Slapstick Social Customs–Part 2

Here’s another piece from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Novakovich.  The idea behind this one is to practice humor through the use of over-exaggeration, caricature, and slapstick.  Novakovich suggested trying this with familiar social customs.  Here’s the second part in this three part exercise.

The man was walking about five paces ahead of the woman in the parking lot.  It was a very hot day, and he could feel the heat rise up from the black-top and permeate his dress pants and button-down shirt.  In the reflection of the dark window of the grocery store he was walking towards, he was able to see the woman behind him, and instantly fell in love with her.  She wore cowboy boots, short shorts, a loose tank-top and sunglasses; and while his parents or anyone else might have disagreed, he knew this was the kind of woman he needed in his life.

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Slapstick Social Customs–Part 1

Here’s another piece from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Novakovich.  The idea behind this one is to practice humor through the use of over-exaggeration, caricature, and slapstick.  Novakovich suggested trying this with familiar social customs.  Here’s the first part in this three part exercise.

Mr. Porter grasped the hand of his new employee so firmly when they were introduced, that the thin bones of her hand were forced to contract together like the ribs of a fold-up fan.

“It is so good to have you in the company, Ms. Sparrow.”  Mr. Porter’s shake was forceful enough for Ms. Sparrow to feel her arm wriggle in its socket.  Not wanting to appear feeble, Ms. Sparrow attempted to return the pressure of the handshake as best she could with her compressed hand.  She was barely able to bend her fingers around Mr. Porter’s hand, which was akin to a stress-ball in that it looked soft and rubbery but was actually quite firm if not inflexible.  Still, Ms. Sparrow forced all her upper-body strength into returning the warm pressure of her new boss.

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Foreshadow with Setting–Part 2

Here’s another exercise from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich.  The point is to utilize two different view points, and the setting, to create expectation and suspense.  This is part 2.

She had to be some hipster trust-fund kid with a rich mommy and daddy, she had to be someone who’d never worked a day in her life.  That’s what I keep telling myself, but my gut feels just as tense.  I hurry to catch up to her, the gun digging into my lower back.  I know the safety is on, I know there’s no other place to hide it—especially in the summer—but I always feel like I’m about to shoot my own ass off.

I know I shouldn’t be doing this.  It’s one thing to talk about holding up some rich spoiled punk to get the money you need, but it’s another thing to actually try.  If I get caught, if her parents are rich, they have a good lawyer and then I’m fucked.  I mean, they might even add some shit to armed robbery, accuse me of attempted murder or something.  I might rob someone of money, but I ain’t about to rob them of their life—not unless they’re trying to rob mine, or my little girl’s.

The hipster hugs herself.  She’s probably lost.  I run across the street and jog so I can go back in front of her.  I see her trip from the other side of the street.  She must be lost, walking on this side of town with the money she has.  She probably is looking for one of those underground clubs or something, probably to meet some other rich asshole who treats her like crap.

I cross back so I can cut her off.  She’s struggling with some branches.  I pull out my gun, and then realize I’m an idiot.  I’ve got no mask.  She turns and she sees me.  Her face pales, and I know I have to do this.  It’s dark.  She might be too scared to remember my face.  I sound confident when I talk: “Give me your purse, bitch.”

Then she looks relieved, like all the danger’s gone.  Like it’s a relief I just want money—well, she’s probably got plenty to spare.

“Sure thing,” she says.  She slides off her purse and hands it to me.  “’Fraid I don’t have much.”

Yeah, right.  I grab her purse and run.  I did it.  I finally did it.  We’re going to be okay now, at least for a little while.  Finally, we’re going to be okay.

Foreshadow with Setting–Part 1

Here’s another exercise from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich.  The point is to utilize two different view points, and the setting, to create expectation and suspense.  This is part 1. 

I never feel in danger walking home at night, no matter how late it is.  It’s not like I have much choice—I have no car.  At least it’s just a twenty-minute walk back to my apartment.  My parents don’t like the idea of their daughter walking home from work at 11 o’clock with no chaperone in a big city.  It’s “the big city” part that scares them—as if rape can’t happen in a small town.  At least a big city can offer presence; there’s always other people around so (unless every random person biking, driving, or also walking happens to be a co-conspirator in my impending sexual violation) I feel safe.  Even when I can’t see anyone, that presence is there in the background noise and the red wash of the night-sky, from all the lights.

That red wash is mesmerizing tonight—like the city was on fire, and the flames were reflecting off their own smoke.  It’s really just a lot of overcast—hence why the red is so vivid now.  A few cars passed while I was looking at the sky and the silhouettes of clawing tree branches.  When the street was silent again, I notice something I hadn’t noticed since moving here: absence.

There are no crickets, no grasshoppers, no nothing to be heard.  The lack of chirping makes the background noise just sound like an empty moan, instead of the presence of other people.  I hug myself, even though I’m far from cold.  It’s summer and I walk fast, so I’m feverish more than anything.  Then I realize that, were someone to be watching me, I’d look vulnerable with my arms crossed like this.  I uncross them, walk a little faster, and damn near fall on my face tripping on a crack in the sidewalk.  These sidewalks are awful—cracks like lightning streaks cut through the cement, and even with those strikes it’s all bumpy and uneven.  If the city doesn’t want to fix the sidewalk, they should at least get people to trim up their gardens so that I’m not being groped by vines and grabbed by branches for walking.

One particularly nasty tree branch always pricks at me no matter how low I duck.  I struggle to get myself out from under it, and focus on that instead of what’s right in front of me.  When I turn it’s already too late to do anything about what’s there: a man with a gun.

I waited for the order to climb into the trunk of a car, or to walk with him to some secluded area where he’ll . . .

“Give me your purse, bitch.”

Oh, that’s all.  I hand it over, too relieved to think about the hassle of cancelling my cards or replacing my phone.  Wrong person to rob, and the wrong time—I haven’t even gotten my pay-check yet.

“Super 8” Review

Hello, all.

Just posting to tell you that I have a new review up at Basement Jockeys.  You can check it out by going to, or just follow the link here.

Thanks again!

UPDATE: The site “Basement Jockeys” is no longer in existence.  You can read a reproduction of the original review below.

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Your Face: An Exercise in Description

This exercise was jokingly suggested to me by a co-worker and friend after she’d read my “Hands Description” exercises.  It started out as a tribute to the joy we take in “your face” and “your mom” jokes (along with many other of our co-workers), before this “face” exercise morphed into a letter to my characters: past, present, and future.

Writing exercises don’t merit dedications–if they did, however, I’d dedicate this one to the friends who take the time to read the stuff I post here, and especially to the person who suggested this exercise.  Thank you. 

I could say your face is beautiful, or ugly, or intelligent-looking, or vacant like a highway motel; but then I’d just be weighing you down with useless adjectives, and no one wants that.

I could just focus on the physical aspects of your face.  I could say your eyes are sky-blue, or sparkle like sapphires; but saying those clichés makes me throw up in my mouth a little, so let’s avoid that.  If we’re to go with your face being vacant, I could describe your eyes as “pale, blue, and empty as the cloudless sky.”  Comparing your eyes to more subtle gems—like opals—as opposed to gaudy ones like sapphires or (god forbid this with green eyes) “emeralds” would be more effective; eyes are too deep to glitter like sapphires or emeralds.  But, I could also utilize the overused sapphire and emerald eyes if I wanted to indicate that you’re a shallow person who’s gaudy and predictable.  If your eyes were amber and you were a fixed person I’d say that they were like a golden, hardened sap—with more eloquence, of course.

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Hands Description– Part 4

Here is yet another exercise from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich, for character description.  Too often writers simply tell who their characters are, rather than showing them through description or actions.  This exercise calls for the focus to be on the hands of a character, and to show who that character is based on their hands.

At first, you think it’s more polite to look at her hands.  That way you don’t have her yellow-skin, sunken-eye sickness staring you in the face.  But her hands write out every detail of her illness, if you watch them enough.

Her hands shake the moment she tries to move them, or even lift them off the starched bed-sheet.  They tremble in two different ways.  The first way her hands tremble is obvious—they rotate slowly on her wrist as she reaching for something.  It’s like watching someone try to drive a car with a steering wheel that sometimes doesn’t work and other times overcompensates, when you watch her try to use her hands.  You see her aiming, you know what she wants, but there’s this disconnect between her and her hands—so she can’t control or steer them very well.

The second trembling is a slight tremor, which extends all the way up to her shoulder any time her hands are not at rest.  The tremor appears like the aftershock of an earthquake from deep inside her body; something destructive ripping up all that surrounds it.

The yellow tone of her skin gives her veins a sickly puce color, as though they were moving poison instead of blood.  The veins run over the thin frames of her hand, and down around the wrist.  They bulge so much that—at first glance—her veins seem to run over the top of her skin, rather than under it.

The nails are black and a yellow-algae color.  They harbor fungus beneath them, which push the nails up and out so—like the veins—they seem to be resting on the tops of her fingers instead of being a part of them.

The bones of her hands are easy to see, they’re so exposed despite the thin sheet of skin which drapes over them.  They are thin, like the bones of a bird—one that may fly away at any instant.