In San Francisco there was a townhouse with second story picture
window the living room, apparently completely
filled by a giant golden Buddha. This seated Buddha, which must
have been at least six feet high, faced out, serenely overlooking
the marina. The exercise is this: Robert has been invited for
cocktails. He enters this living room from the hallway. From
Robert's point of view, this large statue blocks what must be
a magnificent view. What does he think about that? Write the
scene, and include some dialogue with the host and Robert's unspoken
Your character is an obsessive compulsive. Describe his or her
morning. Do not use the words "obsessive compulsive."
(Show don't tell.)
Mom at Five"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Leslie Pietrzyk, a novelist and short
short story writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
you are your mother. You're five years old. What are you seeing
/ thinking / doing?
"They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses."
Take this as the first line of your story and start writing.
List 15 names (e.g., Lisa, Jane, Humbert, etc.)
For each name, assign one piece of jewlery (e.g., pearls, wedding
Then for each assign an adjective (e.g., enthusiastic)
You will then have 15 sets, e.g.,
Jane, wedding ring, enthusiastic
John, class ring, doubtful
After you do 15 sets, circle the one you find least interesting.
Then circle the one you find most amusing.
This is an exercise to explore the pure sound and rhythm of language.
Ideally, the music of language reenforces its meaning. You are
of Gob!bledyghuk, which you speak perfectly. Your task is to
translate the following lines.
I was told in New York, was so slow that it was safe for people
to fall out windows they just wafted down
"There he is, in all his glory, Brad Pitt, that beautiful,
chisled chunk of celebrity manhood."**
"Mrs Tittlemouse was a most terrible tidy particular little
mouse, always sweeping and dusting the soft sandy floors. Sometimes
a beetle lost its way in the passages. "Shuh! Shuh! Little
dirty feet!" said Mrs Tittlemouse, clattering her dust-pan.***
P. Gibbs, People of Destiny
**Desson Howe, The Washington Post 10/1999
*** Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse
Make a quick list of the major items in a typical house that
might need professional repair or service everything from the
piano to the dishwasher. (Take no more than 2 minutes)
Then, next to each item, jot down one or two things that could
go wrong / get broken etc. (e.g., loud clanging noise; dishes
come out dirty)
Then using no more than 5 words (that's right, only five words),
describe each repair or service person who would come to the
Today's exercise is courtesy of Sheila Bender, a poet and writer and
on-line writing magazine editor.
about a time you met someone now significant in your life.
& Sandra Make Salad"
Lulu and Sandra are sisters. Lulu is jealous of Sandra. Sandra
thinks Lulu is bossy. They are in Lulu's kitchen preparing a
salad. Write the scene with dialogue.
& Saul Bake a Cake"
Larry and Saul are elderly brothers. Larry is jealous of Saul.
Saul thinks Larry is full of himself. They are in Larry's kitchen
making a cake. Write the scene with dialogue.
Is Backing Out..."
Grandpa should not be driving. But no one dares to hide the car
keys. What happens this time? Write the scene.
Vuh: Seven Random Bits"
I just pulled the Popol Vuh off the shelf and found these
seven random bits:
~And they remembered what had been said about the East.
~corn with fish
What can you write in five minutes that incorporates all of these?
for a Stranger on February 14"
Today's exercise was inspired by an essay published yesterday
in the Washington Post, by Canadian novelist Margaret
Atwood. She wrote, "writing, like sewing, was always for
someone, even if that someone was yourself in the future. Writing
was a way of sending your voice to someone you might never meet."
Imagine that tomorrow a stranger will pick up the scrap of paper
on which you have written the following words:
(Note: this exercise is especially fun if you really do leave
the scrap of paper somewhere for someone to find it
perhaps on a park bench or in an elevator.)
Valentine's Day Massacre"
This is a plot-generating exercise.
(1) List 5 small gestures Bob makes that show he loves his wife,
Betty. (For example, he might do the dishes; he might buy her
(2) List 5 actions by which Betty reveals that she no longer
loves Bob (For example, she might not pick up the phone when
she's sees the caller ID that shows it's him; she might travel
on business when she doesn't need to, etc.)
(3) List 3 ways Betty could kill Bob.
(4) In three words no more
describe Betty's secret boyfriend, Jeb.
(5) Where did Betty meet Jeb?
(6) Finally, in what way is Jeb a suprising character? Answer
in only 2 adjectives.
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 "Shelly"; her overall objective is
to get married; her scene objective is to get "Kyle"
whom she has just met, say, in a coffee shop, to ask her on a
date. Write the scene from Shelly's point of view.
With specific detail that appeals to all the senses
sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell describe falling snow.
Weather in the City"
With specific detail that appeals to all the senses
sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell describe windy weather
on a city street.
February 18 "Your
Best Friend is a Mirror"
Make this old saying your first line and start writing.
Make a list of 10 unwanted gifts. Then circle the one you find
most intriguing. Describe it. Start writing.
This is an exercise in plotting. Assume you are writing a children's
story. Zizi and Zulie are miniature dachshunds. One day they
dig their way under the fence and escape into the next door neighbor's
garden. The neighbor is a very lonely old lady. She takes Zizi
and Zulie into her kitchen and feeds them and pets them. All
afternoon they watch TV together. But then, when Zizi and Zulie's
owners return home from work, the neighbor cannot bring herself
to return the dogs. What happens? In outline form, plot the rest
of the story.
You (or your fictional character) are suddenly extremely famous.
In what ways does your (or your character's) life change?
This is an exercise about generating specific sensory detail.
On a typical flight, what are:
5 things you might see; 5 things you might smell; 5 things you
5 things you might hear; and 5 things you might taste?
and Helen: The Beachfront Condo"
This is a dialogue exercise. Hank and Helen are married. Hank
is a pessimist. Helen is an optimist. They discuss whether or
not to buy a beachfront condo.
Joyce, and Larry"
In no more 10 words for each, sketch the characters named Jamilla,
Joyce and Larry. Once you've done that, answer these question
quickly (without thinking): where are they? And what do they
want from one another?
Ironic Fortune Cookie"
The fortune in the fortune cookie read: "Elegant surroundings
will soon be yours." This turned out to be ironic. How so?
Your character is an adult who has never before seen or experienced
winter. He (or she) arrives in a large midwestern city today.
Describe his or her journey into the city.
into the Cellar"
The ancient door creaked open and from the darkness she caught
of a whiff of something like old apples. She pulled the string
to the lightbulb; the stairwell remained dark. "Bulb's dead,"
Terrible. So Awful."
I was in the women's locker room at my health club when I overheard
this scrap of dialogue:
A: "Therapists, what they charge"
B: "Horrible, that's why I quit."
A: "So terrible."
B: "So awful."
I love the shape of this, the way the women echo the sounds and
rhythms of each other's words. Notice the rhyme of "horrible"
and then "terrible"; the repetition of "So"
("So terrible; "So awful.") Another interesting
aspect is B's interruption of A.
Here's the exercise: take this dialogue; add some names, descriptions,
gestures, etc., and flesh out the scene. You might change "therapists"
to "dentists" or, say, "contractors" or "piano
teachers" what have you.
on February 29th"
Use this as your opening line:
I was born on February 29th.