A few years ago my wife and I toured Morocco for two weeks. It was a magical tour with many highlights. I write more about this trip on another site called Trevor’s Travels.
One of the places we visited on the tour was the village of Sefrou which is about 30km from Fes. It was a delightful and interesting place to experience. As we were wandering through the streets we came across this group of children playing. They seemed to want me to take their photo, but were a little hesitant at first. Eventually they posed for me.
Whenever I look at this photo I wonder what their story is. It might prompt one of my readers to think the same, or similar, question.
- Tell the story of this group of children.
- Use your imagination to think about what they were playing.
- Imagine being inside their heads. What were they thinking about this strange Australian taking their photo?
- Write about some imaginary tragedy they might have recently experienced.
If only the stones could talk.
I was totally fascinated by the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis in Morocco when we visited during our tour of that country. It was certainly a highlight of the tour – a holiday with many highlights. These ruins are now a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Volubilis was settled in the third century BC but only reached its zenith as a commercial, cultural and administrative centre under Roman rule in the first century AD. It was occupied for at least another 700 years, so it has a long and rich history.
Many of the ruins were destroyed during an earthquake in the 18th century, and it is only in the last 20 years that excavations have revealed some of its former glory.
While wandering around the site, the writer in me couldn’t help speculate about the myriads of stories these ancient ruins could tell. At one stage over 20,000 people lived here. Each had a story to tell.
- What did they dream of?
- What struggles did they have?
- How many tragedies could be related?
- Who were the heroes – and the villains – who called this home?
- Think of some historic place you know well – or even revisit it.
- It can be a building, a monument or even a natural feature steeped in history.
- It could even be a photo of a place you have never visited – like those above and below.
- Let your mind imagine the people of the past who may have worked there, lived there or had lives changed by being there.
- Drawing on your imagination, write about those people, telling their story.
During our visit to the capital of Morocco we stopped briefly at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat. This was one of many beautiful buildings we saw during our tour.
Just before we went inside, I took several photos of some Moroccan women talking. They were attired in what I assume was the standard of dress in that area.
- What is their story?
- Why have they come to visit the mausoleum?
- What did Mohammed V mean to them?
- Why is the little boy fascinated by me taking a photo of them?
- Write a poem from the point of view of the curious little boy.
- Write a short story from your point of view with a focus on the death of someone you admire, triggered by visiting this memorial.
- Let your imagination fly in any direction as a result of seeing these photos.
To many people history is boring.
I can understand that. Some history turns me off, while other aspects of history fascinate me. I guess it sometimes depends on the mood I’m in, or the particular aspect of history being discussed, read or shown on television. To many people family history is deadly boring – with and emphasis on the “dead” part.
Some writers complain that they have trouble coming up with ideas for stories and novels. My suggestion is to get hold of a family history book. If your family hasn’t had a family history book published, borrow someone else’s history. I have two family books; one based on my father’s side, the other on my mother’s family. Both are filled with family genealogical diagrams illustrating relationships in the broader family. They also include many interesting but rather stiff upper lip type photos which can be a little amusing today.
But I digress.
Both books contain hundreds of short accounts of the lives of people in my family. Many of these people are now dead. The accounts range from the familiar, mundane and ordinary, through to the unbelievable, adventurous and plain tragic. Take for example the account of my ancestors on my father’s side as they escaped religious persecution in their home land and migrated half way around the world to settle here in South Australia. Several members died on the boat journey out here. The story of the survivors shows great courage and drama. It’s ready made for retelling, possibly best written as fiction.
Any family history book, if it contains accounts of the lives of ordinary people, will be a fertile field ready for harvesting by a creative and imaginative writer. Troll through the book looking for that one story that captures your imagination. Then let that imagination have full rein. Let the story run its course. Don’t necessarily worry about sticking to the facts; you are writing fiction. Writers of historical fiction do this all the time; their stories are fiction based on a true story or actual event.
I hope you find a little gem of a story.
“Fiction writing is great. You can make up almost anything.”
Ivana Trump, upon finishing her first novel.
Say that again, please?
Yes, well … I think that’s what fiction is, something made up in the writer’s imagination.
That is what I love about writing fiction; you can make up interesting characters, imagine beautiful (or dangerous or horrible) settings, create compelling plots and generally let your creative juices loose, flowing in interesting directions.
I love it when characters take over the story and you have no idea where they will take the reader – and you as the writer.
I love it when the plot I have in mind or on my outline page suddenly twists away, taking unexpected lane ways, leading me on a merry – or dangerous – chase through a land unknown.
I am delighted when unplanned, unexpected and delicious endings pop out on to the page.
The foundation of fiction
Despite the imagination being the driving force behind all fiction, I believe it is important to realise that all fiction also has one foot in reality. Every story, even wild, out-of-this-world fantasy and SF, has to have an internal logic based on reality. If something is too illogical, the reader will switch off or stop reading.
Sure, some stories need a certain suspension of belief (eg a talking animal, and ogre who falls in love or an alien who speaks English), but once that is achieved successfully, the writer can blaze ahead.
The characters must also ring true to themselves, the setting must be based on places the readers can imagine and the plot must be feasible. I find more and more that I draw on real places, real people and real events for writing fiction. Many of my stories are based on true events; my imagination draws on those events and asks, “What if..” Using this technique my imagination can run off in all kinds of directions.
An example: some time ago my brother told me of a skeleton he found on a sandhill on his farm. All we know from the investigating detective is that the man was shot in the head twice and that he was not an Aborigine. I used the discovery of this unfortunate man and came up with a 4000 word crime and murder mystery story. My lecturer gave me a high distinction and she is a hard but fair assessor.
Let your imagination soar, and good writing.