creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing Exercises

When Stuck

Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake

• Write the same scene every day for two weeks.

Getting at Your Character(s)

Marguerite Duras, The Lover (shifting times, voices)

• Write about the same event in first person, third person, and first person looking back from a later time in life.
• Have three other characters in their own voices respond/react to something your character does.
• Write down the first three abstract terms that come to mind (well-being, thievery, chance, e.g.), and then explore what specific personal associations those have for your character(s).  Elaborate anything promising into a scene.

Cataclysmic Events

Or unbearable emotions—how to write about them.
Very big
Very small
Removals in time, distance, voice (humor, irony)

Vikram Seth, An Equal Music (big)
Marguerite Duras, The Lover (distancing)
Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister (small)
N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (big)
Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake (small)
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost (rock carvings) (big)
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (Kip, Katharine) (big)
Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra (distancing)

• Try writing the same painful scene (or immediate reaction to it) both very big and very small.
• Distance your character in time or space or tone from the event or emotions.


Harriet Doerr, Consider This, Señora (colors, formality)
Marguerite Duras, The Lover
N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (foreshadowing scene)
Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate
Derek Wolcott, Tiepolo’s Hound

• Experiment with different tones:  poetic, grand, biblical, melodramatic, journalistic, gothic, cinematic.  Write the same scene in at least two distinctive tones.
• Try the key elements of the scene as a sonnet, a haiku, blank verse.

Windows on the World

Factual or whimsical entr’actes, opening everything out.
Natural history

N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (myths)
Peter Matthiessen, At Play in the Fields of the Lord (moths)
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost (atlas, rock carvings)
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (winds, maps, Herodotus)
Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things (language, animals)

• List a few intriguing windows which might be appropriate in your novel.  Write a paragraph for each, doing research if necessary.


Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (the white goat)

• Choose three meaningful objects from three different times of your character’s life.  Write a paragraph about each.


Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost
Dorian Llywelyn

• Map your character’s life (or mental/emotional life).  Important features, landmarks, distances, boundaries, etc.
• Describe a physical map that somehow illuminates your novel.

The Meta-story

Stepping outside the story (or appearing suddenly in the story as author, stage manager, puppeteer, god) to achieve some effect.  What does it do to the novel?  What do you risk?

John Cheever, Oh What a Paradise It Seems
Marguerite Duras, The Lover

• Experiment with one or more of these devices.

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