On the writing of lists

Lists are everywhere. Shopping lists, rules and regulations, options at the call centre. Utilitarian and unconsidered. Is it time you considered them?

When you’re sitting in front of the blank screen, devoid of inspiration, weary from a trying day at work or battling the everyday turmoil threatening to drag you under, and you think you can’t write anything, think again. Write a list. However mentally slack you’re feeling, you can always write a list. Some people can’t get through the day without one (or indeed many).

Here’s a portion of my to-do list for today, if I’d bothered to write one:

  • Fold the clean washing and put it away.
  • Change the bedding.
  • Replace my chipped burgundy nail varnish with fresh navy blue nail varnish.
  • Go to a Wildhearts gig.

Four lines, minimal effort and yet that’s a snapshot of a life. It has a pleasing contrast of banal domestic with something a bit more exciting, and all it takes is a bit of a tweak (change Wildhearts gig to bondage parlour, or add a reference to grooming a ferret) and you’ve got the beginnings of a story. Who would live in a life like this? And what’s more, what kind of a character would actually write themselves a list that combined domestic chores and a reminder to attend their local fetish club?

Let’s try another one. This is a list of some of the things under or behind my bed:

  • A biscuit tin containing a half-finished rag rug.
  • A Roses tin containing a half-finished plaited rag rug.
  • An old shoebox containing scraps of felt in shades of grey and green, for completing the rag rug in the biscuit tin.
  • 8 cassettes that were set aside 2 years ago, and now neither of us can remember why but they’re not going back with the rest of the cassettes just in case it comes back to us.

Again, an insight into a life (possibly more insight than I intended. Hmm) and if it referred to a fictional character this might tell you a lot about them. What’s under your next main character’s bed? If nothing else, this might warm your imagination up a bit; start with a list of what’s under your bed (or your teenager’s bed, or in your hall cupboard) if that helps.

A final note: with thought and care, lists can make up an entire piece of (short) fiction. I think I’ve linked to this story before but I was so impressed with it I’ll do so again, it’s an entire story in one list of web-browser history. Inspired. I hope you have been.

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