For this start to our creative writing exercises, this one can only be done if you are home for the holidays, a vacation, or if you still live near the place where you grew up. You need some paper, a pencil or pen, and a good way to get around your town. Depending on the size of your town, you may just be able to use your own two feet.
You can start this exercise in the house you grew up in, if it’s still in your family’s possession (I don’t want to be responsible for any break ins :) ). You are going on a story hunt. You will be looking through your house for memories that might make good stories.
For example, when I am in “my room" at my parents’ house, I always think about the most terrifying night of my life. I was around four years old. Two weeks earlier I had gotten my tonsils taken out. This one night, my scars opened up internally and I began throwing up blood. I was taken to the emergency room and I got all patched up.
By actually being in that room, I can pick out more details about the story. I can remember what the walls looked like and what the room smelled like. When I remember these details, I start remembering little pieces of dialogue…
Me: I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! My Dad: You can breathe if you can talk.
I was sooo reassured :).
Now, not all of these stories need to be traumatic. A lot of them, however, will be rife with emotion because they were so formative in nature.
Once you have exhausted the stories from your house, start moving onto other parts of your town. Some general places that are must see: elementary, middle, and high school, Church, Synagogue, or any other religious building you may have frequented, houses of friends (if they still live there) and any restaurants or entertainment places that you and your friends attended.
Personally, a big location for me would be the basement of my friend Swam’s house. My group of high school friends hung out there at least twice a week to play ping pong, Super Mario Kart on Super Nintendo, and to drink ice cold Coca Cola. Already, the details of the story are building and I’m not even there :).
Once you’ve checked off the general places you can go to specific areas where more significant events took place. For me, I would be going to sports fields and date locations. I did not date between 7th and the beginning of 12th grade, so the things I did with my senior year girlfriend really stick out for me. I could go to the movie theatre where we had out first date or the athletic club where we spent our Senior Prom post party. Either one would inspire me with some great emotions or ideas.
You know your home town experience better than I do. You should go to as many places as you can fit in while doing this creative writing exercise. This process will only help you to the fullest extent if you let yourself be open to the emotions of the past. As a result, you will need to relax out these emotions, so be prepared.
Once you’ve completed this intense evaluation of your adolescence to generate story ideas, feel free to apply the exercise to your college town and/or anywhere else you’ve lived. Whenever you decide to stop you will end up with a list of so many story starters to develop, substitute, or adapt into a whole new thing. Now get to writing!
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.