Plots and characters break down blocks – 29 November 2017

Few writers, whether they are very experienced or new to writing, will go through their careers without experiencing something akin to writer’s block. Being stuck for ideas can be frustrating and demoralising. Inspiration can be sought in a variety of ways. Members of the Ayr Writers’ Club, all too familiar with the challenge, have a series of Club Nights during the Season when there are opportunities for the club to run events designed to help the writing process. Janice Johnston was the compere on Wednesday 29 November.

Committee members brought in a diverse selection of intriguing bags into which six haphazard items had been placed. Janice set the ball rolling by splitting the members into small groups and giving them each a bag. She then set the scene. ‘ The Head of Ayrshire Police has appealed to the club for support in an ongoing investigation. A bag containing a mysterious set of items has been found on the beach. Foul play is considered to be the background. What is the story behind the bag? Who left it there, and why? Can the club build up a profile of the person involved?’

One bag, a small plastic backpack, contained the following six items – a large old key, a mouth organ, a Jura Passenger Ferry Timetable, a miniature glass of port, a small children’s french reading book and, finally, a miniature guide to the sky at night. Well, what story could you conjure up from that? Within twenty minutes the group with this particular bag produced a bold and imaginative narrative, set in the highlands, with a clear nod towards John Buchan.

Half way through the evening, Janice thickened the plot by adding further information from the police. ‘An unidentified body has now been found on the beach near the bag’.

Our group grappled with an empty laptop bag containing a small pink souvenir purse from the Titanic museum in Belfast, a bottle opener, a guitar plectrum, a pair of sunglasses, a half empty packet of throat lozenges and a small book on vampires. We were not short of ideas. The problem was trying to distil them all into a coherent narrative.

I pictured a travelling female busker with a sore throat, Goth tendencies and a fondness for booze. She tries to look cool in sunglasses, even in the middle of winter. The purse, which was empty, came from a local charity shop. Her name is Susan, but she likes to be known as Trixie. After a unsuccessful morning busking on the Old Bridge, she has wandered round the harbour to the beach. She is in her early twenties but looks older. Wistfully staring out to sea she feels lost and cold. She has no money. Her boyfriend, Liam, has left her for a divorced store manager from Alloa, with two young children and a battered Honda Civic….

A story is usually a description of human behaviour. Most stories need characters. Writers find characters in a variety of different ways. By the end of the evening a wonderful array of characters and stories was unfolding. If only one leads to a successful short story, poem or even a novel the Club Night will have been successful. Many thanks to Janice for guiding us through the evening. I’ve put Trixie in my inspiration file along with newspaper cuttings, photographs, postcards and an assortment of inanimate objects. Inspiration can be found in many ways.
Chris Palmer

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