A Short Piece About Short Pieces

Ten years ago next month, I joined my first writing class with the author Zoe Venditozzi.

In each lesson, she would give us a prompt, which might comprise a sentence, a few words or even a photograph. We’d then have five or ten minutes to write a paragraph or a passage inspired by it, sometimes with extra restrictions like using a particular viewpoint or writing a certain number of words. Many actors take improv classes to hone their skills, and this was the writers’ equivalent.

Since then, I’ve built up a considerable volume of short pieces, many of which have been revised over the years, but nothing that forms a larger cohesive work on a single theme.

Some time ago, I wanted to change this, and add some longer-form pieces to my archives. These turned into stage plays: one is ready to go, the other needs to be redrafted. I also have in mind a radio play that is mapped out but needs to be written.

Now, I’m ready to go back and write shorter pieces. I’m in a poetry monthly group that keeps me focussed on producing work for the next meeting, and I wrote another original poem for the purposes of performing to a virtual audience yesterday.

Along with this, I also need to return to the habit of responding to publishers’ requests for pieces. I used to aim to send an average of one a week, and that still seems like a manageable target.

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I apologise for not updating over the last few weeks. I’ve been on my back with illness and been in no state to write anything. The good news is that I’ve had plenty of ideas for topics during this time, which I’ll explore over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, here’s a picture prompt of me in my scarf to inspire your own writing:

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You’re The Voice, Try and Understand It.

Earlier this week, I read out a new story, which is still at the stage of the first draft. When I was finished, I was told, “That wasn’t in your usual voice.” I was so pleased, I nearly shouted, “Yesss,” while pulling down an imaginary chain with one hand.

In my short writing career, I’ve developed the view that nobody necessarily has to find their own voice. To some people, it is important to write in a particular fashion, but I contest that everyone is capable of having more than one voice if they want to. I reckon you can pen ten stories in ten unique voices.

I’ve previously talked about how crime writer P D James wrote the science fiction novel Children of Men at the age of 70. Allow me to offer another example, this time from Hollywood, that illustrates my point. You could never mistake the musical Hairspray for black comedy Serial Mom, yet John Waters was behind both of them.

Changing your voice can be as simple as altering the words or the punctuation. For example, two of my own hallmarks are that I rarely go to town on description, and never use brackets. I could alter that by describing something in vivid detail, (adding extra information in parentheses). Done often enough, it would sound like somebody else.

So why not find out if you can write like someone else, but say your own thing? If you’re stuck, here’s a prompt I’ve had in my head over the last week:

Two friends are in a café or a pub. One of them leaves for a lengthy pre-arranged appointment, but returns a short while later. What has happened?