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!

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Voice in Dialog– Part Two

This is part two of an exercise from Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich.  The idea is to show character through their voice.  The characters in this exercise were formed by this prompt: an evangelist and a philosophical homeless person.

As always, enjoy!

“I can save you.”

“Excuse me?”

“I can save you.”

“From what, exactly?”

“From all the evil, sin, and despair that’s consumed the world and surrounds you.”

“Pretty big claim.  You can do all that?”

“I can show you the way.  I, too, have been saved.”

“How nice.  But I’ll be honest—I’d much rather be shown employment, a supper, and a nice warm bed with a roof over it before the way to be saved.”

“Naturally.  One much care for and nurture the body while it harbors the soul.  We’ve got food and a cot for you.  I can take you there.”

“That sounds an awful lot like temptation, if you ask me.”

“It’s not temptation, it’s an offer to help.”

“Oh, brother . . . are you really a Christian?”

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Three People in a Restaurant–an Exercise in Dialog

This is a combination of exercises from Josip Novakovich’s The Fiction Writer’s Workshop.  The purpose of this exercise is to take three people (two men and a woman) and put them in a restaurant.    Through their body language and dialog, the writer is to reveal what each character thinks of the others without directly saying it.  Hopefully, I did that here.  Enjoy!

The restaurant was elegant and overpriced, and Tom didn’t much care for it.  He didn’t look at the crystal chandeliers, the red carpeting or the white table cloths.  Instead he stared at the woman across the round table from him.  The carnations which served as a center piece didn’t obstruct his view, nor make his staring any more subtle; but he wasn’t worried about her noticing.  His eyes tracked her arms and hands as they danced through the air, her bangles shining like pixie dust and twinkling with her voice as they brushed together.  Tom was leaning back in his chair as he stared at Audrey—the woman across the table.  Everything of him was pointed at Audrey: his eyes, his chest, his hands restring on his lap.  His feet reached under the table—occasionally, in her animated way of talking, Audrey would accidentally brush his shin with her high-heel.

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