Here’s a simple exercise for you. Choose a picture from your own collection (or feel free to pick one from below), then write a very short descriptive piece about it. The key is, you must write about a person or people in the picture, and you must write in first person. Use your imagination. Ask questions. Find answers. Ask more questions. Think!
Depending on age (or inclination), you may only write a few sentences or a few hundred words; don’t expand too much. But, be sure you explore the possibilities that are painted by your thoughts. See where they lead you. And remember to ‘feel.’ Put yourself in your subject’s shoes.
Here’s an example:
The sun is my clock. It knows it can torment me by hanging in the smog and smiling at me sweating. There is no greater paradox than time, is there? A minute will always be sixty seconds, no more, no less. And yet these seconds, these fixed units that are apparently identical in length, can both dart and dawdle. Right now, they drag. If only they could move as quickly as the rush that I must control.
A heaving bus swings around the corner and farts smoke in my face; incessant horns bully the drivers who are slow to see green; sunglasses, slick hair, and cosmetic white teeth roar past in a Ferrari; and a girl loses her grip on her pink balloon and runs without thinking until her mother screams and a siren pierces the evening.
I have experienced it all.
I have experienced too much.
Yet, I still stand here. One second after the next. One minute, one month, one year…
It is what I must do. I am a husband and a father of three.
I look at the sun out of the corner of my eye. It is half past the tree. Good! It is now that I swear the seconds gain pace as they race towards the sea. In ten real minutes the day will be dark, and my mood will lighten. I can walk from this spot, unchain my pushbike and be guided on my ride home by the sweet scents of spices that drift from the street vendors’ pots.
A wife who will smile so gently that only the very ends of her lips will curl, yet this is all she needs do to tell me she’s happy and relieved that I’ve returned. Then, come the children: hugs, tugs, laughter and grins that are fast to arrive and slow to leave. This is the time that I cherish. When I get home, I truly know I am a lucky man.
This is an exercise that may help you in exploring how you can tell a story. It might also influence the way you think about others. Aaah yes, that word ‘empathy.’ Go on, try it. Really let yourself go. Use all your senses. And, if you really feel adventurous, why not write a few pieces in third person as well. Then compare what you have written. Did doing both help you? What was more difficult (first person? Or third person? And why?) The main thing is to explore what you can do. Nothing is impossible.