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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Weekly writing prompt: What's their link?

Scrabble letters: What's their link?

In the run-up to the online Summer of Writing workshops in August & September, I'm posting a writing prompt each weekend – plenty of different stuff for you to play around with as a chance to experiment, get your pen moving, and have fun! Each of the prompts loosely connects with a weekend pair of the Summer of Writing workshops, and I'll explain the connection at the end of the post each time. I find it's often more useful to play with prompts first, then think about their purpose afterwards, as we're more open and uninhibited that way. (That said, if you need to understand the point of something to enjoy it, feel free to scroll down and read that first!)

New to weekly writing prompts? Read about them here.

This week's prompt is "What's Their Link?" – a lovely exercise to play with how to show the relationships between characters. In each of the scenarios below, you have two adult characters, and you want to write one line of dialogue or one action to show the relationship between them. For example, if the relationship is "They're neighbours", a line of dialogue could be "Just a heads up that we're having a family party on Saturday – it might be a bit rowdy, but we'll make sure to keep the noise down after nine." 

The six relationships to show are...

  • they live together as romantic partners
  • they're housemates
  • they're in a new relationship
  • they're parent and adult child
  • they're at uni together
  • they work together

So for each pair, write one line of dialogue or a sentence of action to show their connection.

That's it! But if you feel like playing with this a bit more, you can take it further. There are six relationships there, but only five people, not twelve:

  • A and B live together as romantic partners
  • C and E are housemates
  • C and D are in a new relationship
  • D is the parent and A is the adult child
  • B and E are at uni together
  • A and C work together

So A is in a relationship with B and they live together, and A's parent, D, is in a new relationship with C, who is A's work colleague. A's partner, B, is at university with E, who is housemates with C, A's work colleague. Whew! It'll help now to give them all names. Then once you've got your head round that (at this point I'd draw a pentagram, both to map out the relationships between all five and to cast a spell to keep it straight in my mind), you can put them all together in the same place – let's say a nice pub garden with some decent grub. They've all met everyone else before, so there's no chance of introductions, but you can have them arrive one by one, to give you some breathing space. Have fun!

This prompt links with the pair of workshops on Orientating the Reader: Shifting Between Scenes (Sat 4 Sep) and Deft Exposition (Sun 5 Sep). In every kind of fiction, there's always stuff you need to explain to the reader or discreetly remind them of: who people are and their relationships, the social norms, what was happening last time we were in this strand of the story, what happens if the sun blows up / the defendant swears in court / the patient is given 20cc instead of 2cc of a medicine... Whatever the info that needs explaining or reminding, you don't want to grind the story to a halt for a swathe of explanation. That's not the stuff of story and the reader generally doesn't remember those explanations anyway. Instead, everything gets woven into the texture of the story, becoming part of the action, dialogue, and description. The first workshop, Shifting Between Scenes, looks at the who/what/where/when reminders, so the reader never gets disorientated. The second, Deft Exposition, looks at how to weave backstory and info into the story. You can read more about both workshops and book your places here.

This is the last of this summer's Weekly Writing Prompts: if you missed the others, you can see the full collection, including prompts from previous summers and other courses, here.

The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • 1. Characters Unlike You: The Other Types (Saturday 7 August): exploring different systems of personality types to create likeable characters who are fundamentally different to you
  • 2. Characters Unlike You: Tools for Change (Sunday 8 August): a range of tools to separate yourself and esnure they’re still characters you have respect and affection for
  • 3. The Art of the Short Story: Shaping Short Stories (Saturday 14 August): strategies and techniques for creating and plotting engaging short stories
  • 4. The Art of the Short Story: Stories on a Postcard (Sunday 15 August): extreme economy in storytelling while keeping the prose sensory and rooted in real time
  • 5. Page Turners: Compelling Stories (Saturday 21 August): the underlying principles of gripping storytelling, to develop a story’s narrative drive, plot map, and scenes map
  • 6. Page Turners: Compelling Pages (Sunday 22 August): using micro-tension to tauten every scene and paragraph, so that every page is engaging
  • 7. Unravelling Secrets: Dramatic Secrets (Saturday 28 August): creating thrillers, mysteries, and crime / detective fiction: the genres structured around secrets
  • 8. Unravelling Secrets: Tricksy Storytelling (Sunday 29 August): how to structure a story around its central secret, and managing what you give away when, backstory, and red herrings
  • 9. Orientating the Reader: Shifting Between Scenes (Saturday 4 September): how to keep the reader oriented about who characters are, what happened last, moving in time and place, and dealing with flashbacks elegantly
  • 10. Orientating the Reader: Deft Exposition (Sunday 5 September): a range of ways to weave explanation into a story and how to deal with "heavy-duty" exposition for more complex info

Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 16 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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