraph that will be useful in another story. Something, anything is better than a blank page. You will have something to build on and rewrite, perhaps for the next 364 days…
Ardella Jones

Do post your haikus and shorts on Chalk the Sun’s Facebook group.
For more creative invigoration, remember our Novelists’ Survival Group meets Monday 5th January 2015. Book in via email.
Our Find your Story “wake-up” workshop is Saturday 10th January at Balham Bowls Club.