Thawing Out Our Pens

Last Thursday (March 26) we had our first club meeting after several missed sessions due to snow closures, schedule conflicts, and my shoulder surgery.¬† Alhumdulillah, we had four members show up, the only four members who’ve submitted short stories so far. It was a very productive session. Since these four members had experienced the struggle of combining character, plot, setting, and dialogue to craft a convincing, enjoyable and dramatic short story, we went straight into brainstorming a scene.

I told the club members present to imagine a scene with two snipers on opposite roof tops with only the street between them. The two snipers are targeting each other. Can they see each other? Is it night or day? What are they seeing? What are they feeling? We — myself included — had 10 minutes to brainstorm a scene.

Some of us wrote full sentences, others jotted down ideas and phrases. Some of us used first person, others used third person. For some of us it was night, for others it was day. One writer had one sniper being a veteran police officer and the other sniper a super villain. There was salty sweat trailing down a sniper’s face. One writer thought of the entire scene in slow motion. As the bullet approached one sniper, thoughts of how he lived his life took shape on the page. Wow ! Our creative writing club members have a deep imagination from which to pull amazing scenes and craft great stories, ma Shaa Allah.

We closed the session reading and commenting on Liam O’Flaherty’s short story titled “The Sniper.” ;) Enjoy, you can read it on the “Stories Etc” page available in the menu.

It’s All About Character

At our last club meeting (Thursday, 2/12), we spent some time discussing the Chapel Hill murders. Three American Muslims just a few years older than our club members were shot and killed in what many Muslims believe was a hate crime. We did a writing prompt where members were asked to imagine their own janazas. Who would come? How many people? Where would it be? Understandably, only a few members elected to share their writing. Thinking sincerely about one’s own death is intensely personal.

We also talked about writing characters in our story and the many factors that might affect how a character thinks and acts in our stories. Where a character was born and raised, their parents, the socio-political climate in which they live, and many other factors affect how a character becomes “interesting” in our stories. If our characters are not interesting, then why would a reader spend time following them for 20, 50, or 100 pages of your story?

We also announced our first short story (less than 5,000 words) contest. It will be a strictly internal affair, so only club members get to read these stories. Until next time, the trashcan awaits !

Short Story Crash Course … and They’re Off !

Alhumdulillah, yesterday we had a productive second meeting of the Al-Huda High School Creative Writing Club. The session started with over a dozen young men emptying their minds of homework, deadlines, anxieties and apprehensions, and then reacting to our first writing prompt: “The ground opened up, and it was gone.” After 5-minutes of focused writing, almost everyone shared some of what they wrote. We had descriptions of dark, cold holes in the earth, branches shattering, and desolation. We had a hole opening up in the sea. We had the earth opening up as a metaphor of how one of our members felt inside himself. Ma Shaa Allah !

We learned one way to look at writing is the four-stage process of Mad Man – Architect – Carpenter – Judge. Mad men often ramble, the words coming out fast and sometimes lacking coherence. The Mad Man stage of writing is about letting go, turning that mental faucet on and writing without hesitating. Are you thinking of the end of the story even though you haven’t started writing the beginning? No problem, as a Mad Man you can write out of order. You can jot down words, phrases, forgetting about complete sentences. Just get stuff down. Remember, you can toss all of it or part of it as you like. The Architect phase is about taking big parts of what you wrote and moving them around or tossing them. The Carpenter starts shaping paragraphs and sentences, and the Judge polishes the whole thing off, looking at each word, listening to how each sentence sounds on the page.

After a crash course on what makes plot (tension!), our club members started on their journeys to whatever world their building. We can’t wait to see what they come up with, In Shaa Allah !

Once Upon a Time at Al-Huda High School

Bismillah. We start in the name of Allah, Who created the Pen before He created Us, Who began speaking to us by telling us to “read”, and Who gave us knowledge “by the Pen.”

Today we had the first meeting of the Al-Huda High School Creative Writer’s Club.

Over a dozen student writers showed up and participated in lively discussions about characters they might make (should they put their own qualities and traits into their fictional characters?) and creative writing they like (mystery with vivid descriptions, suspense-filled writing, and humor).

The word of the day was: RESPECT.

Writing creatively tends to bring down personal barriers. Our club members might finds themselves writing about deeply personal challenges they are facing. We agreed that our club is a safe space to write and discuss, and that mutual respect and kindness is the culture we’ll foster because — as our Prophet Sallallahu ‘alyhi was sallam said — a Muslim is the brother of a Muslim, and he never, ever looks down on him. That’s the definition of respect. We’ll carry it with us on all our journeys together — through sun-speckled wooded paths, unlit back alleys in urban war zones, and the most marvelous journeys we’ll take¬† — into our minds and hearts. In Shaa Allah!