I’ve always thought writing fiction was hard, and the advice I got about it never helped. It was always one of two things:
- Just make stuff up.
- It’s all about characters. Just make up characters.
Both easier said than done, unfortunately, although they sound simple enough. I could never figure out why it was so hard. They’re just fake people. I know lots of real people. Fake people should be just like them, right? But I just couldn’t do it. Until today.
It’s been another long week. Even though I didn’t have to work on Monday, I still taught more this week than I normally do, so by the time I went to class last night, I was done. I had already planned for the night class, so that was no problem, but I had no idea what I was going to teach this morning. Lucky for me, Sheila was there last night with several ideas. The one I ended up using was, for lack of a better word, fantastic.
I took photos of my friends and family – random pictures of kids, adults, teenagers, groups and individuals. I turned them over and fanned them out, and each student chose one. Then I got pictures of random objects: shoes, seashells, cameras, cars, tools, luggage, etc., and the students each chose one of those as well. Then they had to write a story explaining who the person in their photo was, what their relationship to that person was, and why that person had given them the object in their other picture.
A picture of a kid I used to babysit paired with a picture of a set of luggage produced a story about a favorite nephew who’d grown up and moved to Europe to study music. As he was leaving, he gave the suitcase to his uncle filled with old photos, including the one of him as a baby. An old roommate plus a pair of shoes resulted in one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever heard, and I found out at the very end of class that as a preschooler, I was a mermaid!
Like I said, fantastic.
Well, while they were writing their stories, I decided to play along. I picked out a picture of a camera, and then, since I knew all the people in the pictures I’d brought, I found another photo of a lady on a bicycle. And voila, writing fiction was easy. In less than ten minutes, I’d created at least six characters, some better-developed than others, but still. I had a main character telling the story from her point of view, her two sisters, their mom, mom’s best friend from college and the friend’s husband. All the characters had characteristics of people I know, but hey, everybody has something in common with somebody, right?
So I wrote fiction! I made stuff up! I created characters! Apparently all I needed was a visual stimulus. I’m pretty sure that means I need to go to New York to write Neil Diamond Musical.