January 28, 2010

“She made out like she was concentrating on her next move in the game and all. Then all of a sudden, this tear plopped down on the checkerboard. On one of the red squares–boy, I can still see it. She just rubbed it into the board with her finger.”

-JD Salinger, 1919-2010

Edwidge Danticatt has written a heartbreaking essay about her family in Haiti. You can read it here: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/02/01/100201taco_talk_danticat

My Dad used to visit Haiti in the eighties. He was first sent there on a photo assignment, and then returned multiple times after falling in love with it. (He told me that he hated the hotels there, and used to sleep in the graveyards!) Here is a photo from one of his journey’s.

Forever Overhead

January 26, 2010

For tonight’s exercise, let’s start with a quote.

“You decide this needs to be thought about. It may, after all, be all right to do something scary without thinking, but not when the scariness is the not thinking itself. Not when not thinking turns out to be wrong. At some point the wrongnesses have piled up blind: pretend-boredom, weight, thin rungs, hurt feet, space cut into laddered parts that melt together only in a disappearance that takes time. The wind on the ladder not what anyone would have expected. The way the diving board protrudes from shadow into light and you can’t see past the end. When it all turns out to be different you should get to think. It should be required.”

-David Foster Wallace.

Here’s one of his exercises, reprinted from kottke.org. I’m really excited about this one.

Growing Sentences with David Foster Wallace

A Primer for Kicking Ass
Being the Result of One Man’s Fed-upped-ness With ‘How to Write’ Books Not Actually Showing You How to Write
By James Tanner. Reprinted with permission.

0. Begin with an idea, a string of ideas.

Ex: Mario had help with his movie. He did a lot of the work himself.

1. Use them in a compound sentence:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, But…Mario did the puppet work, And…It was his shoes on the pedal.

2. Add rhythm with a dependent clause:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the puppet work, and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal.

3. Elaborate using a complete sentence as interrupting modifier:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the puppet work — his arms are perfect for the puppets — and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal.

4. Append an absolute construction or two:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the puppet work — his arms are perfect for the puppets — and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops moved out of frame.

5. Paralell-o-rize your structure (turn one noun into two):

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the choreography and the puppet work — his arms and fingers are perfect for the puppets — and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops and buckets moved out of frame.


STOP HERE IF YOU ARE A MINIMALIST, WRITING COACH, OR JAMES WOOD

6. Adjectival phrases: lots of them. (Note: apprx. 50% will include the word ‘little’):

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet work — his little S-shaped arms and curved fingers are perfect for the standard big-headed political puppets — and it was, without question, his little square shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets moved out of frame.

7. Throw in an adverb or two (never more than one third the number of adjectives):

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet work personally — his little S-shaped arms and curved fingers are perfect for the standard big-headed political puppets — and it was, without question, his little square shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets carefully moved out of frame.

8. Elaboration — mostly unnecessary. Here you’ll turn nouns phrases into longer noun phrases; verbs phrases into longer verb phrases. This is largely a matter of synonyms and prepositions. Don’t be afraid to be vague! Ideally, these elaborations will contribute to voice — for example, ‘had a hand in’ is longer than ‘helped’, but still kinda voice-y — but that’s just gravy. The goal here is word count.

It’s obvious someone else had a hand in the screenplay, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet-work personally — his little S-shaped arms and curved fingers are perfect for the forward curve from body to snout of a standard big-headed political puppet — and it was, without question, Mario’s little square shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod across the over lit closet, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets carefully moved out past the frame’s borders on either side of the little velvet stage.


STOP HERE IF YOU ARE NOT WRITING PARODY

9. Give it that Wallace shine. Replace common words with their oddly specific, scientific-y counterparts. (Ex: ‘curved fingers’ into ‘falcate digits’). If you can turn a noun into a brand name, do it. (Ex: ‘shoes’ into ‘Hush Puppies,’ ‘camera’ into ‘Bolex’). Finally, go crazy with the possessives. Who wants a tripod when they could have a ‘tunnel’s locked lab’s tripod’? Ahem:

It’s obvious someone else had a hand in the screenplay, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet-work personally — his little S-shaped arms and falcate digits are perfect for the forward curve from body to snout of a standard big-headed political puppet — and it was, without question, Mario’s little square Hush Puppies on the H^4’s operant foot-treadle, the Bolex itself mounted on one of the tunnel’s locked lab’s Husky-VI TL tripods across the over lit closet, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets carefully moved out past the frame’s borders on either side of the little velvet stage.

10. Practice. Take one sentence — any sentence — and Wallacize it. Turn ten boring words into a hundred good ones.

Ex: “John wanted to play ball, but he sat on the couch.”

Or did John _________________________________ ?

A dream you have is already a story, and sometimes it’s hard to veer away from what exactly happened in the dream, to turn it into a new story. I remember taking an intro to creative writing class, and it seemed that every story I wrote had a character in it who had a fun/fantastic/magical dream. This part would be the best part of the story, and I finally realized that these don’t have to be dreams, that these could be the stories themselves. It’s so easy to write something surreal and unbelievable off as a dream, or to explain the inner world of a character by giving her a strange dream. Why can’t the dream be the entire story?

Here’s what came out of the last exercise. It’s pretty silly.

My sister found out first, and then I got my own news. We were both pregnant. Our babies would know each other from the start, just as she once comforted me when we missed each other in college. “Some day our babies will play together,” she had said. And then I ached for what I knew was very far away.  Over the months her body grew round and firm. She complained about her stretch marks as she stroked the soft blonde down that had grown across her belly.

“That’s how you know it will be a boy,” our grandmother told us. “The testosterone seeps through his skin.”

But my body did not seem to change. I felt full, but only as if I’d eaten too many gassy foods. My stomach stuck out slightly, like the beginning of a beer belly, and nothing more.  I pressed my hand hard on a spot below my ribs where I felt a fluttering. It just felt like digestion.

I asked my grandmother why this was happening to me. She laughed and she said, “You only remember what you want to remember, don’t you?” And I tried, but there was nothing in my memory of how, indeed I came to think I was pregnant.

“Oh it’s not that,” she said. “The girl in your stomach is you, no different from you. This is what you do. You hide far inside of a body, until you can be yourself and the body will be gone.”

My gradmother reminds me that when this baby is born I will die, but it will be fine, because I will be her.

“But what does it matter? Will it really be me again? When I am a baby I won’t be happy to have survived, I won’t remember that I survived.”

“You will be happy.”

I spend my days lying on the couch with my heavy pregnant sister, until her husband comes home and I leave them alone. I walk to the aquarium, a mile away. My sister will be jealous that I can walk so far without my feet swelling.  But it still doesn’t feel like I’m carrying much.

I read on a placard that one in 5,000 North Atlantic lobsters are born bright blue. “That is truly rare and beautiful,” a man next to me says. “I’ll never forget that. Do you know…?” He begins, but I stop him. His hair is brown, with one awkward streak of white. I picture him in a moment of fear, and I think of animals that change color when they are frightened, people who grow white hairs, or stripes on their cuticles if their hearts stop for a moment, and resume. I think to ask him if the lobsters have witnessed something violent, but instead, I stop him.

“No need to try to teach me,” I say. “When I am a baby, I won’t remember a thing.”


I’ve been slackin’!

January 24, 2010

But I’m going to be better. Today is the perfect rainy Sunday for writing right now, writing ALL DAY.

Write about a dream you had but make it as realistic as possible. Turn it into a story.

Today will be a funny day

January 19, 2010

If you didn’t like the Edith Zimmerman stuff, try this! Write a story about two friends who can’t stand each other. If you don’t think either of these things are funny, you’re reading the wrong blog, my friend.

Edith Zimmerman

January 19, 2010

Dylan found Edith Zimmerman’s blog for me and she’s my new favorite short-short-short story writer.  I’m not sure what exact exercise I can formulate from her style, but read on, especially if you’re trying to write humor, it’s totally inspiring.

The Hot Guy

A very short story.

I was at a party when this super-hot guy came up to me. He was like seven feet tall with retardedly huge muscles and super-tight clothes. Inwardly, I was like “Oh my god!” but outwardly I was cool.

“Excuse me, miss,” he said, smiling. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Totally!” I said. “What kind of drink can I get?”

“Uh, whatever you want,” he said.

“I’ll have four whiskeys in one glass,” I said to the bartender.

“Whoa,” the guy said.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m not going to drink it all.”

“Huh?” the guy said, giving me a quizzical look.

I laughed. “It’s for washing out my cuts,” I said, picking up the glass and heading toward the bathroom. “Be right back!” Omg I was going to have a boyfriend finally!

more here: http://www.edithzimmerman.com/

Long day?

January 14, 2010

Write for a very short period of time.  I mean it.  Just start writing and then stop after one to five minutes. GO TO BED. Or do something else.  Then come back to it and turn it into a story or a poem about what you wrote (use the idea, or the characters, or just use the very words you wrote) .  If you hate what you wrote for those couple of minutes, think about what it would mean to write exactly the opposite.  Would you like it then?

I really love the story this guy tells at the end. In all his creepiness, he seems pretty proud of his talent, and how he built his skill while working on the farm. For today’s writing exercise:

Write about a character with an unusual talent (or “novelty” as our friend Cecil Dill puts it). Think about how they discovered this talent, whether anyone encouraged them, or if they have any other more “normal” talents.  Explore how the perspective of the rest of the world compares to the way your character sees her talent.

Use Rubberbands and Rope!

January 12, 2010

Tonight, here’s an exercise from one of my favorite short story writers, Aimee Bender.

Write one page that contains a broken gadget of some sort and a dancer.

I just had a long day at work and then went to a show. Now my head is pounding! My feet hurt! I’m going to hand-write this one, since I’ve been staring at a computer screen all day.

Goodnight!