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Trying the U3A Creative Writing Exercise

If you are trying the U3A Howden & District Creative Writing Group Exercise then you will be interested how the group leader got on with Flash Story Writing at ThoughtTree CW Workshop. Well here is how it went.

Flash ‘Cricket’!
Use the words in a short story (100 words max.) strictly in the order given (no going backward or restarting allowed)

Shadows flint shimmer stealthy jealous priest steel mother candle-wax harbour

You can choose no fewer than six words from this Ten Word list.

                                                                              (Ten Minutes... Go!)

“The shadows cast by the flint outcrops (despite the shimmer of moon light upon them) enabled the stealthy entrance of this jealous Roman catholic priest. In his coat inside pocket he could feel the steel and brass ‘mother Mary’ effigy and the candlesticks soft squidgy candle-wax. For 20 years his mind had been the harbour of a grudge that he held against his brother.”

(64 Words - ran out of time, with the remaining 36 words I could have finished the story thus.)

“ suddenly he was outside the door of his brothers house. The front room lights were on. The candle stick was in his right hand. He rang the door bell. Bludgeoned by a mighty object. mission accomplished. “

(100 Words)

* You must try not to write the opening of a much longer story.
* All stories are about movement. A story is a journey from one place to another.
* “Before I was a writer I was a reader” Edith Pearman

Group Observation: - Never give up being a reader, even if your writing is going very well for unless you share the readers experience you will never write anything of any worth.

* Ernest Hemingway is thought to have said that 10% off any story is revealed by the writing the other 90% is created in the readers mind.

* Flash fiction is a snapshot “glimpse“ of a journey.
* It is not a vehicle for memoirs and neither should it be A place for random thoughts.
* Flash fiction is a complete stand alone story which could be expanded upon but does not have to be.

* The idea is for the reader to build the paces of the story that are missing in his mind.

When your story has been written read it and then re-read it placing emphasis on different words below is an example.

Chaos. And then I found you.

If the emphasis is on CHAOS then this sentence has one meaning. If the emphasis is placed on the word YOU then it has an entirely different meaning.

A Task.

1) What terrifies me is…
2) It’s hurt so much I…
3) No one believes…

Pick one of the prompts above and write a flash story that begins with your choice.

First attempt of a draft version.

Title:-  NO SENSE

No one believes any more. The world seems to have promoted the eye way beyond its merits. The eyes now stand on a victory podium where the noble pair control instead of serve the mind. The ultimate power in his region had asked but one important, vital, unanswered question “And what is the truth?” The ensuring silence sealed his fate. The end of the beginning had begun.

In my mind, when writing, was the picture of Christ standing, after being severely
flogged in Pilate’s inner office. Pilate’s wife had a very bad dream and had begged her husband to find some way to let Jesus escape with his life. BUT what image another reader has depends on where he focuses the emphasis and thus the story conveyed to him might be an entirely different one. DO YOU SEE?

I decided to give my short story the title No Sense. I then re-read and re-wrote the story so that I could make some now obvious improvements.

No one believes any more. “Now” has promoted the eye to the pinnacle position of the five. It’s lofty place dominates, whereas it used just to serve the mind. Long ago two men met in a room. One was authority and the other was just subject two. Only one question trumpeted around the room. “And what is the truth?“ The question resounded into a world whose hearing was severely diminished through time, it failed to touch them, had no taste, The salt was missing, they just felt nothing. The eye saw only that one man lived and the other died. Although a tear was shed the event meant very little out of the ordinary. People live. People die.

[117 words] needs an edit to remove 17 words.

And there ThoughtTree session ended. Try the exercise yourself and see where your inner thoughts lead you to write a flash story about. Try to keep as close to 100 words as possible. We will review at the next U3A Creative Writing group meeting where you can have your say about this exercise and whether you thought it was worth including in our already busy agenda.

Thanks for your efforts, we are all improving our writing slowly but surely.


God's Private Army

I cannot believe how spiteful some 'Christians' behave. In itself their individual behaviour is not truly awful as our Lord preaches mercy, forgiveness and Love. However this does not give His followers license to do as they like, because they will be forgiven. Nor does it give a group of Christians the right to turn a blind eye to members behaving badly, because they must always be meek, mild & merciful. Nor is it ever right to get all self righteous and declare that the ends justify the means. Setting out to achieve something great for God and not caring about the mayhem caused by pursuing it should not be on any Christians agenda. If Christians are no better, indeed considerably worse in their behaviour than your average Atheist then what's the point in being one??

In my religion, anyone who treats someone else with complete indifference needs correction. Religion is about passion and not don't care. If everyone in a church is passionate about everything that occurs good and bad in their lives THEN that's a church that prays incessantly, reads its Bible and discerns the vision that God spreads before it. That's a church that dares not fail God! That's a church which transforms lives and people by being there. This Churches people are different and have lives which are attractive to others who like and appreciate the differences in them.

If people, outside of a church, decry what goes on inside it and say things like "Those people are awful they spend their time gossiping and slandering each other. See they even delight in individuals failings! And they have the nerve to tell us they are saved and we are not. Is it any wonder the churches are empty? I've never been to any church and I consider myself lucky I could of ended up just like them. Perish the thought!"

 So what's the solution? 


If you get your relationship right with God then you will not be on your own for very long. People will want to join you, in order to find Him. Many people are seeking Him, they are just looking in the all the wrong places.

Lastly, the idea you have to be clever to understand Christianity is complete crap. The disciples never had certificates or degrees, some were clever yes, but the majority were ordinary working peasants [just like you and me]. Men do not make church leaders, God does. Some professional Christians got all their notions and ideas about God by imitating the writings and the deeds of others. They are just not the genuine article.

The second best Christian I ever met had never been to a church in his life. The best ever Christian I ever met was a Baptist Pastor. None of his colleagues liked him, he was absolutely gossiped and slandered and generally despised by his fellow Revs.

Are you God's man or woman? Just ask Him if he wants you. You will not be surprised at His answer, just very amazed that you didn't ask Him sooner. Spend some time with God, sit quietly and have a chat. Examine carefully how your life changes after five or six earnest chats with Him. Are you calmer? More in control? Are you understanding and treating others better? Do you need more guidance? Ask God who you should ask. Ideas and thoughts will come to you. Remember this is a journey of faith you are making. You know how you feel. You know if you are content with yourself or not. You know when your life is fulfilled or hollow. As well as faith this is a journey of experience and beliefs. The Bible is full of Visions, Prophets, Angels, miracles, changed lives, portents etc. The church today does not seem to believe in any of these things anymore. It is far too uptight about being on the back foot about any of this spiritual stuff. This journey is about understanding the incessant battle taking place between good and evil. It is about choosing allies and knowing who the enemy is. Christians are literally the Salvation Army!


ThoughtTree November 2017

Thoughttree Writing Workshop:

Please bare in mind that these workshops are about participation and my write up involves things that emerged from the group activities as well as advice and instruction given by the group leader Deb Henderson.

Unlikeable protagonists and secondary characters.

• Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
• Frank and April Weaver in Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
• Nick and Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
• Amon Geuth in Schindler’s List (film with Ralph Fiennes): Schindler’s Ark by T Keneally
• Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
• Percy Whetmore in The Green Mile (film screenplay by Stephen King)
• Cal Hockley in Titanic (film screenplay by J Cameron)
• Gordon Gecko in Wall Street (film screenplay by Oliver Stone)
• Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
• Mr Elton in Emma by Jane Austen
• Dorian Gray in Pictures of... by Oscar Wilde
• Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
• Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago etc ~ some of Shakespeare's flawed characters
• Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
• Kevin in We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
• Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
• Frederick in The Collector by John Fowles
• Michael Corleone in The Godfather (film. and novel by Mario Puzo)

...please add your own favourites!

'The unlikable character is a one-man plot building machine.’

Adrienne Geezo, Writer's Digest

‘I like a character who makes bad mistakes. I like conflicted characters who don't stumble but walk directly into the darkness. And then I like them, even more, when they find their my out. It gives me hope that if I fail, I'll find a way to make it right, and still be loved.‘

Linda Sienklewicz,

Today’s Session is all about creating a dysfunctional character.

Creating characters is a skill which we have to learn.
To begin building your character you should have certain elements within them.

• They should have a redemption element.
• You should avoid black and white characters for no one is wholly bad and no one is holy good.
• You should try to make your character appear real.
• You should think about points that you have made in your character profile notes and use these to help mould your character.
• Ideal characters or sociopaths who do not fit in with the rest of us.
• Try to be consistent with your flaws and don’t dwell constantly on their failings. Try to give an example of a flaw and then an example of something they do well and then perhaps another flaw and then perhaps something else that they do well.
• It is good to use ‘self-putdowns’ these people are always fishing for compliments or praise for things they have done well. This is very irritating behaviour for any reader.
• Know that the views of other characters can also be horribly wrong.
• Try to make your characters believable and do not stray into totally outlandish ridiculous behaviour. The reader will think the character needs saving from you ;-)

Task number one.

1. Create a character who is radically different from yourself.
2. This character can be a major or a minor player in a future story you may write.
3. Point out their good points and their unsavoury elements.

Good Points Bad Points Notes: 
Generous with time or money Spiteful of tongue  Publically?
Gay/ Gregarious and a good mixer. Hates the opposite sex. Check out why? 
Very attractive but also deceptive  Why Deceptive?
Friendship is something they appear to do well they just appear to be nice. endless ongoing they display malice to people who
have upset them.
Tall, slim, good figure, great pair, faultless makeup instantly has an impact on any room and plays to
the crowd - they have lots of charisma.
Beware this can all be approved of by certain readers. Make sure it is to gain some bad end result. 
Sleeps and eats in their own house but lives in other peoples houses. As above.
Every activity they do is well organised, brief, efficient and is often done for others. appears to be a do good’er. Some readers love do good’ers


Task 2.

Think of something that may have happened on a particular day which really threw them off balance.

“ and ex-partner is coming back to the area where they lived and certain of her
friends are entertaining that partner.”

Task 3.

These are “thinking exercises” in preparation for including this character in a future story or stories that you may be thinking of writing.

1. Ask yourself what makes your character tick?
2. Remember Robbie Burns once said ‘If we could only see ourselves as others see us.’
3. Make sure that you make your character good at something and take pains to explain their good point early on in the story to the reader.
4. Determine what your characters' motivation and passions.

Writing Task.

Think of a way of being able to make your reader have sympathy for your character.

Give an example now.

“When she was 10 her father left the family home and her new stepfather had two boys
from his previous marriage. The stepfather doted on the two boys and made it
crystal clear that he had no love or care for his new wife’s daughters. The mother,
stepfather and the two boys were ‘one family’ and the two girls just lived there.”

Writing Example 2 [making a flawed character have a good side]

“ She was throwing the present that he had given into a skip which had been left in the
car park. As she threw the package in she noticed some movement in the skip
. In a bag, there was something that wriggled. She carefully and unzipped the bag
and found inside that it contained a puppy. She removed the puppy from the bag
and placed it under her coat. She then made her way to the vets and made
sure that the puppy would be cared for.“

The above would be a totally unexpected event that the reader would not have anticipated.

Readers will believe the flawed character better if you can find a way of giving the character some redemption. You should plan this well ahead and mention something right at the beginning of your story that you will use at the end to redeem them.

Things that you could use to achieve this are as follows.

1. They have obvious wit, charm and charisma.
2. Generous acts of kindness.
3. Loyalty to a friend.

Your character may have very strong viewpoints. This is okay, some of their strong viewpoints maybe very skewed or misinterpreted by them as something very different.

Never have a character which has no flaws at all a reader will be very antagonistic towards a goody two shoes.

Writing exercise number four.

Give an example of your character being judged because of their usual bad points and then redeem them from the situation later.

“It was well known that she hated her job and when she left to become her
nan’s ‘live in’ carer people just said, “well there is her way out!” However, her
nan was so well cared for, that she recovered her health and also her love of life
. So much so, that she suggested that other lonely old people who were much
more deserving people be sought to look after. Bingo! a successful
thriving business came into being which the nan helped her granddaughter

In your story try to convince the reader that your character is worthy of being saved.
You might like to provide them with a Saviour who comes to rescue them or you might prefer to put them into a group of people who are far worse than your character has ever been. Your character will then appear to be much nicer than the reader originally thought they were.

Another way out is when I bad guy kills another bad guy. In this way the killer becomes a sort of good guy.

Keep in mind a character is never bad for no reason. There must be a creditable explanation for the bad behaviour they display.

In every case use the readers shift in sympathy to encourage forgiveness.

For example Fagin is thought by the reader to be a thoroughly bad person. Charles Dickens introduces Bill Sykes who threatens to ruin Oliver by involving him in serious crime and then later murders Nancy. When Fagin is fleeing from the mob who effectively kill Bill Sykes he loses some of his treasures and by this time the reader has seen Fagin in a different light and will have sympathy for him.

A question to contemplate. Is it easier to make a woman a bad character is to make a man a bad character.

• Women are supposed to be nurturers they are supposed to be patient kind loving.
• Men are supposed to be hunters providers gatherers givers.
• You decide. But it is probably easier to make a woman appear bad.

To make a bad person appear to be seen in a better light one device is to give them a friend. This friend need not be a person it could be a pet such as a kitten or a puppy.

Ask yourself what is my character's motivation?

1. In case of the woman that I have been writing about during this session, it would appear that her motivation is that she hates all men and is determined to put every man who comes under her spell severely in his place.
2. Think about what it is that makes your character feel vindicated i.e. what is it that makes their behaviour seem to them to be entirely justified.
3. Think about what your character appears to know about themselves.
4. Think about their personal history and the experiences they have had in the past.

Last item. It is entirely possible that your character knows their bad points so well that they are always looking for distractions so they do not have to look at themselves too much. That is that they prefer to be in trouble for something minor that they have just done, rather than dwell on something major that they did in their past.

As homework write a story that features the character that we have been building this morning. Remember from early on in the story give your flawed character a way back into the reader's sympathies by using one of the methods that were discussed this morning.



U3A-CreativeWriting - December 2017

An intense energy had swelled and swirled within the spirit entity since he had entered through the gloomy portal of the house. This house of malevolence, born of greed and selfishness. There were enough rooms for five whole families to live a life of secluded comfort in. AND yet, true to form, only two rooms were used. The rest of this vast property set aside for its material value as an asset for its owner and master. The spirit gazed with a knowing sad eye upwards towards an apartment on the 2nd floor above. Up to it led a magnificent seven feet wide gallery staircase. There was an old tea chest abandoned many years previously in the centre of the huge entrance lobby. He dragged himself and all the chains and irons that bound him over to it and sat upon it. His energy quickly renewed but he knew he would need a great deal of energy with which to deal with the ogre which his partner in life had become, so he sat and eagerly awaited his opportunity to correct and change Ebenezer Scrooge (when the silly man deemed it at last that it was a decent time to give up the pursuit of wealth that day.)

Jacob Marley


In the eerie glow that permeated from himself, he could see the street door through which the dreadful old miser would enter. On his side of the door were two large nuts that held the lion-headed door knocker on. One of the clever 'spirit tricks' he had learned seven years ago was the ability to enter an object and look through it. In his mind now he entered the nuts and bolts and viewed through the Lions head the winter scene outside. Oh, but it was bitterly cold out there, snow lay several inches thick on the neglected stair and vast portal grounds outside.

            “Here he comes now.” Said the spirit excitedly out loud.

            “Jacob?” said a trembling voice.

“Yes, your redemption chance has arrived, you undeserving miserable sinner.” Said the ghost in a very whispered quiet voice, for now, was not the time to reveal the intents and purpose of his presence.

Scrooge had shakily inserted the key in the lock, turned it in a state of severe agitation and entered his property so quickly that his repulsion drove Jacob from the door knocker and returned him in a very weak state to the safety of his tea chest. His energy thus depleted he sat invisible to the recovering wreck of a man that stood nervously in front of him.

In the next split second a very sad memory came into the sight of the spirit as a spectre of his bodies last earthly journey re-enacted itself in that spacious foyer. His hearse with a horse at a fair gallop sped from the doorway right through Scrooge and then up the wide wonderful staircase to enter one of the rooms, through a tight, shut, locked and bolted secured heavy door above. Halfway up those stairs, the driver, with a flourish, had removed his hat and waved it in mock salute whilst he called out “Merry Christmas Guvnor, Merry Christmas!” Jacob remembered the event. The haste to be shot of him. The driver had another three corpses to deliver to the churchyard and time was indeed money. Besides, it was Christmas and the driver had his mind fixed on spending his evening imbibing vast quantities of ale in the company of many lewd loose serving wenches. Heaven for the likes of him.

Jacob watched the very slow ascent of scrooge up those stairs. The vision of Marley in the knocker and Jacob's coffin on the speeding hearse had unsettled him greatly.

“I should find him in a receptive mood when I join him in his composure in a few minutes time.” Thought Jacob as he sat quietly on his tea chest, feeling the resurgence of the restless energy within his spirit.” In his contemplations, he thought “It will take more than me and a seven-year-old replay to change this reluctant old sinner.  What will change the mind of this treacherous, devious, ‘failure out of success’ man? I know he thought “I will force him to look at his past and at his present and show him how he caused such misery and unhappiness when it would have been far less effort to cause great joy and merriment to the world. Then I will show him the future reward for his lack of care and kindness to his fellow men.”

Having formulated his plan, he knew he would need the help of the spirits of Past, Present & Future to do these necessary things. “Alas,” he thought “in life, I was just the same as this miserable wretch and so the master will not let be berate the behaviour of this like-minded soul.” Jacob sat and wept. He had learned far too late in his cold and lonely grave, the grievous offence that his life had been to his worthy mighty creator.

“Oh, how gold and earthly treasures blind one to the real values of a life well spent in pursuit of goodness and contentment... for all. He sat and thought of his own brothers, sisters, mother, father and the kind arm hearted fiancé he had neglected and fell away from. He thought of his current restless wanderings in which he observed all the need of necessities and the dire consequences of not having them. Why only this morning he had watched a ten-year-old boy be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. He hung his head in sorrow and shame, took upon himself all his previous sinful existence and vowed “I will be entirely and thoroughly good toward Ebenezer and save him from himself, he will be changed and not end up as I have done, bound and chained to all the falsehoods that the evil one has devised for the enslavement of men. He shall see a new kind of Christmas day, where he commits himself to share in the happiness and delight of the season with the whole of God’s wonderful creation. In this way, all my sorrow, grief and severe wanting will not have happened in vain. I know that if by sacrificing myself I save even just one soul then I will have discovered the way to save all mankind.”

Suddenly he became aware of three cheerful companions. He greeted each of them separately, warmly and heartily. In response, they bid him commence the battle for the mind and soul of the man hiding away from them in the rooms above. Christmas Past beamed at him “We will visit him one at a time. Jacob, you will go first, then I at one, Christmas Present you will visit at Two, Future you will visit him last at the time you feel most conducive to his welfare.”

And so, as Jacob ascended those stairs rattling his chains, various boxes, binders and ledgers for the ghostly effect, the 'Christmas Story of saving the undeserving' finally begun. Its conclusion was ‘hoped for beyond measure’ and that was that good would prevail. And so, as Jacob ascended those stairs rattling his chains, various boxes, binders and ledgers for the ghostly effect the 'Christmas Story of saving the undeserving' finally begun. Its conclusion was inevitable being that good would prevail. Good, however, is often rejected by men because evil (as portrayed by its instigator and chief champion, his greatest highness Lucifer) always pays better dividends. But this is just another of the lies that the fallen one tells, easily seen through, if you observe God diligently. Jacob had lain in the ground 7 months before the three things he needed in his new life came to him. A trinity of goodwill directed towards all men as a 'Last Chance'. The Father had sent Jacob Marley Past, The Son had sent Jacob Marley Present AND The Holy Spirit had sent Jacob Marley Future to pay a visit to him amongst all his loss and desolation. Finally, he had seen the error of his own ways and his immediate response had been to save his mentor and partner that had taught him everything that he had previously known and regretted bitterly ever learning.



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