Friday, 8 February 2019

A Grave Story • Lynne Garner

Over the last few weeks I've been teaching a five-week creative writing course for adults. The main aim of the course is to wake up their muse and inspire my students to write anything creative. Whether it's a story, poem or even a song. During one of the sessions I encouraged the students to come up with things they could use to inspire their writing. The list they came up with included:

  • Newspaper features
  • Songs
  • Poems
  • An overheard snippet of conversation
  • A photograph
  • A found object
  • Family history
  • A joke

When they started to falter I added a few more including gravestones and blue plaques (the ones you see on the side of buildings which contain a name, a short description of that person and dates). 

Now, fast forward a week and I was walking through an old graveyard. I had plenty of time, so when a gravestone caught my eye I stopped to read it. I was surprised it not only gave the name and the dates of those who lay beneath it but also their occupation (father 'smith of this town' and son 'veterinary surgeon'). As it was something I've never seen before I decided to take a photograph and felt I could use it as homework for my students. Later that day, at the end of our session I gave my students the details from the gravestone and asked them to write anything about John Chandler or William Chandler. As usual I wasn't surprised when they all came back with something totally different. One described the father (his appearance and mannerisms), another described a scene from his life (helping a cow give birth). Whilst another researched the son and came shared some interesting facts about him.

Once they'd shared their homework I introduced the topic for that week, creating a cast list using a mind map. Again I used a picture of a gravestone I'd taken the previous week. This time it was the gravestone of Elizabeth Beadle and her husband George Beadle. From these two names I asked the students, as a group to create a list of those around them including family, friends and foes. As ideas were being thrown around one of the students said the name Beadle came from the position of the village/town 'Beadle,' which historically was 'a minor parish officer dealing with petty offenders.' Suddenly the creation of the fictitious cast was forgotten and we were building a story around George. We knew he would have started life as an honourable man (otherwise he'd not have been given the position) but suddenly he was taking bribes (he needed the money to help him cover up a minor indiscretion). He was also dealing with death threats from the family of a petty offender he'd dealt with .     

By the end of the session everyone had contributed to the complicated life of poor George Beadle. They had so many other ideas about him that I decided to set them homework based on George. I asked them to take one element from his life and expand upon it. I'm really looking forward to what they come up with as I'm sure they'll add many more twists and turns to Georges life.

Blatant plug time

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Fox of Moon Meadow Farm (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Ten Tales of Brer Rabbit (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Ten Tales of Coyote  (ebook 99p/99¢ - 10 stories)

Anansi The Trickster Spider (ebook £1.49/$1.49 - 16 stories)



Sandra Horn said...

What great ideas! Lucky students!

Lynne Garner said...

Sandra - thanks. It's amazing that they join the class telling me they have no imagination and within a few sessions I can't stop them joining in the fun of creating a new story. However, it was noted by one of the students this week we always end up with a forbidden love or a murder.

Bill Kirton said...

My reaction was the same as Sandra's. And I couldn't help starting to be one of the class and adding my own threads to the stories. It sounds like a lively class - and yes, lucky students.

Lynne Garner said...

Bill - thank you. Would love to know what what threads you've come up with.

Umberto Tosi said...

Excellent story starters: I often use three random words solicited from someone at hand to get a story started without fuss. Your list breaks the monotony and stimulates the imagination. A writing teacher I recall once said that the key to building a story is to lay down tracks - as a first draft - then build out (or up, down or inward) until that first floor plan may not even be visible, but something complex and original emerges. Suggestion-triggers banish barriers to laying down those temporary tracks without pre-judgment. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.