If you’ve taken part in many writers workshops you will probably have come across the ‘kicker line exercise’. This is when you are given a sentence, or part of one, and asked to use it as the beginning of a story.

Like being given a theme, such exercise always seem, to me at least, to send you off in a direction you don’t want to go. The trick, I suppose, is to bend that beginning to your own end. Almost ten years ago, not long after I started writing short fiction, I was lucky enough to win a kicker line competition organised by the local radio station, BBC Radio Cumbria. A local writer, Maggie Norton, from the south lakes area, provided the kick. The story is still on the station website I think. I subsequently titled it ‘Exit Alarmed’ and it was one of the sixteen stories in the short fiction chapbook ‘Second Time Around’ (2006).

Kicker line exercises are a technique I’ve rarely used in the Facets of Fiction workshop series, though I don’t deny the validity of the challenge. Start from here, they invite you, and go where you will. A more interesting approach might be to provide what I have called a ‘catcher line’ – and am happy to rename if you know or can think of a better one! That is the line the story ends with.

This exercise requires, I suspect, a little more focus, for it not only says, here’s a place, now find your way to it, but also demands that you think about what sort of place it is. You leave the beginning behind, but how you get to the end is everything. The ending is what a short story is about. Here’s where I can haul that old joke out again, about the local yokel, who tells the lost city slicker, if I was wuz gowin’ there I wouldn’t start from here.

Because the catcher line leaves you to, or demands that you, decide where you are starting from. It also demands that you work out just what that catcher line means, or might mean, depending on the context you place it in – and that context is, in effect the experience of the jouney you take to get to it.

This is another one of those exercises that reveals the malleability of language – the way that words and clusters of words do not necessarily, and perhaps almost never, have fixed meanings for or specific effects upon their readers. Climb a five hundred foot hill in Norfolk, if you can find one, and you’ll feel you’re pretty high up. Climb one in the Cairngorms and the peaks will look down all around you. The context of story that you provide for the catcher line must not only match the meaning of the ending, it must create it.

Here’s the catcher line I gave my Facets of Fiction writers recently:

‘…….threw down the cigarette and crushed it, and walked away.’

Try it, if you have a mind to, as a 500 word flash fiction, or as a longer piece (say, 1000-1500 words). I’d be interested to see what you come with.

Another thing you might catch is the Maryport Literary Festival – 2nd to 4th November…… That’s next weekend to you and me, from here and now! Follow the link :

http://www.senhousemuseum.co.uk/Events-LiteraryFestival.htm

 

Look out for another short story on Vimeo too….. at BHDandMe

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