previously posted on my favorite exercises
for a fast-acting manuscript Rx, what I call "emulation"
or "permutation" exercises, here.
(Which one is it, emulation or permutation? Depends. That would
be another post.)
The basic idea is to take a phrase
or perhaps as many as a few sentences from another writer's work
or from your own manuscript, and play with it in some predetermined
way. Sometimes the exercise might prompt a new piece; othertimes
it might give you just what you need to brighten up the blah
or smooth a rough patch in a draft. Moreover, for my wampum,
permutation exercises beat crossword puzzles by a Texas section.
(Yowie, that was a dog's breakfast of imagery!)
Yes, I am being silly. To play,
you have to be willing to be silly! Tell your ego to just take
a long cool breath. You, dear writerly reader, do not have to
use the results of your writing exercises in your manuscript,
never mind show them to anyone else. So I hereby declare that
dog's breakfasts are OK! Parrot's breakfasts and orangutang's
tea parties, too!
Simply, for any given permutation
exercise, come up with a bunch of things! Maybe elegant, maybe
dorky. Maybe even dorksterly dorkikins dorky. Then circle the
one or two results that, for whatever reason, strike your fancy
and/or seem apt for your purposes.
In my experience, and that of
many of my writing students, doing these exercises is a tiny
investment for a mega-payoff. The more often you do these little
exercises, the easier they get, and this ease will greatly serve
you in your endeavors to write, and in particular, to write more
vividly. You will also get practice in generating material you
are able to, la de da, discard. And discarding unworthy
bits and pieces of a draft, and even whole novels, without attachment,
that's a vital skill for a writer, too.
"IT'S LIKE DEJA VU ALL
There are as many permutation
exercises as you can dream up. This one, what I call "Blast
Past Easy," plays with cliché.
How can you spot a cliché?
If a phrase sounds familiar and/ or it came to you too easily,
it's probably a cliché.
What's wrong with cliché?
For more discerning readers, whom presumably you would would
want to have, cliché signals a lack of originality and/or
naiveté and/or sloppiness. In sum: mediocrity. There are
exceptions for example, a fictional character or the subject
of biography might use cliché (and if they do, that tells
us somehing about them, does it not?) And some essayists use
cliché for comic effect. (I'll be posting about intentional
diction drops anon.)
"Like deja vu all over again"
well, you can debate me, but I'm going to call that a cliché,
except as used by Yogi Berra, because he's the one who came up
Here are a few clichés
I happened upon in recent weeks' reading, and my permutations
four each. If you feel so moved, a good exercise could be to
add more permutations of your own.
"Talk does not boil the
Talk does not shampoo the pooch
Talk does not slice the pepperoni
Talk does not iron the shirts
Talk does not roast the turkey
(You might try a permutation of the noun, "talk," e.g.,
making art; violin playing; texting...)
Shoveling soap bubbles
"Bet you dollars for
Bet you deutschmarks for Dingdongs
Bet you dinars for dinos
Bet you dollars for diddlysquat
Bet you pounds for peanuts
(Part of what makes "dollars
for donuts" such an appealing cliché is the alliteration,
that is, the repeating "d"s of "dollars"
and "donuts." You might try varying the sound, e.g.,
silver for Skittles, or, pesos for pips, etc.)
"Let the cat out of the
Let the cockroach out of the bag
Let the bedbug out of the backpack
Let the tarantula out of the pickle jar
Let the troll out of the compost pile
(Another permutation could be to switch the verb, e.g, Put the
cat in the bag; stuff the cat in the bag; drown the cat in the
bag; swing the cat in the bag, etc.)
"The bee's knees"
The snail's tail
The donkey's ankle
The sloth's toenail (doesn't rhyme but, oh well, I like it)
The kitten's mittens (is that a cliché?)
"A fish out of water"
A mole out of its hole
A horse out of its pasture
A sheep out of its herd
A credit card nowhere near a department store