Something New and Interactive

Halloween is a holiday that is matched in my mind only by secularized-Christmas. To celebrate, in a nerdy kind of way, I’ve stolen some writing exercises from Josip Novakovich’s The Fiction Writer’s Workshop and added some Halloween spirit to them. I’ll post my results on October 31, and I invite everyone else to participate. You can either post your exercise in the comments section, or link it to your own blog. The exercises are below, and the italics are my own notes.

The following excerpts are from Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich.

Exercise One  (Page 40)

Two Pages: Describe with care the most ordinary items you can think of.  Look at them as though they were strange and unusual.  Conversely, describe extraordinary things—meteors, rockets, and so on—in familiar language as just another stone or a piece of rolled sheet metal.

Objective: To learn how to control your distance from the objects you describe.  If you are too close, you may not see the shape; if you are too far away, you may not see the details.  Get into the habit of shifting the focus away from what would be your automatic focus, and you will see items in a fresh way.  Practice the art of creating surprising details.  Skip something obviously important and use something apparently unimportant.

Check: Do the ordinary objects sound fascinating?  Do the extraordinary objects sound ordinary but interesting?  If not, go back, and in the first half of the exercise give us the details that amaze, and in the second, details that make us take a good look.  Everything you observe with interest should sound interesting.

Halloween Bonus: Try to make your ordinary object sound sinister, menacing, terrifying or uncanny in some way.  For your extraordinary object, pick a typical Halloween item (ghost, zombie, gravestone, haunted house, severed limb(s), and make it sound familiar yet interesting. 

Exercise Two  (Page 42)

From Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights:

“One may guess the power of the north wind, blowing over the edge, by the excessing slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. […] The narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.”

The narrator completes the image of the house’s exterior with this description:

“A quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door, above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins, and shameless little boys, I detected the date “1500.””

Then she gives us the interior:

“Above the chimney were sundry villainous old guns, and a couple of horse-pistols, and, by way of ornament, three gaudily painted canisters disposed along its ledge.  The floor was smooth, with stone: the chairs, high backed, primitive structures, painted green: one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade.  In an arch, under the dresser, reposed a huge, liver-colored bitch pointer surrounded by a swarm of squealing puppies; and other dogs haunted other recesses.”

One Page: Describe a setting for a horror story.  You might pattern it after Emily Bronte’s example from above.  Use the same lack of narrative distance as she does—let your narrator show us an ominous atmosphere through choice details, and let her tell us about it also, through slanted verbs and adjectives, just as Bronte does.  The balance should be in favor of the details.

Objective: To practice using setting for a strong mood, using all your means, showing and telling.

Check: Did you evoke the mood?  Although it’s all right if some of your imagery turns out to be stock horror stuff (howling winds), make sure that at least some of your images are original, new things that you haven’t seen before.  (For example, Bronte uses this fresh, memorable image: “range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.”)

See you on October 31st!


The Histories– A Modern Retelling

This is another suggestion from Novakovich’s book, which was to take an old story and retell it in a modern setting.  I chose Herodotus’s “The Histories” (which I’d rewritten last Wednesday) and put it in a present day conflict.

This should be viewed as a fiction exercise only, and not as commentary or a personal statement of the current situation between the US and Afghanistan.


We call them terrorists.  One administration went so far as to call them evil-doers.  Maybe they are; that tends to be what they do—evil.  Convincing otherwise normal people to blow themselves up and take as many normal, decent people with them . . . I can’t think of another word for it.  But then you have to guard those people.  You have to keep them safe, so they can face justice the right way.  Then you see things about these terrorists, these evil-doers, you wish you didn’t know.

Continue reading

The Histories (an Exercise in Plot)

This is another exercise from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovick.  The exercise was to re-write and fill out three scenes from Herodotus’s “The Histories.”  I didn’t quite do that here, as I wanted to experiment with the style of having a character in the story narrate most of it, as with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.”  Still, the object was to learn how to borrow old stories, which I learned with this.  You’ll see a modern version of “The Histories” posted this Sunday.

Burning a man alive would be considered a cruel means of execution by most.  But to Cyrus, the now unrivaled King of Persia, it was the most glorious death he could offer to a captured man—especially to one who’d fought as valiantly as Croesus had.  Cyrus was wounded, then, because when sentencing Croesus to such a glorious death, the former king of Lydia remained blank.  In an attempt to get some recognition from him, Cyrus sentenced fourteen adolescent boys to burn with their king.  When all of them were being tied to the pyre, the boys fighting or silently crying, Croesus only shook his head.  He stretched his neck towards the sky so that a vein bulged in his neck.

Continue reading

“Greek Street: Blood Calls for Blood” review

Hello all.

Here is a link to my newest review on basement jockeys.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

“Greek Street: Blood Calls for Blood” Proves Promising

Thanks again!

UPDATE: “Basement Jockeys” is no longer in existence.  For a reproduction of the original review, continue reading below.

Continue reading

“13 Assassins” Review

Hello, all.

Be sure to check out my newest review on Basement Jockeys, or just follow the link:

13 Assassins Adds New Depth to the Samurai Genre

Thanks again for reading!

UPDATE: The site “Basement Jockey’s” is no longer in existence.  Below is a reproduction of my original 13 Assassins review.

Continue reading

Way Cooler than a Fairytale Princess

Check out my movie review of Hanna at, or just click on the link below:


UPDATE: Basement Jockey’s is no longer in existence.  Below is the reproduction of my original review of the movie Hanna.

Continue reading

The Second Mrs. Saunders

This is a short story/exercise that I wrote, based on a classic fairy-tale.  It runs a little differently than the original fairy-tale, and this is an extremely rough cut.  But, I promised to get this out on Sunday, and here it is.  Enjoy!

Ellie was over rambunctious and needed to learn how to calm down.  That’s why Mrs. Saunders, second wife to the late Mr. Saunders, gave Ellie more arduous chores.  Mrs. Saunders’ own two daughters, Cindy and Brittany, were well-behaved girls; they’d had an attentive mother who taught them early on what it meant to be a lady.  She’d been just as hard on these girls (harder on Brittany, in fact) as she was on Ellie; but people liked to talk.  It was disgraceful, the lack of manners and position these days.  Mrs. Saunders knew she was considered old-fashioned, but she’d ensured that two of her girls would grow up to marry well and saw no reason why Ellie shouldn’t be the third.

Continue reading