Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

C.M. Mayo < For Writers <


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August 1 "Birthday Cake, etc"
Write a brief scene that includes: a red sneaker; a birthday cake; a giraffe; the smell of paint and cigarettes.

August 2 "Three Jackets, Three Men & a Joke"
Describe three jackets. Describe the three men who are wearing them. One man tells a joke. How do the other two react?

August 3 "The Big Three"
Quick list the three biggest things you are procrastinating on. How does each one feel to you? Make a simile. (For example, I am procrastinating on writing my will. Simile: It feels to me like a giant boulder covered in velcro.)

August 4 "When in Rome"
Do as the Romans do: speak Italian. Have your characters, who are arguing about something (whatever you like) use some or all of the following words and phrases:
Dove? (Where?)
Buona notte (Good night)
Ha un gelato? (Have you any ice-cream?)
una crema de barba (shaving cream)
E compreso il servizio? (Is service included?)
E sulla strada sbagliata (You're on the wrong road)

August 5 "Class Envy"
Your character hates rich people. Give him 3-4 lines of really nasty dialogue. Then, in two sentences or less, identify the specific source of his feelings.

August 6 "Scratchy Things"
Make a list of scratchy things.

August 7 "Wrong House"
It was the wrong house.
Use this as your opening line and start writing.

August 8 "Books, Books, Books"
Schopenhauer said, "Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in". Use this an your opening line, and start writing.

August 9 "Elephant Ride"
Your character takes a ride on an elephant. Write the scene.

August 10 "Boy, Pool, Dive"
Describe a boy. Describe a pool. Describe the way he dives into the pool.

August 11 "The Control Freak, the Liar & the Narcissist"
Three characters, all members of the same family, sit down to dinner. Show by the things they say to one another that one is a control freak, one a liar, and one a narcissist.

August 12 "Bread"
Describe, as sensuously as possible, the most delicious bread.

August 13 "Cardboard Box"
Describe the cardboard box. Describe what was in it. What happened to the box?

August 14 "Musical Chairs"
Describe a game of musical chairs.

August 15 "Yellow Bird"
Describe the yellow bird. What did the yellow bird do? What did he say about it? What did she say about it? Then what happened?

August 16 "Aftermath of the Pizza Party"
Your character comes in to the aftermath of a pizza party. Describe. (Hint: show don't tell.)

August 17 "In a House the Size of Closet That's Big Enough"
He wants to move; she doesn't. Write the dialogue.

August 18 "Ch-ch-ch"
Chisel, chunk, chew, Chicago
make a list of words that begin with "ch". Stay with this one for the full five minutes if you can.

August 19 "10 Amusing Things"
Make a list of 10 things that recently, or not so recently, made you laugh.

August 20 "Permutation Exercise"
From Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady:
She was a neat, plump person, of medium stature, with a round face, a small mouth, a delicate complexion, a bunch of light brown ringlets at the back of her head and a peculiarly open, surprised-looking eye.
What I think of as a "permutation exercise" is to keep the syntax but vary nouns, adjectives, and/or imagery, etc. For example:
He was an imposing, bony person, of gigantic stature, with a squarish lantern of a face, teeth like disarranged pegs, a moon-white complexion, not a single hair on his well-oiled head and a peculiarly intelligent half-lidded stare.
Do as many permutations as you can in five minutes. When you've finished, circle the one you like best.

August 21 "Another Permutation Exercise"
Here's another permutation exercise, this one also from Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady:
Isabel wondered, as she had wondered the first time, if her remarkable kinswoman resembled more a queen-regent or the matron of a gaol.
What I think of as a "permutation exercise" is to keep the syntax but vary nouns, adjectives, and/or imagery, etc. For example:
Betsy wondered, as she wondered the last time, if her strange neighbor resembled more a clown on his day off or a pothead.
Do as many permutations as you can in five minutes. When you've finished, circle the one you like best.

August 22 "Yet Another"
I've been fixated on permutation exercises the last few days. Here's another, also from Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady:
Madam Merle was a tall, fair, smooth woman; everything about her person was round and replete, though without the accumulations which suggest heaviness. Her features were thick but in perfect proportion and harmony, and her complexion had a healthy clearness. Her grey eyes were small but full of light and incapable of stupidity...
What I think of as a "permutation exercise" is to keep the syntax but vary nouns, adjectives, and/or imagery, etc. For example:
Mr Jost was a short, pale, rough old man; everything about him was rough, though without, strange to say, a single scar. His features were the perfection of a Roman coin, though his complexion was unhealthy. His black eyes were large and heavily lidded and incapable of laughter...
Do as many permutations as you can in five minutes. When you've finished, circle the one you like best.

August 23 "Hallway; Office; Storeroom"
Describe a walk down a hallway. Describe an office. Describe the storeroom.

August 24 "Facial Expression"
Animator Mark Simon's book
Facial Expressions: A Visual Reference for Artists offers 3,000 photos with 50 different models. A few of these photos are on his webpage: scroll down to the first example, which shows model Tina Pinto making a variety of facial expressions. Use the first one as your writing prompt. Your fictional character is making that same exact facial expession. What's the story?

August 25 "Bed & Breakfast"
For a dozen different characters:
What does he/ she wear to bed?
What does he/ she eat for breakfast?
When you're finished, circle the two that strike you as the most interesting to write about.

August 26 "Ben & Ned in the Gas Station"
One the things I most admire about Henry James's novel The Portrait of a Lady is the vivid and very effective way he uses body language. For example:

"I'm not bound to accept your theories as to whom my daughter loves"
and Osmond looked up with a quick, cold smile.
"I'm not theorizing. Your daughter has spoken."
"Not to me," Osmond continued,
now bending forward a little and dropping his eyes to his boot-toes.

The exercise is this: two characters, say, Ben and Ned, are in a gas station arguing about who should pay. Write the dialogue, and be sure to insert some body language that shows Ben and/or Ned's mood and/or character and/or relationshp.

August 27 "Language Overlay: Pirates"
Sprinking in language that reflects a character's concerns and passions gives richness and texture to a narrative. For example, if I have a character who loves to cook, when he gets mad, I might say, "his feelings
came to a boil." Or, "his hand sliced the air like a knife." Maybe he would have a Balsamic vinegar stain on his shirt, or, a pantry full of exotic spices and expensive dried mushrooms (Chanterelles, Porcini, Shitaki)... Maybe I'd write a scene where he's just received a Sur la Table catalog; he's slowly leafing through it, snipping out certain items (the Pasta maker, the $599 Capuccino maker) as he would snip grapes...
Now suppose your character is a pirate or, perhaps, a little kid who loves pirate movies. The idea of this exercise is to generate vocabulary
nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, gestures, metaphors, etc, that would have to do with or suggest pirates. This is just about making a list, coming up with a rich store that you might draw from later. Make as long a list as you can in the five minutes.

August 28 "Phone Call"
The phone rings in the middle of the night. Who is it? What do they want? In what way does this change everything?

August 29 "Bizarre Accidents"
Make a list of bizarre accidents. When you've finished the five minutes, circle the three that are most bizarre.

August 30 "The Steak Was Perfection"
Take this title as your first line and write on.

August 31 "Stamps, Pins, Clips"
What did Stan do with the stamps, pins and clips?
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