Definition of figment (Oxford English dictionary)
A thing that someone believes to be real but that exists only in their imagination.
Examples in sentences
The recent analysis, however, suggests that the events depicted were horrifyingly real and not figments of artists’ imagination.
They were unpleasant sometimes, but no more so than being in this prison, and they seemed too real to be merely figments of his imagination.
So at first she did not even know if it was real or a figment of her imagination.
Late Middle English (denoting an invented statement or story): from Latin figmentum, related to fingere ‘form, contrive’. Compare with feign and fiction. The current sense dates from the early 17th century.
31 new stories in 31 days
These are the rules:
- A full commitment to figment 31 means writing a story each day for 31 days with no exceptions.
- No longer than 2 hours can be spent writing on each day- including editing. There is no lower time limit. A nanostory may take minutes.
- Each story must be an act of imagination- no reportage/documentary.
- Each of these forms is allowable:
Nanofiction- 55 words or fewer
Drabble fiction- 100 words or fewer
Microfiction- 300 words
Short story- 1000 words and above
Image and title
Visual starting points and a rough shape, or title, help me to begin.
On each day of this burst of figment 31 a title and an image will be published and circulated and posted on Twitter and Facebook.
Participants can use this image and title if they wish (I definitely will) but are also of course very welcome to use their own.
The world needs more stories.
So why not use experience and imagination to create them.
Why not make something from nothing?
There’s no immediate goal, no pressure, just creation, ideas made words.
The aim is to have 31 new stories at the end of 31 days.
I won’t publish my stories during figment 31, it may be that no one will ever read them or it may be that they become something else, in the longer term. For now, once written they simply are, and that’s it.
What happens next to those stories is up to me- and what you do with your stories is up to you too- if you choose to join in.
Recording the process
I’m going to record each days’ image, title, and my own daily process here.
Check in and see how it goes.
It starts whenever you want it to.
For me figment 31 starts very soon.
I’ll let you know when…
Day one. THE DAY IT ALL CHANGED.
I’m pleased if a little shocked by the opening story I wrote in response to this title and image.
In the deluge of analysis and reaction that poured out of the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks I remembered a story about Hollywood screenwriters being asked by the security services to come up with imagined terrorist plots; the idea being that creatives have the ability to imagine the unimaginable and that the ability to see the world from different perspectives may offer insights into the objectives and methods of those bent on destruction.
The image above took me immediately to this construct and although a speedy writer this thriller-esque short story had a huge energy and weighs in at a hefty 3,066 words. I very nearly broke the two-hour rule. The final paragraph is rushed and a little too condensed. Written between 8.30 and 10.30 AM New Years Day.
I moved the activity from the America suggested by Listfields’ painting above to a (now) London and used three narrative voices or POV’s, which cohere at the-world changing- climax.
The story sort of works in its’ entirety but could also be the exposition for a full novel, forming the big set piece action opener before the cop/hero or heroine makes their entrance and unravels the issues in the next chapter.
I surprised myself with my violence and pace on this one- very James Patterson meets James Herbert- and enjoyed it, will definitely explore it as a full-length novel and/or return to it in screenplay format. It’s a very cool idea for an action thriller even if I say so myself.
My aim for tomorrow is to come up with a shorter story length and change tone and tack radically.
Day Two. A SIGNIFICANT WEATHER EVENT
A more slimline word count at 1735 and a manageable hour and ten minutes with head down resulted in a satisfying epistolary that felt a bit like cheating. (As a dramatist first person monologue is a familiar form and although prose means an internal rather than audience focused pitch a busman’s holiday is a busman’s holiday).
Influenced by the image I spent five minutes trying to move away from America (A continent and culture which I only ‘know’ about via film and popular culture) and wound up in rural Lincolnshire and a pained letter with twist at the end which works well, draws on a clear world and packs a punch.
ASWE is a mini relationship drama with a take on sexual politics written in Carries small and interesting voice (I’ve no idea where she’s come from but I’d like to return to her at some point).
I aim for tomorrow’s story to be a more conventional and direct narrative.
Day Three. THE LAST DRINK
I’ve known and loved many alcoholics and battled my own addictions with nicotine and other behaviours and substances and the pull of habit and pleasure is something I have some experience of.
A fair amount of both my misspent and simply spent youth was wasted in and around Soho and many years later the seediness and excitement of the area lives on. Using this media heavy backdrop as mood music worked well in an exploration of alcoholic denial and disintegration from a young female point of view.
At a complete feeling 2,300 words I’m adequately happy with this one and it fell onto the page without a great deal of trouble-and unlike some others holds its’ shape as a stand alone short story.
Wherever possible in this process I’m going to make my protagonists female and decision two for today is to cheer myself up by putting a comedy hat on the next one- these tales are becoming a bit weighty.
Day Four. THE LAGOON
This was great fun to write (As intended!) and I found through a dysfunctional relationship and very judgemental protagonist a solid conduit for comedic observation.
Starting from an idea drawn from looking rather wistfully on a dark damp morning at the idyllic cove in the painting, where at first glimpse it looked to me like the swimmers were naked, I constructed a tale around the desire to escape and revert to a ‘natural state’- a very common story trope but feel there be something here that would translate well to an episodic format which could be worked up into a TV treatment at a later date.
This was was just over 2,000 words and terrific fun to write. I want to continue to work on it and see where else the situation and characters can go.
I know that this statement immediately curses tomorrow’s story but what the hell.
Day five. FAMILY TREE
OK. It had to happen. I didn’t like writing this one at all. It’s not very good and it was hard work too.
All the signs were there- I Google searched something unrelated after paragraph one, looked out of the window A LOT and had an unnecessary cup of tea mid-write- I should have jumped ship and restarted with another premise early on.
I placed this one in 1930’s Holmfirth, a beautiful place I know a little, too little. Lacking time to research either the landscape I aimed to describe or the vaguely poetic syntax I wanted to use it all came out like a passive aggressive Catherine Cookson. With lots of rain.
At a painful 2,042 words I thoroughly disliked both central characters by the time I got to the climax of the story and then added a very clunky framing device to try and make it better. It didn’t.
On. Tomorrow has to be better. More truthful would be a good start.
Day six. MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE
Yesterdays’ aberration has thankfully been atoned for.
This became a painful and honest report of loneliness and premature responsibility written from the point of an eight year old boy.
I’ve learned through this process that reported activity, specifically using the past tenses, makes for an uncluttered read.
You know where you’re at, the writer is talking about a past event, they clearly survived, and there must be a resolution of some kind, a comfort which means it’s fine to just carry on reading and go along for the ride.
Novels using the first person and ‘historic present’ have irritated me beyond reason in the past, demanding as they do an absolute ‘we’re in it together and we’re in it now anything could happen hold on to your hat’ complicity that isn’t necessarily comfortable- the contract feels too demanding, sometimes this reader just wants to step back a bit and ‘watch’.
For this story however I dipped my toe into the ‘demanding now’ and was surprised to discover it worked- perhaps because the narrative voice was that of an introspective child or perhaps simply because it was short form.
All good, a comfortable 2,468 words and a story, character and context I will definitely return to.
Day seven. ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY
An everyday tale of medical deception with a dysfunctional familial relationship at it’s centre this one holds its own, clicks along, entertains, and comes in at just over 2,000 words.
A stream of flawed female characters bubble away in this river of stories, all inhabiting a quirky and skewed contemporary suburbia- food for thought when it comes to actually doing something with these tales at some point (Which I’m trying very hard not to think about too much right now).
The discipline of having to write every day for two hours is doing me no end of good although I don’t always approach the Mac first thing in the morning with a happy heart.
I’ve written for a living in all kinds of contexts for the bulk of my adult life but hitting a word count and time slot rather than delivering to a contract (And therefore taking the odd day or week off from writing) is a very different working shape.
I like it, which is good, because there’s a lot more to do!
Time to be a bit more masculine I think, and tomorrow’s image promises a leap into very different territory…
Day eight. WINNER TAKES ALL
I am surprised to acknowledge that I am the author of a a story containing the phrase ‘hail of dum dum bullets’ and featuring two special forces assassins.
I took a big kick start from the image above and ran with it, with a lot of ammo.
Heavyweight international espionage thrillers have always proved a challenging read for me, until the action sequences when I can quite happily get caught up in ‘scenes of peril’ on cable cars and roof tops.
Although very weakly researched (A stint in the girl guides and watching James Bond movies years ago with my Dad) this is kinda believable.
The premise is intriguing, and that can only be a good thing.
At a respectable 1800 words and falling well within the two hour time limit happy with this one.
It occurs to me that I could very easily be typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” a few times onto a sheet of A4 every day and no one would be any the wiser.
I’m not though, please trust me on that, the stories are real and will see the light of day in due course.
Day Nine. CATCHMENT AREA
With a male protagonist this time the comedic vein was tapped again in a study of a flawed middle class couple in a morally confused contemporary England running up against a need to cosy up to the established church.
The image had originally suggested ‘dinner party’ (The actual title of the painting giving a bit of a nudge!) and I’d toyed with the idea of a handful of characters and a clash of ideas over the food.
After a bit of thinking- I don’t allow myself too much pre planning in this process and making notes is taboo too- I realised that handling 6 characters in short from without reverting to dialogue (My comfort zone) is actually very challenging- too challenging.
This one works well a short story, entire of itself, and comes in at a healthy 2,237 words.
Day Ten. OBEDIENCE
The image worked for me, as did the title- it immediately threw me into some thinking around the female role, marriage, and societal expectations within male/female partnerships.
The concept of obedience is an archaic one, a word rarely used now outside of dog shows, high religious constructs, S and M sex, and (Early) costume drama.
The flip side of obedience is authority and the comfort or discomfort to be experienced by offering up either subservience or opposition to a leader was the starting point for what evolved into a quite extreme concept- a near future dystopia focusing on the female originator of a reality TV show who creates a mass media monster. A Dr. Frankenstein for the TOWIE age.
I could happily have explored this narrative at much greater length as gender politics and contemporary media offer a lot that is of relevance.
It was a real squeeze to finish (Abruptly) at 2,132 words.
I need to mix my form up a bit and and am determined with the next one to shift the voice/tense/structure.
Day Eleven. STOPOVER
An exchange of email between two international travellers and their partners at home forms the backbone of this story of an affair.
The form made for a refreshing change, rather than being a straight narrative report and facilitated a gentle drip feed of information which leads to a hopefully satisfying “Oh I see, I’ve put two and two together” for the reader.
The economy of the language used in email means this story comes in at a very manageable 1,544 words.
Currently away from base, working in various locations across the UK, my peripatetic state informed the feel of this one. Getting up at 6AM in strange hotel rooms to write a story is quite an odd thing to do and currently feels a bit pressured due to work load. This indicates that I may be hitting the beginning of a mid way motivational slump and need to push on through.
Day Twelve. A NON ENTITY
Manchester is a very beautiful city. I’ve only ever passed through it for short periods of time but always enjoy both the architecture and the people. It’s a cliche but it is friendlier than London (And I admit that as a Londoner).
Travelling by tram through Piccadilly Gardens to Salford I caught a glimpse of a woman sitting on a bench. There was nothing spectacular about her, she wore the standard clothing we all do, courtesy of high street retailers, and she wasn’t doing anything, just sitting, staring ahead of her. Something about the sadness in her face caught my eye.
We all have moments ,which perhaps keep us sane, of recognising our insignificance in the universe, our momentary blip on the planet’s timeline and our likely very small and brief realm of influence.
In this story I focused on a woman’s fight to break out of this invisibility state in an extreme, public and socially unacceptable way.
A compelling character study with an intriguing premise this story comes in at 2,405 words.
Day Thirteen. THE CONFERENCE
Breaking my own semi-rule, the central character in this tale of executive meltdown is male, white and his early thirties.
A lot has been written recently about male depression, and difficulties with mental health issues, and no doubt men can feel just as constrained, and imprisoned, by societal expectation and role as women.
Having recently attended a conference, all be it a rather informal theatre-focused one, the tribalism of that world presented itself as an excellent canvas for exclusion in a crowd.
A convention of peers can be the loneliest place on earth.
A happy ending for this one wraps it all up at 2,291 words.
Day Fourteen. LIFESAVER
I found myself at the beach again with this one, in Cornwall again too, just as I was with MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE.
Maybe an experienced prose writer would already consider these the ‘Cornish beach stories’ and begin to corale them off as a subsection all of their own. It would make for quite a neat classification.
This one saw a return to a particular quasi-comedic tone I fall into with some of these stories. I seem to swing between that voice and the schlock thriller voice which I found at the very outset of this process.
The area I haven’t yet inhabited is what I’d call ‘literary’.
Perhaps I’m just not cut out for that.
I will try at some point to deliver beautiful description and poignancy rather than what an old English teacher of mine would no doubt call, with disdain, a ‘right rollicking read’.
LIFESAVER tells the tale of Lauren Stonks loss and subsequent salvation at sea and weighs in at 2,106 words on the poop deck scale.
Day Fifteen. ANTI SOCIAL MEDIA
The digital realm is very much at the forefront of production planning for me at the moment (As the main body of this blog, the process around I LOVE YOU BABY, indicates).
As a consequence, considering apps and social media communications has been a background inquisition for some time and this story focuses on the realm of on line gamers and buddy websites.
ANTI SOCIAL MEDIA features a dungeons and dragons-esque female game player who finds an increasingly concerning new opponent on line. Following a much used trope the computer fails to follow commands and she is trapped in a relationship she doesn’t want and which becomes increasingly oppressive and frightening.
Another contemporary morality tale. 2,059 words.
It’s the halfway point in this story writing marathon, so I’m going to put my narrative sling backs on and enjoy a comedic character driven escapade next…
Day sixteen. RUMOUR HAS IT
A multi faceted community, living in a South London Victorian terraced street, create mood music for a story about rumours and imaginings wreaking havoc, in the hands of a pair of elderly friends.
The image above informed this story quite strongly (many of the others haven’t at all) as I felt the artist communicates a licentious conversation well.
Lies, and the layers of deceit created by virtue of their existence, form another over-arching theme for my rendition of figment 31.
Lies are intrinsically creative I suppose, and, as we all know, that power can be used for good or evil.
This is a fun read and comes in at 1,834 words.
Day seventeen. GOOD BEHAVIOUR
Joanna Lamb’s painting screams Sydney Australia but it’s sterility translates well to the South East of England, and the unspoken need for conformity is sternly suggested by each tight angle, dark shadow and chastely shaped tree.
A friend told me about a conversation she’d had in the Dentists yesterday morning. A co- client, poring over the tatty Hello magazines, was relieved to be seeing someone who she thought would do a good job as her previous dental practitioner had been arrested for false extraction (Taking gold teeth out unnecessarily) -with the aim of pecuniary advantage by deception M’Lud.
Focusing on rehabilitation into suburban life post a prison sentence for said crime, GOOD BEHAVIOUR explores the motivations which drove Graham to steal gold fillings, and his attempts to re-integrate with his family.
At 2,241 words GOOD BEHAVIOUR is more poignant than funny, which I’m pleased about, sniggering and poking fingers can raise a laugh, but its not always the most sophisticated choice and can be wearisome to read….(Note to self).
Day Eighteen. BLONDE
This was great fun to write, and a bit of a cheat as I used theatre and TV as the context.
A soap star with some profile finds herself at a at career crossroads, due to changing her look in order to play the lead in a new musical. West End Producers, agents and actors pop up for cameos and a romp ensues, featuring locations including the Savoy and dressing rooms with views over Soho.
Sympathy for the protagonist is an interesting area. I’ve written a few in this process for whom I have none, and have taken a slightly askance and judgmental view of, in the hope the reader shares similar prejudices I guess. In a couple of instances I’ve been clearly sympathetic to the story’s focus, especially when using the first person as this degree of intimacy with a character’s inner thoughts lends itself to honesty. Total impartiality is probably a tough tone to strike, one to try at some point.
BLONDE comes in at a complete feeling 2,566 words.
Day Nineteen. OUT HERE
Tim Peake, the British astronaut, is currently doing his stint on the International Space Station and the media has been full of fascinating minutiae re: spacewalks and risks in a vacuum.
This mood music, and Geddes thought-provoking image , resulted in a trip into weightlessness, seen through the point of view of a female scientist suffering from homesickness, while five miles above her life in San Francisco.
My astronaut is American, I aimed for this not to be the case but the imprint in my imagination around space travel comes so strongly with a mid western, accent that there was no shifting her nationality.
It’s a very sad story. There really is nowhere lonelier than space. And nowhere quieter. I enjoyed writing the vacuum. I’d like to go there again. OUT HERE is 2,030 words long.
Day twenty. THE GREAT MIGRATION
A poor woman’s George Orwell meets Richard Adams on a bad day, to generate a displacement saga featuring a family of ducks. Mallards to be precise.
This was enjoyable and challenging to write.
I spent a hefty chunk of the two hours considering how a duck would describe a large plastic barrel and ended up with a clunky ‘blue reed’ analogy. A second draft would demand time spent on crafting a duck vocabulary. I have no knowledge of, or interest in, ducks, so detail with regard to pecking and grooming etc. was entirely made up and an ornithologist would no doubt accuse me of genus crime.
However as an experiment this works and was fun to do, I liked the light in the painting and this invested a nobility in my central characters which gave their odyssey some clout.
THE GREAT MIGRATION is a poorly researched, but nevertheless entertaining, 1,882 words.
Day twenty one. REPORT X 3 CAMERAS
Recognising the rapid approach of the final furlongs in this short story writing extravaganza, I seized the opportunity here to experiment with form, whilst still aiming for viable content.
My objective with REPORT X 3 CAMERAS was to write with complete impartiality, to purely ‘report’ from the point of view of 3 surveillance cameras, during the course of a dysfunctional family barb b cue. An idea inspired by Leland Bell’s painting of hazy people above.
The three cameras were placed in a kitchen, garden and garage respectively and I jumped between the three reporting the movements of my cast of characters.
I use the word ‘cast’ advisedly because there were points where I wondered if I was sneakily writing a script but I hope I avoided this by giving the narrative slight nudges here and there, to ensure that what was being reported planted an attitude and plot line in the readers mind.
An interesting experiment, it becomes a bit challenging to read about two thirds of the way in due to flitting between three POV’s, and will benefit from some judicious cutting but not a bad attempt at a different way of telling a story at 2,036 words.
Day twenty two. A TEAM SPORT
Swimming isn’t a team sport usually of course, unless you count the relay, which involves individual prowess in the pursuit of collective honour.
Divorcing the daily writing activity from sourcing the painting, and thinking up a broad title, hasn’t so far resulted in a clash such as this one; in effect I ignored the two girls in the image and the solo nature of lane swimming and went for a story about a group of young women who habitually meet at Camberwell swimming baths.
As previously mentioned I’m trying (and generally succeeding) not to consider outcome or market for any of these stories.
With this one however, for the first time, I seem to have landed squarely in the genre pile marked ‘magazine’- bar a sapphic sub text which no doubt the editor of a women’s title would root out and eliminate.
This one isn’t really to my taste, it all turns a little mawkish, which is what tends to happen when I pursue a happy ending.
Note to self: never pursue a happy ending, it ends in tears.
A sentimental read over a rich tea, while waiting for Pointless to start, comes in at 1,762 words.
Day twenty three. YOU
This is an experiment in the use of the second person, hence the title.
“You…” as a sentence starter becomes clunky very quickly and the challenge here was principally to find different ways to disguise the clumsiness of the form, slipping into the passive became a useful gear change.
It’s a very direct style but difficult to maintain, solid and refreshing when used as a device within a longer form for a specific POV, but for me, anything longer than a chapter would stretch patience.
The outcome, the story, works fairly well, mainly in flashback, as a more or less direct to response the image above.
The narrative is told entirely from the guns point of view, and although the syntax risks falling into a very familiar Raymond Chandler-esque territory, it feels new, and there’s a good twist at the end.
Day twenty four. OPPORTUNITY AND RISK
I’ve been to Australia twice, and feel I know a bit about its culture and people; beyond the sojourns there a phalanx of family emigrated and my childhood was peppered with letters from Oz featuring snippets of information, and instamatic photographs, from the land of perma- sunshine, drip dry and barb b cue.
This story is a mish mash of response to two paintings in consideration for Day 24.
The other one (not shown) featured an elderly woman being assisted by a much younger assistant/carer, but having elected to use the image above, displaying banks of slot machines, I combined the two ideas.
OPPORTUNITY AND RISK is about an elderly woman and much younger assistant, going on an odyssey through Melbournes ‘hokey pokey’ machines.
A slightly sentimental ending avoids the tweeness of day 22’s tale and I’m moderately happy with this 3,031 word relationship drama.
Day twenty five. BLANK CANVAS
The urge to look back over all the work completed so far, and edit, is currently almost overwhelming
The relentless nature of coming up with an entirely new story every single day, although enjoyable, is beginning to be tiring; returning to a structure already in place, a second draft, would be so much easier and gratifying…However…ON!
‘High concept’ when applied to theatre writing sends everyone connected to it screaming in all directions, followed swiftly by audiences, and the stage door cat.
It was refreshing therefore to be able to indulge in something considered onanistic in the theatre without the attendant feelings of shame and reckless indulgence. Prose writers can do things like this without risk of ridicule, how lovely.
BLANK CANVAS explores neuroscience and virtual reality and is a satisfying 2,194 word story.
Day twenty six. LAUGH OUT LOUD
These stories have swung through genres in an oddly bipolar fashion.
It’s a particularly of the form of the project that an introspective journey on one day requires an ‘up and out front’ approach the following day. Yesterday was such an internal journey I woke up desperate to put a clowns face on. This one therefore exists in the ‘contemporary media’ seam which has opened up.
Many years ago I watched a TV interview with Jon Cleese; he said that comedy was the domain of the young, that it grew increasingly hard to find things funny as you grow older, and the observation stuck with me- I think there’s a lot of truth in it- although I do still try to get a laugh where I can.
This story focuses on a TV comedy writer who loses her sense of humour and comes in at 2,504 words.
Day twenty seven. SCHOOL PLAY
An oddly unmemorable story, given the fact that I’ve only just written it, about a school teacher struggling to cope with change in her about-to-be-disconnected-from-the Church-of-England primary school.
I laboured to clearly ‘see’ the protagonist in this one and when she did emerge through the fog I didn’t like her very much, and, as in the ghastly FAMILY TREE, I’ve learned that this indicates a hiding to nothing.
Having made the same mistake twice I hope I shan’t make it a third time, but know that I probably will.
All grist to to the mill, and a couple of the supplementary characters were fun, 242 words and quite heavy going.
Day twenty eight. STATEMENT
Another dystopia from the near future, euthanasia themed, and written in a coerced first person. Bleak. Potentially sweetly crafted.
Nearing the end of this process I’ve decided to mirror it to a degree during the first editing phase. I’ll work on three to five stories a day, re-shaping and tweeking, and have something that may just see the light of day in a fortnight or so.
As mentioned before I look forward to that journey. Enormously.
I’ve learned that I can’t sit in a first draft for too long, even if that draft is 31 different stories- the urge to refine and slow down is very strong indeed. I can write a first draft of an hour long play in three days. I’ve never spent this long directly tapping into new ideas before. It’s tiring.
STATEMENT is 2,150 words long.
Day twenty nine. SOLE OCCUPANT
Using direct recall of a large apartment I lived in on my own for a while, I managed to scare myself with this journey into ‘there’s someone under the bed’ territory.
Day thirty. CAKE
It’s a hot, misty, bug-filled day in this story of obesity, love and cakes set in affluent Kent.
This was an enjoyable write, a pair of quirkily different teenagers offering the central relationship and the Tunbridge Wells context familiar and comforting, a return to an old home, which assisted the narrative description.
In this instance the cliche ‘write what you know’ worked.
A light but occasionally touching 2854 words, this story will definitely be developed in another form.
Day thirty one. THEY FALL