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Playing "True or False" with Lawrence Hill

UPDATE: Want to find out which story was true and which was false? Some of our writers have confessed. Check the stories below. 

"It doesn't matter whether the story is true or made up: it just has to make the reader believe." - Lawrence Hill

September is just around the corner. And you know what that means: your first assignment of the fall - your story for the CBC Short Story Prize.

Do you know what you’re going to write about yet? No?

Well, to help inspire you, we've enlisted the help of award-winning writer Lawrence HillOver the course of the next three weeks, Lawrence will be providing us with a new writing prompt every Wednesday destined to get your creative juices flowing. And this fall, Lawrence will deliver the CBC Massey Lectures entitled Blood: The Stuff of Life (more on that in the weeks to come). 

Ready for the first writing prompt? On your marks, get set, go!

Lawrence Hill says : "The point of this exercise is to master a convincing detail. You don’t have to have forty details, but you have to have one or two that really seem right."
Writing Prompt #1
Write two surprising, dramatic, unusual, unpredictable stories about yourself. They can be short. Half a page will suffice. One must be entirely true, and the other 100% invented. They should be of equal length. Test them out on your acquaintances and see if they can tell which one is fiction, and which one is true.  If they are convincingly drawn, it should be difficult for your friends to guess correctly between the true story and the one you have invented.

Once you’re done, send the results of your exercise to us
. We will publish some of our favourites here on Canada Writes and enter the names of all participants into a draw for a signed copy of The Book of Negroes. You have until 10 AM on August 14th to get it in to us. A new prompt will be revealed at that time.

Send your text in the body of an email to canadawrites@cbc.ca. And don't forget to read our general rules and regulations before submitting.

Tips for the first writing prompt from Lawrence Hill:

Do you use writing prompts to jump-start your own writing?
I have. The prompt I have used most commonly is to start a story or a novel imagining I am talking to my best friend. His name is Jack Veugelers. I travelled to Europe with him a few times in my teenage years. I've known him since I was a young boy. Imagining that I am speaking with him helps strip away my anxiety about performing on the page. Thinking of it as a letter takes some of the pressure off. It helps me slip into a more natural mode. When you’re speaking to a close friend, you cut out all the crap and go straight to the heart of the matter.

Your first prompt engages people in writing fiction and non-fiction. Is it easier to tell a true story than to make one up? 
I prefer making stories up. The trick is that the level of detail has to be just right. You have to create that aura of verisimilitude, of inventing something that feels real. 

The point of this exercise is to master a convincing detail. You don’t have to have forty details, but you have to have one or two perfect ones. Say you are writing about the time you got an electronic shock from a waffle iron: you have to know what that waffle iron looks like and how you will get that shock. Some little detail has jump off the page and make the reader think, “Yeah, I buy it.”

This is a fun exercise because people learn the art of creating a convincing story, regardless of whether it’s made up or it’s true. Ultimately, that’s the thing I’m trying to get across. It doesn't matter whether the story is true or made up: it just has to make the reader believe.


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