Monday, 15 March 2010

A travel writing class... the 3 further senses exercise

Continuing the Writing with the 8 Senses exercise begun in the last blog entry... After sight, sound, taste, smell, touch are the 3 I have invented or discovered along the way. In any writing, including travel writing, conveying these senses can make the experience all the more vivid.

As described previously, after explaining and giving a few examples of each sense I allow a minute or so for the students to think back to their chosen travel destination experience and jot a few memories of this sense. Then I move on to introduce the next sense. This 'turns over the soil' as it were, of the experience. I reassure them that they won't use all of these recollections, but the exercise stirs the memory of the experience to keep it at hand.

Kinetic -- By this I mean body position: awkward, comfy, stretched, cramped, turned, straight... Jot some memories of your travels, for instance:
  • crouching in a corner of the pickup truck with the other hikers' back-packs pressing into your spine; spreadeagled, luxuriating in the acreage of a king sized bed...

Inner/Visceral -- Similar to both touch and kinetic, but interior sensing in body organs, gut reactions: churning stomach, tight throat, full bladder, scratchy eyes, prickling scalp, gooseflesh, genitals responding (or not). Recall:

  • the leaden weight of the crepes I shouldn't have eaten on Brighton Pier; the release of the band of tension in my thighs as the shiatsu-master's thumbs got to work

Time -- This is a bit ephemeral, but I mean awareness of differences in a place and experience to do with night/day, evening; light, shadow. Also, time creeps, time whizzes...

  • Think of Monet's series of Rouen Cathedral paintings -- stone precise and beige, rosy pink and blurred, blue and yellow... how it changes through the day. Also -- the forever when you are waiting for the wine and moules to appear, the blink of time in which the bowl fills up with empty black mussel shells.

Now... now can they write?? No! One more exercise, one of my absolute favourites, #1 in my Writer's Toolkit, page 19 in the book: Bubble Chart. As it says there, and as with 8 Senses it can stand alone as an exercise, but for this class I used the students' chosen travel writing subject as the central focus. Many people know of and use this 'spider chart' method, but a surprising number don't know it. The magic is that it can stimulate ideas and directions, or if one has too many of those it can help to corral and organise them.

In this case I explained that they all now had lots of rich sense descriptions ready, but a travel article needs narrative, too. So focus here on events, anecdotes, things that happened.

I demonstrated on the white board, using Varanasi -- in a circle in the middle of the board. And then (sorry blog-readers, my e-skills aren't up to reproducing this here), dashing out all around this word, splashed down everything I could think of that I experienced --

  • exhilarating threading through the crowds down to the Ganges, the placid brown cow crossing the road amidst mad traffic, the seat above the crowd as evening came on, the bells, fire and smoke of the priests, the 4 am wakeup, my puja offering -- sank, 2nd offering, marigolds, rose petals, rubbish in the Ganges, the families dipping in, the little boy being dried down by his parents, the old man swimming off, the sun finally rising, my blessing...

Well, actually I didn't put that much on the board, I've just indulged myself here. It's their class. And this basic creative writing exercise was the final stir before I said... Now choose one of the events or experiences and write a sentence or two or a paragrph to begin to describe it...

...and that's the beginning of your article. It was now about 10.30 (class started at 9.30), so I said they could continue to write, or go for a break and come back to write... and we'd write until 11.10, and then read out, if they wished. Or talk about the experience.

Lo and behold, only 3 or 4 (out of 13) students went for a break right away. Over 15 minutes some popped out and came back. Then all continued writing. And at the appointed hour 11 students read out -- some excellent pieces, two of them I would deem ready to submit for publication, many others vivid and colourful... and all were very well pleased with themselves.

And so, the travel writing class ended. There's more I could have said and done -- I have taught travel writing as a 5 week course; also as a 4 week insert in a year-long professional writing and creative writing courses. But for a substitute class, I was well pleased too!

Mentioned earlier, but here at last is the link to my friend Cathy Smith's website with details of her travel writing book


just said...

thank you for you to make me learn more,thank you∩0∩

Arnold said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I

would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have

enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anuradha Goyal said...

I was doing some basic search for a travel writing course that I have to conduct and landed on your page. It really helped me to read it. Thank you.

Susan Lee said...

Great to hear from you, and so glad the tips are a help. Happy teaching (and travelling), Susan