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

C.M. Mayo < For Writers <


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May 1 "May Day: Make It Rhyme on a Dime"
The aim of this exercise is to play with rhyme. Feel free to make use of
www.rhymer.com, or a rhyming dictionary if you happen to have access to one. If you feel too silly to do this exercise, then make one of your fictional characters be an avid writer of doggerel. What little rhyming poem can you come up with in five minutes?

May 2 "The Morning After the Party"
Describe an apartment the morning after a party.

May 3 "Suitcase"
How does your character pack his or her suitcase? What's in it? And what does the suitcase look like?

May 4 "Rain of Rubber Chickens"
Fred pulled down the hatch to the attic; down came a rain of rubber chickens. Write on.

May 5 "Five Ingredients"
Write something
anythingthat includes the following five words/ phrases:
~When the servant entered with the soup
~show him the way
~dead flies

May 6 "Five Words"
We all know far more words than we actually use in our writing. Today's exercise is inspired by poet
Deborah Ager's 5/5/06 entry in her blog, "32 Poems," "Create What You Don't Know": She wrote:
"The other night, I sat down to write. I took a glass of water into my study
with its orange walls glowing pink due to a sunset streaming through the western window and sat down at my desk. I'd recently RE-found my writing notebook and was pleased to find some notes I'd taken on various poems. I wasn't sure what I wanted to write. I decided to incorporate five words I've never used before in a poem. To do this, I quickly scanned the pages of a book I'm reading and came up with "true," "rice," "anecdote," "beam," and "gentle."
What are five words you know but have never used in your writing? Pick up whatever newspaper or book is handy and see what you can find. You may need the whole five minutes just to find these five words. That's OK.

May 7 "Elmer's Tooth Fairy"
What did the tooth fairy bring? (Which tooth was it?) Then what happens?

May 8 "Ten Places, Ten Sounds"
For Proust, the scent of a madelein evoked an entire novel. In this exercise, think "sounds." First, list ten places. (Any places will do: your living room, the Tiki Room, whatever pops into your head). After you have listed those ten places, for each one, list the first sound that comes to mind. Once you have all ten places and all ten sounds, circle the pair that you find most intriguing, then start writing.

May 9 "Cliche Conversation"
Using cliches is generally not a good idea, however, why not have a character who uses cliches? Two characters are arguing about where to go for dinner. One spews cliches. The other... ?
(If you need a few cliches, here's a little menu:
a fine kettle of fish
mad as a wet hen
a marriage made in heaven
beat around the bush
talk in circles
set your teeth on edge
uphill battle
go off half-cocked
hell in a handbasket
talk your ear off
kill two birds with one stone
a whole new ballgame
wet blanket
have your cake and eat it too

May 10 "Addicted to TV"
The old saw in creative writing workshops is "show, don't tell." So, without mentioning the words "TV" or "addiction"
in other words, without "telling," show with specific detail that your character is addicted to TV.

May 11 "Cracked"
Something suddenly cracked. What was it? What happened?

May 12
"Dry Leaves and Humbug"
Write something
anything that includes "dry leaves" and the word "humbug."

May 13 "Jacket Lust"
Our clothing serves as a kind of mirror that shows us who we are. It also serves as a potent signal to others about status and values. Write this brief scene using dialogue: in the shopping mall, Diane sees the jacket of her dreams; Frankie is repulsed.

May 14 "Barrel, Mirror, Telephone"
In three sentences or less describe the barrel. In three sentences or less describe the mirror. Where is the telephone? Describe what happens.

May 15 "Breads"
Make a list of all the breads you can think of: Wonderbread, bagels, pita bread, etc etc etc. Then, next to each one note the color, the texture, the flavor, and the smell.

May 16 "Tough Grandma"
This an exercise to help make a character more vivid. In what ways is "Grandma" "tough?" Make a list; be as specific as you can. Then, once you have finished, go back and circle the three best items on that list.

May 17 "With the Wedding Planner"
Betty's Mom, who has big ideas, meets with the wedding planner: write the scene with (all or mostly) dialogue. Keep in mind that the best dialogue usually shows character, mood, relationship and/or conflict.

May 18 "The Character's Car: Inside & Out"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Katherine Min, a fiction writer who lives in New Hampshire.
Take one or two of the following characters and describe in specific detail what their car would look like, inside and out. Try to avoid stereotypes. The trick is to create a deep sense of character by describing only
their car.
a) an unsuccessful painter
b) a rock musician who will soon get famous
c) a high school senior about to flunk out
d) a gym teacher with an attitude
e) a Christian fundamentalist who works at a Walmart
f) a nun
g) a businessman with a serious drug addiction
h) a gay but closeted construction worker
i) a yo-yo dieter
j) a paranoid schizophrenic
k) a cleaning woman who just won the lottery
l) a former Enron executive who has just been
sentenced to hard time

May 19 "A Body of Water"
Imagine a body of water. This might be a lake or a pond or a rushing river— it can be anything. What do you see in your mind? Describe this body of water in detail—detail that addresses all of the senses. What colors do you see? Lights and shadows? Sounds? Smells? Textures? How does it feel on your skin? What is in it, near it, above it? In the remaining minute, jot down the feelings this body of water evokes—either in you or in a character.

May 20 "Not Enough"
The Tao Te Ching says, "To know you have enough is to be rich." What does your character not have enough of? Make a list.

May 21 "Red, Yellow, Blue & More"
This exercise is to strengthen your ability to visualize colors and objects. Name a red object, for example, "red wagon" or "a cherry." Name a yellow object. Name a blue object. Go through all the following colors: lavender, orange, pink, brown, black, white, turquoise, silver, gold, purple, orange, raspberry, magenta, green, and then add at least three more colors of three more objects.

May 22 "Time Elasticity"
List 10 situations / activities that make time go slow (e.g., sitting in a dentist's chair). Then list 10 situations / activities that make time speed up. Once you have your lists, go back and circle the slowest and the fastest. See if sometime today or soon you can use these in your writing.

May 23 "Foyer"
Make a brief list of adjectives and nouns to describe each the following foyers:
~of an elderly society lady;
~of a college football player;
~of a convention center;
~of a funky city bookstore specializing in poetry;
~of a model condominium unit being marketed to hip yuppies.

Here's an example:
~foyer of a young painter:
bright; yellow paint splashes; shiny; inflatable cherry red rhinocerous; dirty old tennis shoes; dog's tennis ball; smell of turpentine

May 24 "Chocolate Cake"
Do this exercise either for yourself or for a character: What memories does "chocolate cake" evoke?

May 25 "Wobbly"
Make a list of things that are wobbly.

May 26 "After"
Write the first few sentences of a story that begins thus:
After she lost 300 pounds,

May 27 "Before"
Write the first few sentences of a story that beguns thus:
Before he gained 200 pounds,

May 28 "First House"
Your first house (or apartment): what do you remember about? Feel free to do this exercise either for yourself or for a fictional character.)

May 29 "Accidents"
What is the worst accident you have ever had? The most recent? The silliest? The srangest? The most painful? The most embarrassing? (This can be done for yourself or for a fictional character.)

May 30 "Doris & Ted"
Doris just got fired because, as the manager, Ted, told everyone else in the restaurant, she is the world's most incompetent waitress. Ted now tries to convince Doris that it's really for the best. Write the scene in dialogue. (Hint: the most effective dialogue usually shows character, mood, relationship and/or conflict.)

May 31 "What's On Your Desk?"
What is on your desk? Be as specific as possible. Really push, making as list of even the things you do not have a word for (check out a visual dictionary if you can).

April < >| June

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