Image by lo.tangelini
Stories—either imagined, as in fiction, or constructed from memories, life narratives and histories, as in creative nonfiction—are rich sources of understanding the world. They can reveal to us the personal and emotional impact of historical and political events, promote empathy, draw attention to voices silenced or on the margins, and allow for diverse viewpoints and open-ended meanings. The techniques of creative writing can be a means to share ideas with a wide audience in ways that are engaging, funny, dark or emotionally resonant. The archetype of the storyteller appears in many places, cultures and times. The storyteller is often seen as doing someone who performs alchemy with their words because words can act as catalysts, to transform.
Some stories have more power than others, and are more easily heard, while others can be disruptive, playful or chaotic. Stories can be shared for pleasure and escapism, while others seek to transform hearts and minds; these two aims need not be mutually exclusive. Stories can be slippery too—their meanings and significance can change depending on when they’re told and who’s telling them, and when they’re heard and by whom. Those who listen to stories often learn to recognize stories as this or that kind, with this or that purpose, through the context and techniques used to tell them, but some stories disrupt these expectations and elude easy understanding.
For these reasons, we shared some stories with audiences at the cultural fest, ranging from the academic to the personal, and invited audiences to share stories with us. I gave writers some writing prompts:
Firstly think of an object that has some significance to you and your family.
For a couple of minutes, describe it in as much detail as you can, focusing on its colour, texture, shape, and perhaps smell.
Now, add a sentence or two describing a person holding this object. Choose a person who has some connection to the object—so it might be you or a family member, or even someone from a future generation. Describe the person picking up and holding the object.
Now add a sentence or two describing the person’s thoughts and memories as they look at this object.
Finish with a symbol—an image that implies the emotional significance of this object to that person, without actually stating it explicitly.
Choose either an object (it can be the one from the last exercise) or a person (it can be you, or someone you know, or a made-up character) and choose two places where the object or person can move from and to. Write down the name of your object and person, and the name of the two places.
Visualise the journey from the start to the destination. How is the object or person travelling? Write a scene—that is create a picture that your reader can visualise where the character is taking action in some way—that describes the travel. Think about how you can use sounds, smells, textures, and imagery in your description.
Add a sentence or two describing the character’s feelings about the journey. If you’ve chosen an object, perhaps pretend to be that object.
Now, imagine your person or object has arrived at their destination, and has settled in a bit. Write another scene at their destination, so we can visualize it. Tell us a bit about the events that have happened to that character or object since they arrived. Try to think about how the character or object would see these events through their own eyes, and weave in their thoughts, feelings and bodily reactions to the things that have happened.