Monday, 8 March 2010

A travel writing class... and then the 8 senses exercise

We are about half an hour into the 2 hour class (see previous two blog entries), warmed, travel writing ideas in our heads, informed a little about styles and approaches to travel articles. Now at last the class is closer to actual writing.

But I hold them back just a wee bit longer to, as I explained to a query, stir things, loosen the soil. (The doubting or untrusting student; there's usually one in every class.) Besides helping to remain loose and freely creative, this exercise cum lecture could even be seen as adding compost. It is my Writing with the 8 Senses excercise/lecture -- it is in my Creative Writing: the Matrix book and I use it with every new group I meet, the senses being essential to vivid, rich writing.

But this time, for the first time, I wove it right into the travel writing at hand. The exercise can stand alone (see the book), but now, I did it as staged questions, as I talked through each sense. An 'applied exercise' if you like. And we saw/heard in the travel article examples how the senses bring a destination and experience alive.

The first instruction is to chose one travel place from the list earlier (see blog of 15 Feb) that you want to write about today... choose it by gut feel, it doesn't matter which, just the one that calls to you most right now.

And here we go through the senses, the 5 usual ones and 3 I have invented, or rather, discovered. I sometimes invite the class to call out a sense as we go along to cover the usual 5.

Sight -- With your travel place in mind, jot down some of the sights that come to you. Not just general pictures, but specifics, if you can, and not forgetting colours, corners, shapes, textures, flaws, visual rhythms, like
  • the series of creamy arches at the villa, the operatically flaking stucco of a building in Venice, the missing chinks of pointing in a brick wall...
I give them a minute or two to do this jotting, and then move on to the next sense. I allow this time after each sense (but won't repeat that for you here in this blog).

Sound -- Jot down the sounds of the place. Not just the memorable
  • call of the muzzein, ringing of bells, plashing of fountain... but also see if you can recall other small or background sounds: children's laughter from out of sight, draft of lager filling up, drone of plane overhead...

Taste -- Food's always good for evoking the here-&-now, what tastes did you encounter in this place? Jot some down, and remember the temperature and feel of food in the mouth as well as taste. And try to capture a taste new to you (and readers)...

  • it was like thin, moist, eggy bread pudding, with a clear amber-brown syrup tasting half-way to brown sugar and the rest of the way to Vermont. (Trying to do American Challah French Toast with maple syrup, from my trip to New York City last week.)

Smell -- Like taste, recall some smells of the place both familiar and unknown and indescribable. Like my taste sample above, you may have to try new combinations of the familiar to convey a new experience. Also -- don't forget the negatives...

  • the whiff of sewage, the iron tang of the water, the cellar's mustiness

Touch -- Now, remember some of the physical feelings of the travel and place. Not only hot/cold, rough/smooth but things that touch you (breeze, raindrops, rim of a glass) and things you touch (yak's coat, palm trunk, kelim rug)

Okay, guess what -- I'm going to leave you at a cliff-edge for the three 'invented' senses. Wot a meanie I am. But this blog entry is long enough, and I am on deadline as editor of the British Haiku Society newsletter. So tune in next week!

A little note re Comments -- nice to feel read and appreciated. A couple of emails, too, saying how useful the blog is -- keep 'em coming, share the experience! However, I still won't publish the oriental comments I'm getting because I don't know what they say. Also, I had to remove a nice comment that had its own link attached promoting another education-related website -- sorry, no can do. I will only put links in my blog to sites I have looked at and deemed appropriate to the subject of teaching creative writing, or sometimes of writing itself, but they have to be spot on-target, relevant and vetted by me.

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