Hello! Hello! Mr Clover here, welcome to the Writing Shed. Come in, please leave your bows and arrows by the door. Now… I have been contacted by several people saying you are busy writing Character Portraits, but you need to go to the beach / need to have a very long wee / want another day. So I am giving you another day. We will gather back here tomorrow, same time (3 pm).
In the meantime, I would like to read out a story from Xanthe (8) in Ashford, which I particularly enjoyed. Her story came out of the first exercise I set, which is where you have to list several boring things that you see around you, and then you must write the words “BUT THEN…” I told you that just writing those words will have a magic effect on your imagination, as if it were being jolted with an electric spark, and then things will happen.
This proved the case with Xanthe’s story. Listen to this…
I am sitting in a messy living room on the floor. The black, murky TV is off. The grey vacuum cleaner is laden with dust. The cold armchair is shadowed by the grey sky.
But then out of nowhere an alien spaceship comes zooming down from the grey sky. There are two green aliens driving. They cut a hole in the ceiling and grab me from the floor. The aliens are called Mog and Bob, they are smelly but kind.
They take me to Space World. There are comets passing in the pink sky. All sorts of planets are on springs out of the Space World. They are on springs because they don’t have gravity so they would float off otherwise. On the planet there are ten houses for each alien. I count how many aliens are on the main planet of space world, there are only 242 aliens that I can see.
Mog and Bob tell me that most of the aliens have flown off on flying ants to invade planets. Mog and Bob used to be human but they got taken to alien world many years ago and everything they ate turned them into aliens but they remembered their human side. They said they were goodies but the other aliens were baddies.
I am worried about an alien invasion so I ask Mog and Bob to bring me back to earth.
When I get home I ask Mummy to boil the kettle of water and bring it outside to stop an invasion. After the water has been poured over the teaming mass of flying ants, I know I have not killed wildlife but I have stopped an alien invasion of earth.
I go back indoors and turn on the black TV and go back to my ordinary day.
These are the things that I particularly like about Xanthe’s story…
- I feel that she has opened up her imagination, and let things happen. I can see that hole in the ceiling happening, with the aliens reaching down and grabbing.
- I liked the short, but hilarious Character Portrait telling us about the aliens: they “are called Mog and Bob, they are smelly but kind”. [You could tell us more though, Xanthe! Which alien is in charge – Mog or Bob? Which is taller? Do they have any particular habits? Is there something they want? (Does Mog stare out at the black night, scanning the sky for ants?)]
- I particularly enjoyed how Xanthe has a rather scientific sort of imagination. She imagines weird things happening, and then explains how they might work. So I love the planets on springs, and that the bad aliens are riding on flying ants. [Weirdly I had a similar idea in fantasy book I wrote, called Dirty Angels, which said that there are aliens on this planet, just they’re all mosquitoes. (How would we know that flying ants aren’t from other planets? Has anyone asked them?)]
Before posting it, I adjusted two things about Xanthe’s story:
- She had jumped from the present tense to the past, and back again. This is very very common. I like to write in the present tense, where everything is happening, right now, and it’s more active, but it’s much harder. You can’t stop a story to explain things. You can get away with that more in the past tense, which is more traditional.
- I took a little bit out of the story. It contained more ideas that were wonderful, but which stopped the story a little. This brings me to the oldest writing tip in the human world: you must show, don’t tell. In this case, it means that Xanthe’s heroine should discover all sorts of things that happen on her planet, and can’t just tell the readers. It would be fun to imagine her sneaking about the planet, then seeing an evil alien fly off, on an ant. I would love to hear about that! (Do the aliens get shrunk to fit on its back? Do they have to hold on with some kind of reins?)
Perhaps Xanthe didn’t quite know what to do, on the strange world where she’d ended up. There’s a common feature about stories in strange worlds: usually the heroes of them must find a strange leader, and must help defeat them. Perhaps this is why Mog and Bob have hi-jacked Xanthe: they had noticed she had special powers that would help their struggle.
Anyway, I thank Xanthe, and, since her story has been the main event of this week’s session, I shall send her some Cool Stuff. In this case, I would like to send her one of my favourite books – Fortunately the Milk, a collaboration between two of the great geniuses working in this field: the StoryMaster Neil Gaiman, and reining Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, the finest illustrator in the world! This book, like Xanthe’s, involves lots of aliens, crazy ideas, and it goes at a galloping speed. (You can read it in half an hour, which I love).
You’re all sending me Character Portraits for tomorrow. But Xanthe’s story makes me want to set a challenge for next week…
Write a story – starting with a ‘BUT THEN’ – that goes to a strange world. In that world you will find some things that are good, some things that are bad, and you will find a leader, who you must defeat, using your special powers. Got that! OK! So get writing my friends! And please give a round of applause for Xanthe?
Oh, before you got I’ve got to tell you a joke… Did you know that Bob Dylan has actually written a song, based on Xanthe’s story? Oh yes. It’s on The FreeWheelin Bob Dylan… He wrote a song about ants, flying in the wind, but he says that the ants are actually friendly. Get your mum to find the song. Its chorus says:
The ants are my friends,
They’re blowing in the wind,
The ants, sir, are blowing in the wind.