This exercise needs a little peace and quiet, and I recommend around 25 minutes for it to be effective. It uses the techniques of free-writing, but starts from an entirely different position. The goal is to write from what you can visualise and train yourself to hold an image in your mind for a relatively long time.
Writers do this whenever they are faced with the challenges of a scene or short piece. It requires a moment of meditation and concentration before writing anything. And it needs regular practise in order to get it right.
- Be at peace, first, sitting or standing without any writing tools at your hand. The only tool you are working with to start is your mind.
- Bring an image of a character to mind. It can be any character, one you have been working with, one you want to work with, one you have never met before.
- See this character clearly and study them (gender neutral pronoun here). Be systematic about your study. Watch how they walk and stand, how they gesture, how they talk, what they are dressed in, how they wear their hair. Study in detail their shapes and colours, their facial features, musculature, expressions, apparent attitudes and looks. Go a little closer and listen to the character and hear their speech patterns, their breathing, the rustle of their clothing, their footfall. Take in the scent of the character, any body odours, applied perfumes. Shake the character’s hand, or hug them, and consider how that felt. What do you think of their taste in clothing, or accessories, or material things they have; in companionship if they are with anyone.
- Look around and see where this character is at the moment, what are the features of their surroundings, furnishings, landscape, the company they keep, the time of day, the atmosphere, the weather, any details surrounding the character that makes this character stand out to you. Why have you noticed this character?
After you have fully explored this character, pick up your writing instrument and free-write about the experience. Do not try to control where your writing goes, let it take you where it will, but begin with a particular feature of the character and try to keep the image of that character in mind for the whole writing experience. Do not stop writing, don’t take your pen from the page or your fingers from the keyboard, don’t read what you have written—save it for later.
It is important that you do not talk to anyone else during this exercise. You must be completely alone, in your own space. (For students in a classroom this might need practise and a gradual working towards.)
Suggested time: 25 minutes in total (10/15, perhaps).
Here is an example of mine from 7th June, 2017
The Goddess of Ordinary
She has a penetrating mind that sees through people’s desires into their hearts, finds what drives those desires and disrupts evil doing in ways no other person can. She’s a picture of ordinary, with penetrating hazel coloured eyes, short cut hairstyle that frames her face in an almost dowdy fashion. She has shape but it’s not eye catching shape that would stop testosterone driven traffic. She sees discontent and is attracted to its forces. She moves without grace, but not in a clumsy way, it’s just ordinary, there is no affectation, no purposeful step, no presentation, just walking, gesturing as one does in an ordinary sense. The most mundane part of her day is sleeping, everything else is an adventure. She finds adventure in ordinary things, such as dropping into the supermarket for a carton of milk, or a bottle of orange juice, usually something strikes her as out of the ordinary and because it does not fit her pattern of ordinary it requires investigation. It has to be put right .
She’s a young woman with the usual desires of young women. She likes company and talk about banal things, but she resists engaging in the ordinary nature of conversation for fear she might find something that strikes her as out of the ordinary. She keeps a notebook into which she jots her observations of ordinariness and finds ways of assembling those jottings to make sense of what she sees and feels and hears. Crimes are out of the ordinary and when she sees evidence of a crime, she investigates and fights crime with the ordinary. She uses ordinary skills to investigate, and looks for ways the ordinary is broken, and it is through this brokenness that she finds the culprit because the culprit has always does something out of the ordinary. It’s the patterns of ordinary that show up the extraordinary that creates crime. Criminals live ordinary lives, but they are in extraordinary circumstances when they commit crimes. Her method of detection exposes the ordinary and contrasts the ordinary with the ordinary. She has great success but when she fails, she does so in gigantic ways.
Failures are ordinary things, so she takes them in her stride. She reads by night, but she reads ordinary books, watches ordinary tv, sleeps with ordinary men. Her failures occur when she breaks this pattern. Taking the ordinary and putting it with extraordinary will create tension and conflict that cannot be resolved and therefore must rise to crisis and clash with disastrous consequences. Take yesterday for example, when she ran into a mother at a shopping centre who believed she had misplaced her baby by putting the child down while reaching up for some goods off the shelf, and when she bent down to retrieve her child, the child was missing. The woman raised the alarm and Melissa (that’s her ordinary name) was standing at the shelf behind her choosing her usual brand of tea. What Melissa saw was not the same as what everyone else who reacted to the concern saw. Melissa saw a woman who had no baby but set about a panic to enable her to steal goods from the store, playing on feelings of sympathy and misdirected concern across the store. On her walk home, Melissa found a child seemingly alone without its parent. This is not an ordinary occurrence. Someone took the child, left the child.The mother was expected to come along and claim the child after she had robbed the store. These are the extraordinary things that happen in an ordinary life.
As you can see, this is a pretty ordinary piece of writing, but it shows that the pen will choose to go where it chooses. By keeping the character in mind during the writing, and I think there’s potential here. I could spend perhaps half an hour on this and shape it into something that explores a curious aspect of the human condition, in that place where story happens.