Wednesday, June 18, 2003

flex those muscles

As per Pon's request, here are the prose vignette exercises that our little group has been doing (this should also be more convenient for Alex and El and everyone else who has expressed interest). Try these, if you like.

The goal of these exercises is to hone certain fundamental aspects of writing, and presumes at least a decent command of the English language (because, really, no one wants to correct subject verb agreements, tenses and such). Each exercise has a goal, and the point is not just to achieve the goal but to write a vignette or sketch in literate and readable manner. In other words, to not just write mechanically but to write creatively; to write well. Everyone passes their work to me, then I critique individually, give suggestions and move on. It has produced some of the most marvelous gems from my comrades-in-letters. For the first few exercises I requred the use of a beginning sentence.

Exercise #1: Describe a person
Sentence: Playing chess frightened her

Dean's sample:

Playing chess frightened her. When I sat down with her for a quick game, she visibly trembled, focusing her dull brown eyes on the white pieces on her side. I didn't understand then what the game meant to her, but I knew two things: that it disturbed her, and that it didn't matter to me.

I watched her delicately pick up a Knight between thumb and forefinger, her fingers long like her mother's, her nails disinterestedly squared, void of color, like mine.

She retreated her arm back in an almost epileptic motion after her opening move. Our eyes met as she sought my approval. I looked at her Knight, thoughtlessly placed, and shook my head.

"How stupid."

Her response was immediate and predictable. Her thin frame froze in mid-breath, only her fingers moved, picking away at the fraying kneecaps of her jeans. And then, the expulsion of breath.

"I'm sorry, Papa."

I left her apology suspended in the air as I moved a pawn to threaten her Knight.

"I'm sorry, Papa."

Exercise #2: Describe a place.
Sentence: Nothing had moved.

Exercise #3: Describe an action or series of actions.
Sentence: The coin toss decided matters and we began.

Exercise #4: Describe emotion . (without being maudlin). Choose your poison - happy, sad, afraid. But whatever you choose, make sure that the vignette clearly shows that emotion through description.
Sentence: freeform

Exercise #5: Use dialogue. Write a vignette with dialogue between two people. Read up on dialogue structure to see how tags are used (tags are ", he said." ) Majority of the vignette should be dialogue, but remember that you are not writing a play.
Sentence: "Well," she said. (you can extend the sentence or change the gender).

Exercise #6 : Exposition: Process / Procedure - Describe a scientific or pseudo-scientific procedure or process. In literary terms, it must be readable, engaging and methodical. Above all things, do NOT be dry. You can describe how a nuclear sub works or edge of an event horizon or police/forensic procedure ala CSI. You can, of course, cloak it in a scenario (e.g. a detective explaining the solution to a murder based on scientific process).
Sentence: freeform

Exercise #7 : Exposition: Legend / Myth - Relate a myth or a legend, either completely new or simply restated, with attention towards creating the feel of a myth or a legend through use of language that is apropos. It is better to submit a complete myth or legend, but completion is not a requirement.
Sentence: freeform

Exercise #8: POV (point of view) - Write a vignette twice. First, in 1st person Point of View (“I”), and secondly in 3rd person omniscient (“She/He”). It must be the same vignette, same character/s, setting, etc. Use dialogue if you like.
Sentence: freeform

Exercise #9: Sense of Wonder - Using methods from the previous exercises, plus your own sensibilities, develop a vignette that creates a sense of wonder. Sense of Wonder is the “oooh” factor of your story. This is achieved in a number of ways, some of which you are already familiar with to a great degree (you should, of course, use stuff you’ve learned from the earlier exercises). Sense of Wonder is elusive but doable, and may make or break any serious genre writing. But remember that is it rarely cosmetic.

Exercise #10: The Short Story - Submit a full short story.

There you go. Ten exercises to help hone your craft regardless of genre (though obviously there is a skew towards genre-writing like speculative fiction, though my own sensibilities lie more towards magic realism and "serious" "literary" pieces).

Go and write.


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