Category Archives: exercise

Challenge – Inspired by Dorothy Parker

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dorothy Parker has a number of pieces which I call “monologue stories”.  These tend to be just the inner thoughts of the MC or the MC’s one-side of a conversation.  I’ve always enjoyed reading these as they allow the reader to become fully immersed in the personality of the MC.  You are literally experiencing the events of the story through the MC.  

I have written one of these styled stories before, but it wasn’t that great.  However, I am challenging myself, and anyone else who is interested, to give it a try.  Can you tell an entire story through only the thoughts of your MC?  It’s a lot more challenging than it sounds.  If you need inspiration, you can turn to Parker – Lady With a Lamp, or her more humorous examples, The Waltz or A Telephone Call.  I will see if I can keep mine down to flash fiction length (a constant challenge for me), and post a final here when I’m done.

Happy writing!

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Practice, Practice, Practice

“Write Write more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing.” -Brian Clark, playwright

In the case of any activity – be it playing an instrument to performing surgery – practice makes perfect. We, as writers, know that writing is no different. Many of you may have a schedule or goal – a number of words per day, pages per week, or simply sitting down to write every day for a certain amount of time. You may choose to spend that time working on your novel, your dissertation, or journaling, but once you’ve finished one project, and you’re searching for your next one, it can be easy to let the daily habit slide. But why do you have to have a specific project? There are so many reasons to write and so many different types of writing, it should be easy to find a good practice format that can also be productive for building your skills.

Description – write an email or letter to a friend or relative describing in detail an interesting event that happened recently. Focus on using imagery to create a clear picture for someone who has never been in that setting or seen the people involved. Help your reader experience the event as you did.

Research – Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or magazine. Reading is another important part of being a good writer, and reading about the news of the day helps inform you as a good citizen. So why not take citizenship and writing to their next step. Say something about an article you read. Whether you find a mistake or want to expand, or point out another way of looking at the issue being discussed, newspapers are more likely to publish well researched letters to the editor as opposed to purely opinion pieces with no evidence to back claims.

Persuasion – How do you feel about the abortion debate? healthcare? defense spending? campaign finance? or any number of other hot button political issues? What do you know about your local and federal representatives? If you’d like to see changes in local, state, or federal government you have to let the policymakers know it. Letters to your representatives are a great way to tell them what you think. Your position is to convince them that you have a stake in the issue, know something of what you say, and would like to see the vote or policy development that you are arguing or proposing.

There are any number of other ways to practice writing in various styles and formats.  How do you step outside your usual writing box?

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A Picture And A Thousand Words

They say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  Care to see how many you can get?  Try this exercise:

Go through an old photo album, and look for a picture with people, whether or not you are in the picture doesn’t matter.  If you prefer, find a photography book, or check out an artist’s show, or look some up online.  The important thing is that there be at least one person in the picture.  Once you’ve found a picture right a short “story” or explanation of what is going on in that picture.  Focus on describing the moment captured in film, not what happened before or what may happen after.  Just describe what’s happening in that picture.  But do so in detail.  What is the activity and why is it happening?  What are the relationships among the people pictured?  What do they think of one another?  (If the picture you choose is of a memorable moment in your own life, try to stretch your creativity, and come up with a different story than what actually happened.)  Hopefully, you can find a good story somewhere in there.

 

 

 

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Y – “You”, Another Pronoun

“You”

So, I spent sometime on the pronoun “one”. Now, for “you”. For this, I would like to present a challenge.

When we write, what POV do we usually choose? As a general rule, a writer will pick either first or third person. A first person narrator is almost always an active character in the story, but not necessarily the protagonist. He/she can sometimes be an outside character with information on the story and characters within, but will generally be fairly limited in his/her knowledge. In rare cases, such as The Book Thief (in which the narrator is Death) or The Lovely Bones (in which the narrator is a young girl who has been killed), the narrator may be omniscient, but usually first person operates on a limited amount of knowledge that can be reasonably known by the character who is narrating. A third person narrator has a few options that make it an “easier” POV to work within. There is the subjective narrator who can describe feelings and/or thoughts of one or more characters, or the objective narrator who focuses only on action of the characters. Alongside this element there is the knowledge of the narrator, being either omniscient – an all knowing narrator with knowledge of all times, people, places, and events including characters’ thoughts; or limited – usually focused on one character’s experience and feelings and thoughts. But the second person narrator is extremely rare in fiction, and difficult to pull off well. According to a Wikipedia article on Narrative Modes, a good example of this form is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. (I have not read this, but it is now officially on my list, if for no other reason but that I want to see how he does this.) It is also employed by writers of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were popular in the 80s and which I love and miss. (Every time you read it, you can make it a different story – two, three, four, or more books in one!) As this POV is so rarely used, and very difficult, I wonder how many readers may take advantage of the challenge to write your second person story. The nice thing about reading this type of story is the reader is immediately required to submit as an active participant in the story. If written well, I suspect this type of narration can be highly engaging to readers as they are literally pulled into the story from the beginning. If you choose to take part in this challenge, please share in the comments what you learn from it and your successes with your story. We are interested to hear how your experiment turns out!

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V – Voice: Who Said That!?!

As I was reading, I started thinking about how hard it is for me to differentiate my characters’ voices.  It has been a consistent comment in notes on my MS and some other work I’ve done.  To practice, I decided to try an exercise based on my WIP.  Give this a try if you find the same difficulty in your work.

Write a “Point/ Counter-Point” of sorts from the POVs of two of your characters who have experienced the same event.   Would they see things differently? -Put more emphasis or importance on one event versus another?  How would their use of language differ?  Focus on really getting into the head of the character you are writing and see it from his/ her POV.

As a former actress (READ: local community and high school theater circuit), I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get the idea of adapting an old performance exercise into a writing exercise.  If I think of anymore, I will certainly share them, but the only one that is popping in my head at present doesn’t really translate to writing; unless of course you want to increase your typing speed.  Annunciation practice for writers!

Red leather, yellow letter, copper kettle, brittle brattle, skidaddily dee, skidaddily doo.

 

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R – Recipes, And Other How-To’s: Entertaining NonFiction

Okay, I’m not usually one to put recipes on this site. That’s not what this is about, but as I was trying to come up with an “R” word that had to do with writing, I started thinking of another one of my favorite writers, Anthony Bourdain.  Some of you may be familiar with his former show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations.  Others may know him by his current show on CNN, Parts Unknown.  And some may know him best by his bestselling book, Kitchen Confidential; a (hate to tell you this) very realistic portrait of life working in restaurants.  But one of his books you may not have heard of is called the Les Halles Cookbook.  This is a book that he wrote which includes a number of french dishes that he cooked while working as head and executive chef at the New York Brasserie, Les Halles (a restaurant I am determined to dine in myself one of these days).

Now there may be some out there who are still thinking, “Okay, great.  What does this have to do with writing.”  Well, as I say, Anthony Bourdain is a writer, and he has a great gift with words and imagery.  And his cookbook is like none I’ve ever seen before or since.  He does not simply list ingredients and steps.  He tells you about the dish you are making, and gives you hints and secrets about the best way to cook it.  And he does all of this with a talent for the use of language.  If you can get it, I highly recommend you pick up the book.  This is the only cookbook I have ever sat down to read for entertainment.

So here’s a challenge: (Completely stealing this from a public speaking assignment I had in college.) Write a recipe, or other seemingly doldrum instruction oriented piece, but do so with not only the purpose of informing, but entertaining as well.  Instruction manuals, how-to guides, and cookbooks do not have to be boring to read.  As a matter of fact, they shouldn’t be.

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L – Letter Writing: It’s For Posterity

I’m an old soul. I’ve known that for years, but as technology advances, and we become more and more distanced as a global society, I find my old soul more and more obvious. One of the points that proves this to me: It breaks my heart that people don’t write letters anymore.

Sure, we email friends. We keep in touch via facebook and Twitter. We make important business connections through LinkedIn. We make new friends through online forums over shared interests. And that’s great and all.

But I miss letters. I miss them because of the beauty of them. There was an art to writing letters. One didn’t write a letter to a friend to share all the details of each day. One wrote a letter when something extraordinary had happened. The death of a loved one, or the celebration of new life, marriage, retirement even. One wrote a letter to share the thoughts of a challenging event, either in one’s personal life or the world around him/her. And these letters were truly writing. Writing the way we write our stories, and novels, and nonfiction. It was worth it to sit down and really get the words right because it was important to communicate as clearly and eloquently as possible what you were thinking. The fact is, the person on the other end couldn’t just retort a quick, “Huh?”, and allow you to clarify. The meaning had to be just right, and this was an art.

But there was a visual art to it, as well, in the penmanship. We have allowed penmanship to fall by the wayside, even in our elementary schools where we our teaching our children that writing is a thing you can do, but typing is what you must learn. I remember as a child devoting so much class time and homework time to handwriting – learning print, then cursive – and I worked hard on it. But after I had learned the “correct” way, I began to play with the forms of the letters, and this is where the artist takes over. I have now developed a truly unique penmanship that I rarely ever get to use. (It’s one of the reasons I generally write all my fiction by hand before transcribing it into the computer.)

So, maybe I should pose another challenge here. Write a letter. But not just one, many. Find someone with whom you can begin a correspondence. Why? Because of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letters From A Birmingham Jail. Because of the abundance of information we know about famous writers, politicians, leaders, thinkers, movers, and shakers of history – most of which we discovered through their letters.

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