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Archive for January, 2009

For Once, Then Something

For Once, Then, Something

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
My myself in the summer heaven, godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

Robert Frost

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Exercise: Write a page in first person, assuming the voice of someone of the opposite sex.

Hello Grandma
I feel the cool Autumn breeze on my face and arms as it makes my skirt dance across my knees. It is grandma, of course, giving me a kiss “hello”. She always made these woods come alive with her stories of the wind fairies – and though mom said she was gone now, I know she is actually here in these woods.  Her presence is particularly strong as I near the edge of the woods as it spilled into the shore of the lake.  I can smell her fragrance emanating from the leaves on the trees as they sway in the breeze all around me.  I hear her lyrical voice echo from the waves as they sweep against the shore and carry in the wind all around me.  I see her smile reflected as the sunlight glitters across the lakes’ surface.

Yes, grandma – I hear you – I’m fine…

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Exercise:  Open a story in the following ways

  1. with a generalization
  2. with a description of a person
  3. with a narrative summary
  4. with dialogue
  5. with several characters but no dialogue
  6. with a setting and only one character
  7. with a reminiscent narrator

The Lake’s Breath

Generalization
Sarah believed that everything in the universe was connected.  It was only natural that the rhythm of the lake’s waves against her ankles was in sync with the movement of the clouds in her sight.

Description of a Person
Sarah leaned back against the bank of the lake.  Her legs partially immersed in the water that was slowly lapping the shore in rhythmic waves.  She had a relaxed and far away look in her eyes as she gazed up at the clouds.

Narrative Summary
As I laid back against the bank of the lake, a sudden awareness crept into my mind.  I sensed the connectiveness of the universe as the waves that gently washed against my ankles seemed to keep rhythm with the movement of the clouds directly above me.

Dialogue
Do you see that Dylan?  See what Sarah?  The clouds are moving in rhythm with the lake.  No Sarah, I don’t see that – but watch how many skips I get out of this pebble.

Several Characters but no Dialogue
Dylan, Christopher, and Alex scampered excitedly about the shore of the lake looking for the perfect pebble to skip across the water.  Meanwhile, Sarah leaned back with her ankles in the water – deep in quiet contemplation, thinking it remarkable that the waves against her ankles were in sync with the movement of the clouds above her.

A Setting and Only One Character
Alone with her thoughts at last, Sarah leaned back against the bank of the lake letting the slow moving water wash over her extended legs.  She could feel the weight of yesterday start to fade away with each wave of water that rushed over her skin. As she started to relax and gaze up at the clouds above her, it occurred to her that the movement of the waves and the clouds seemed to be in sync.

A Reminiscent Narrator
I can remember vividly the day I made the connection.  I was lying against the bank of Goodyear lake on a typical Autumn day.  I had my legs dipping in the water and felt the cool waves lap against my skin.  Almost fully relaxed and just as my eyes were about to close, the movement of the clouds caught my attention – or actually it was the sensation that the movement of the clouds were in sync with the rhythm of the waves against my legs.

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Exercise: Begin a story with this line: Where were you last night?

The Last Night
Where were you last night?  That’s what Mark asked, but what he really wanted to know is why I didn’t come to the hospital.  After all, it was our grandfather who was rushed to the emergency room last night.  I got the first call from my sister, then from my brother – but, I couldn’t bring myself to go.  It was just too soon to go back into that hospital.

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Exercise: Write pairs of beginning sentences – e.g., birth and death,  spring and summer, etc

Spring/Summer Pair

The Awakening
It still amazes me to see those flowers bloom as if awakening from a deep sleep.

The Refresh
After enduring another scorching hot Arizona day, a cool dip in his pool was all he could think about.

Birth/Death Pair

With a Breath
He was too small and delicate in my arms to be real, but then I felt his breath.

Voices Never Heard
Her name was Sarah or would have been.

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Exercise  – Write five opening lines for five different stories

The Returning Stranger
As he neared the door, John slowed his paced wondering if she would still be home.

The Others
He turned his gaze from the running brook at the sound of rustling leaves to his left.

A New View
She walked this path thousands of times, but today she would walk it for the first time.

The Awakening
Jack jostled through the crowded sidewalk traffic alone with his thoughts until a man across the street shouted his name.

The Lake’s Breath
Sarah felt the water ripple around her leg and thought of John’s comment on the lake’s breath.

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First sentences are doors to worlds. – Ursula K. Le Guin

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As I begin my journey writing a novel, I start with working through writing exercises provided by a nice starter book by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter – What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.

I will use this blog to journal my work through the exercises in the book.

Below is a description of the book.

“An essential to any writer’s library, What If? is comprised entirely of specific exercises intended to help the reader master the art of writing fiction. The exercises isolate the various elements of fiction – dialogue, plot, characterization, point- of-view, etc. – and present specific problems to solve through writing. Directed toward both beginners and professional writers, this book addresses topics such as discovering where to start and end a story; learning when to use dialogue and when to use indirect discourse; transforming real events into fiction; and finding language that both sings and communicates precisely. For those interested in writing fiction.”

Thank you Anne and Pamela

Mike Evans

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