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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writing Prompt: Imaginary Worlds

By Amy Robinson and Thaisa Frank

Thaisa Frank, award-winning author of the critically acclaimed novel
Heidegger’s Glasses, will be teaching at our upcoming Ojai retreat. This week, she's agreed to share a writing prompt with all of you! But before we get to her prompt, don't forget to check out our February classes. Call 323-333-2954 to sign up before they're full!

One Day Classes Coming Up Soon:

Multi Week Classes:
Writing Retreats:
  • Writing Pad Ojai Retreat (Mar. 25 - 27 at a gorgeous ecosanctuary with award-winning author Thaisa Frank, NPR's Alex Cohen, and Writing Pad's Marilyn Friedman)
Thaisa's Writing Prompt:
To write is not just to tell a story, but also to create a world--a context in which your characters live their lives in spite of the plot and not because of it. These worlds can be fantastic (like the world of The Castle, by Kafka), ordinary (the world of Remains of the Day, by Ishiguro) or be a blurred landscape in between (Remainder by Tom McCarthy). All good writers allow his or her readers to travel in a different country. A well developed world includes qualities of weather and sky, cityscapes, landscapes, and sensate objects, ranging from furniture to fruit to velvet.

Think about a story that you are trying to write. Make a list of five things that are distinct about your character's world. Where does he or she live? What does he or she eat and wear? What is the weather like and how do people speak? If you do not have a fictional world to write about, write about your current neighborhood or the place that you grew up and list five things that are distinct about that world. Write for 10 minutes, including at least 2 of the items from your list, then post the results in the comments of this blog!

Comment on this blog. Write for 10 minutes about the world you or your character inhabits. Post your 10 minute write in the comments, and you could win a free class!


Lizzie said...

The world that my character lives in is a blend of rural and urbanized California with the low-fantasy world of spell-casting, psychic, nomadic gypsies.

At the moment, my main character is in the fringes of downtown San Francisco, walking through the bright September morning with her new friend to find breakfast. Wafting through the air from all directions are kim chee, fried bread, waffles and sticky syrup, commercialized egg sandwiches, burnt hot coffee, as well as freshly ground. From just below the city, the smells of the wharf and sea lions creeps up underneath it all.

Even though the sun is brightly shining on the ant-like pedestrians weaving their way through crosswalks, under construction passageway corridors and around trolley stops, the air also feels wet and leaves dampness on the skin and hair. This makes for frizz halos even on the slickly-straight-haired Harumi.

All around, horns grease through the air, some sounding far away and others right under your skin. All of the grouchiest drivers are out in the morning, the ones with the unintended bedhead. This is especially awful for women. The red and sometimes rusty trolleys, screeching around corners attached with wires are a better bet to knock back to coffee and rub the sleep away from your eyes on your way to work or school.

My story doesn’t stay put in Frisco, but after a sinkhole opens up near Pier 39, my characters rent an old VW bus and high-tail it back down to Los Angeles.

Writing Pad said...

When I graduated college, I imagined that the adult world would greet me with red carpets, handshakes and hugs. It would be an anti-1984 type world where you could do what you loved to do, and you wouldn’t have to worry about making enough money to cover your credit card bills or your rent. I could be a writer or work for a non-profit that saved poor kids from falling into gang life and still shop at Express as much as I wanted to and live in a nice apartment in a neighborhood close to the center of the city where I could walk by myself at night and not worry about being mugged or raped.

I imagined that the real world would be an extended portal of college—a warm cocoon where you met friendly people on the street and later found yourself having deep conversations with them in a coffee shop until 2 in the morning. I would walk into a publishing company and tell them my name, show them my grade point average, and would walk out with a $70k a year job. “Your name is Marilyn Friedman” they’d say? “Well, look at that fabulous GPA, we’d love to have you work here!” Even though I’d be working, there would be plenty of time for dance classes, reading books, writing, and watching movies with subtitles and then having heated discussions about these movies in a coffee shop until 2 in the morning.

But what I found was quite the opposite. I found myself slaving away at a computer until the wee hours of the morning, over weekends, in a rat infested building in the South End of Boston. I found myself begging my parents for money every month to cover my rent and my credit card bills because my salary was so small. I found myself living in a shitty apartment next to an expressway where I could hear the cars whooshing by my window in every room. My brain was atrophying like a couch potato watching one talk show after another because all I had time for was work, work, work. College felt like floating on a cloud. The real world felt like getting dropped on my tailbone.

And so, at the urging of my family, and in the hopes of having more power over my destiny, I went to business school where I entered another strange planet. All the students wore the same sweater sets and blue button down shirts and chinos. We dined on Taco Bell burritos in between classes, and I listened to my classmates talk about football and golf and how much money they were going to make when they graduated. Every night we went to have beers at the White Horse in Kenmore Square. I didn’t even like beer, but I forced myself to learn to like it by pouring one Rolling Rock down my throat at a time. I was 10 years younger than all of my classmates and the only one who liked to go to the theater and watch foreign films with subtitles. I was an art alien on a conservative business planet, and I didn’t do a very good job of hiding my antennae.