Triple, quadruple and quintuple-decker adjectives can be fun!
~ easy-to-hose-down tile
~ ladies-who-lunch hairdos
~ A run-to-catch-the-school-bus outfit
~ A disguise-the dog-hair-oatmeal-brown sofa
~ more-organic-than-thou shampoo
Make up some to go with the following nouns:
Car; Bike; university; petunias; pizza; book; scarf; shoes; yoghurt;
backpack; bathrobe; purse; kitchen gizmo; dog; sofa; cell phone;
guinea pig; summer vacation; hotdog
John McGahern, the Irish writer, recently died. In yesterday's
Washington Post there was an interesting obituary written
by Matt Shudel, which ends thus:
"Mr. McGahern composed his final book, the memoir evoking
the spirit of his long-dead mother, after receiving his own cancer
diagnosis. 'Heaven was in the sky,' he wrote in the book. 'My
mother spoke to me of heaven as concretely and with as much love
as she named the wild flowers. Above us the sun of heaven shone.
Beyond the sun was the gate of heaven.'"
This is so marvelous, I scarely dare to comment -- but here goes.
What gives this passage such power is the drum-beat of repetition.
Heaven is repeated four times; sun twice. Also, the structure
and length of the last two sentences are almost identical.
Try writing a brief passage of 4-5 sentences using repetition.
Plot a movie in 5 minutes! I am not kidding. Just answer the
questions about George in one sentence or less.
~How old is George?
~How does George make a living?
~What does George want that he is unlikely to get?
~What does George secretly want that he is unlikely to get?
~What is George most afraid of?
~What is George secretly most afraid of?
~Now, it so happens that one day, much to George's surprise,
the very real possibility arises that he could get what he has
always wanted. How does this happen? (Again, in one sentence
~What might be an obstacle to his getting this?
~What might be yet another obstacle?
~And a third obstacle?
~Then, what happens? Does he finally get what he wants, or something
~In the end, how has George's life changed (or not changed)?
~How does George feel about this?
~What is the last image you would leave on the movie screen before
the credits roll?
Describe your neighborhood as you would expect it to appear 10
years from now.
Dog (or Cat) Name Poem"
This is an exercise in using alliteration and rhythm. (Alliteration
is the repetition of the initial sound of words, e.g., bouncing
balls, chewy chunks, slithering snakes).
The other day on my blog I posted this poem:
Dog Name Poem (To the Tin Whistle & Gamelan)
Tot, Louie, Boomer, Bridget, Bijou, Elpis, Roxy, Leader, Lucy,
Lola, Coco, Chloe, and of course--- drum-rolllll--- Picadou.
trying to say my poem is the greatest thing simply, look at the
Boomer, Bridget, Bijou
Leader, Lucy, Lola
Coco, Chloe (well, close...)
and the rhythms... (an easy way to get the feel for the rhythm
of writing is to read it aloud, but with your hand covering your
The exercise is this: Make a list of some 10-15 dog names (or
cat names or horse names, whatever you prefer) just slap down whatever
names occur to you then, rearrange the
names into a little poem using alliteration and some kind of
Here are the nanes of the characters:
Glenda; Howard; Fecky Hastings; and Asa, the old sheepdog. For
each one, in three sentences or less: when and why did each of
them begin to have trouble sleeping? How did each one cope (or
Use 2 1/2 minutes to make a list of really odd names for dogs.
Then use the remaining 2 1/2 minutes to match each name with
a type of dog; a color; and the one adjective that would best
describe its personality.
Mister Trotsky. Chihuahua. Black. Shy.
"S." said he said they said something really horrible
and it got back to... Oh boy... Who is "S."? Describe
her. Why did S. say that to him? What exactly did S. say? But
show don't tell; write the scene.
in the Kitchen Drawer?"
This is a vocabulary expanding exercise not about using new
words, but rather words you already know but seldom use. List
the objects in your kitchen drawer(s) from the spatula to
the grapefruit knife to the soup ladle.
What things are foamy? Be as specific as you can.
Your character is experiencing the beginning of (but not a full-blown)
manic episode. Describe his or her morning. Do not use the words
"manic" or bipolar." (Show don't tell.)
Desk Speaks Volumes, Possibly"
What exactly is on your desk? (Show don't tell.)
To repeat what I wrote in December 7th's exercise: "In my
experience, good beginningswhether of a short story,
novel, essay or memoir intrigue or charm the
reader within the first 3 sentences, no later. The best beginnings
suggest that something is off-balance peculiar, not quite
right ergo, something interesting is going
to happen." Today the focus is on foodanything to do with food,
perhaps shopping for it, or cooking it, eating it, sharing it
(not sharing it), saving it, hoarding it, eating it, etc."
Today's exercise is this: in five minutes, write as many beginnings
as you can that have to do with food. Write one, two, eleven,
whatever you can do. Again, by a "beginning" I mean
anything from a sentence fragment to three full sentences, but
no more than that per beginning.
the Day Off"
If you were to take today off, what would you do?
Make a list of soft things.
Sprinkling in language that reflects a character's concerns and
passions can add richness and texture to a narrative. For example,
if I have a character who loves sports, when he goes outside
to rake the leaves, I might have him "grip the rake handle
like a bat". Tthe idea of this exercise is to generate vocabulary
nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, gestures, metaphors,
etc. that would have to do with sports; then
sprinkle some into the narrative as it suits. In this exercise,
try it for music assume your character
loves a certain type of music, or teaches it or plays it, or
composes itwhat vocabulary would
be in his or her mind? Certainly things like notes, scales, perhaps
a metronome.... Make as long a list as you can in the five minutes.
Take a character from a piece you are working on
or make up a new one. Over the course of his (or her) life, what
medicines have been prescribed for him (or her) and why? Be as
specific as possible. Be sure to describe the color and shape
and size and taste etc of the medicines.
What if there were a secret tunnel underneath your house? Where
would it take you? What would it be like inside? Where would
you find the hatch?
In his Fictional International essay "To Begin, To
Begin," Clark Blaise writes: "The most interesting
thing about a story is not its climax or denouement both dated terms
nor even its style or characterization. It is its beginning,
its first paragraph, often its first sentence.... the story seeks
its beginning, the story many times is its beginning,
Opening a piece with "At least" is to open in medias
res, that is, in the middle of the action. For example:
At least the cake was white. Or:
At least they approved of the groom's gerbil.
The exercise is this: Pick one of these lines (or
one of your own, beginning with "at least") and continue
In specific detail, describe some of your characters' ears.
Here are a few cues:
Hair, moles, freckles, etc?
Placement (high, low)?
Think of one of your characters. Does he or she read the Bible
(or other holy book)? If not, why not? If so, what passages would
be of particular importance for him or her? When did you character
first come across this passage? What does it mean to him or her?
Went to McDonald's?"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Leslie Pietrzyk, a novelist who lives
in Alexandria, Virginia.
the most unlikely person living or dead, famous
or non you can think of to
be in a fast food restaurant? Okay that person just walked
into McDonald's (or choose your own fave). Why are they there
and what happens?
Why is she "always" late? What are three things she's
actually on time for? And, if you have time, describe her purse.
Delicious and Luxurious"
In his delightfully wacky Pronoia
Is the Antitode for Paranoia, Rob
"The poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is composed
of stories, not of atoms. The physicist Werner Heisenberg declared
that the universe is made of music, not of matter. And we believe
that if you habitually expose yourself to toxic stories and music,
you could wind up living in the wrong universe..."
So, to make the universe a better place, today's exercise is
to write a brief sketch perhaps the beginning
of a longer story that is delicious and
luxurious. Begin with the word "Even" and include:
an orange; a hungry baboon; a piano; an elderly man in a perfectly
Now & Then Outside"
Where you are right now:
What do you see? List three things.
What do you hear? List three sounds.
What do you smell? List three smells.
What do you taste? List at least two tastes.
What do you feel on your skin? List at three things.
Then, imagine you have moved outside nearby. Ask and answer the
for A Character"
These questions aim to help you flesh out a character
this may be a character who appears in a piece you are working
on, or perhaps a new character. Feel free to change the gender
and, if it suits, change or add to the questions.
What does he think of
~ Elton John?
~Ice-skating competitions of TV?
~His local bookstore?
~His priest / minister / rabbi (or other)?
~His local (or nearest) zoo?
~Small and nicely brushed pedigreed dogs?
~The New York Times?
Take this as your opening line:
He had the driest skin they had ever seen.
This is an exercise in generating imagery and, in a way, using
synesthesia. Synthesthesia is "a subjective sensation or
image of a sense (as of color) other than the one (as of sound)
being stimulated. (For more on synthesthesia, see Harry Smith
and Stanley Nelson's Synthesthetics/
Edges of Sound;
Robert E. Cytowic's The Man Who Tasted Shapes; and Patricia
Lynne Duffy's Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens. Note:
for writers and poets, the most useful and stimulating of the
three is Smith and Nelson's.)
~The sands of time
~Green-blue oceans of time
~the unspooling thread of time
~the gong of time
keep going... how many more can you come up with?
(Really get crazy. Think of smells, sounds, tastes, textures,
Once you've done five minutes' worth, go back and circle your
best two. Then, try to use them sometime soon in your writing.
Scene Objective (Edward's Porch)"
Power of the Actor,
Ivana Chubbuck shows actors how to use their emotions to empower
a goal. Actors identify their characters' overall objective,
as well as their scene objective. Applying this to writing, assume
your character is "Pam"; her overall objective is to
prove that she is a really nice person; her scene objective is
to make friends with "Edward," her new neighbor, who
is blind and has a very difficult personality. The scene takes
place on Edward's porch.
Fred turns on the hot water to fill his bathtub. Joan calls;
she tells him something so shocking, he forgets that he left
the tap running. What did Joan tell Fred? What happens?