As part of the Open University Start Writing Fiction course that I completed earlier this year there were numerous exercises to complete.
‘A woman on the bus today carried her Pekinese dog inside her handbag. It had a red bow on its head that matched her sweater.’
By imagining or guessing the cause behind each of the observations, character details can be developed to arrive at a story. Causality gives plot. Plot is further developed by giving imaginary answers to questions (eg, why was she on the bus?).
A huge array of characters and plots were generated from the same description.
Here’s what I came up with:
The teenage widow left the Porsche at her new mansion and for her amusement took the bus to the cemetery. She carried her Pekinese dog, Bubbles, inside her designer handbag. Her husband’s allergies meant he’d never let her have a dog, so to celebrate she’d bought it on the day he died. It wore a red silk bow on it’s head that matched her cashmere sweater. He’d never let her wear red, preferring something short, pink and usually sequinned. The red bow on the dog’s head was from a bouquet of flowers received this morning from a secret admirer. Thankfully it hadn’t taken long for her elderly husband, the oil patriarch to die happy. They’d only been married seven months and now, as planned, she was rich, free and single. She hoped the memorial stonemason was as sexy as he’d sounded on the telephone.
I learned that recording observations is an important tool for fiction writers. Every observation can be a springboard for a character or plot when we imagine the cause behind the detail.