Saturday, February 12, 2011

I'm finally willing to admit it. I was wrong.

I'm finding with many of these exercises, they're as much about stretching my mind creatively as they are mini therapy sessions. They seem to be releasing a lot of emotions I must have buried deep down, a long with the memories.
Professional writers must be emotionally advanced.

So, for today's exercise, it's time to lay it all out on the table, and admit we were wrong.
I know it can be difficult, I myself am never wrong.
On an unrelated note, my husband has a habit of apologizing.

So, this exercise came about while I was skulking around the book store on my lunch break, scouting out some interesting exercises. I came across a really great, although fairly expensive book called "The making of a Story" by Alice LePlante. I think I'll be asking for this on my next birthday.
There are some excellent exercises in there, so I got out my little notebook and jotted some down.

Here's the first one that caught my eye.
It has to do with not forcing epiphanies in characters...which can be a common mistake. How does your character do a complete "about face" with something they feel so passionately about?
Here's a way to approach it.

1. Describe a time when you knew you were right, like every cell in your body was saying yes.
2. then describe the moment that lead up to the epiphany that you were actually wrong like the "suddenly I realized" moment.
3. Then talk about the event from the "morning after" perspective.

Here it goes, I'm going to dredge up some real memories, and perhaps embellish it a little.
You can also try this with characters you're working on, it doesn't have to be personal.

I wear the bright green wool sweater with the buttons that go all the way down. Anyone else would have mocked it. But I know he'll touch the thick fabric gently and rub it back and forth with his fingers. He can't help himself. He'll touch my arm with his fingers.
I've already seen it all in my head. When he answers the door and says "That shirt's wild" the blood rushes, and all I can hear is the ocean.
A crooked smile lights up his faded blue eyes, as he pushes a loose strand of hair behind his ear.
I can't speak, I need to hold onto the wall as I take off my shoes.
Later in the basement, we sit on the damp sinking-in grey couch. Elbow to elbow. Balancing a plate of samosas between us. Knees touching.
I've never seen Purple Rain, and I hate Prince, but I'd eat kibble if he wants me to, shelving all of the stubborn opinions I've collected over the years. I'm just happy to hear him talk in a low vibrato. His chuckle. The way he pushes up his glasses. His perfectly pink cheeks that flush when he gets excited.
I can't imagine that anything else has ever been or will ever be this captivating. I don't even taste the samosa, which is a shame, since I love samosas. Can't recall chewing it. though I realize I've eaten it when we put down the plate.
I'm staring at his perfectly curved ear, wondering if his hand will make its way over. Wondering how much more I can slink down into the couch, without being too obvious.
Or whether I should ask for a guitar lesson, just so he can place his fingers over mine.

He doesn't want to talk on the phone again. He wants to see me, and insists on the diner. I make an excuse and get there before he does.
My clammy hands can barely grip the handle of the mug full of hot tea. Peppermint to ease my knotted stomach.
He hovers near my side of the table for a moment as he comes in, hesitates and sits down opposite, bringing with him the smell of wet wool. His camel colored coat drips, glasses foggy.
I twirl the ring on my finger, the one that's not from him, but I want it to be.
He brings me a mixed-tape full of Prince and Paul MacCartney ( Wings) . We are the only two people still living in the past. Worshiping dead idols, and ideas.
He grasps at my hands, fingers intertwined.
I pull away when the waitress comes.
Peppermint tea, he orders. I sigh, and feel it deep in my stomach, this pain I know won't go away.
I want to climb into the seat next to him and hug him so badly, but this is my neighbourhood, not his, and people know me. They might see.
He orders fries, and talks about his philosophy course. He doesn't care about this ludicris situation, he's moved above it.
While I'm caught in the midst of it, feeling it in my gut as I sink deeper, the quicksand approaching my lungs.
I sit, asphixiated, unable to move, while he chatters on.
He doesn't ask the obvious. The thing he wants to know, but doesn't really. Am I done with him?
And I don't want to talk about it. I can't tell him no.

His eyes were defeated. I could tell from the other side of the phone.
They were droopy. I could hear the trembling in his voice. He was breaking.
I was already broken, and spreading my venom. He didn't deserve it.
I never meant to say those things.
The emailing was not a good idea.
Such a cold disjointed dialogue did not belong in the midst of our passion. Emotions running wild, and the tears streaming down onto the keyboard.

I hung up the phone, just like that, while he was mid sentence.
I couldn't listen to it anymore. His heart breaking like that, and bleeding all over me.
I was backpeddling fast, and he knew it, so he tried to cling to me as hard as he could.
But I flung him right back.
And then there it was, in the inbox.
Staring at me. I couldn't look away, I had to open it.
He was right, I knew he was, I was a coward. I wasn't strong enough to say yes to him.
So instead, I shot myself point blank, and wondered why I was in pain.
I can't even recall what it was that I wrote.
But I know it was mean. I know It was blistering. I know it hurt him, like he hurt me for having the audacity to love me, without so much as a kiss.
I know I'll regret this, wish I could have handled him with some tact, some grace.
But I can't summon the strength. I'm all tapped out.
He's dried me up of longing, and now it's just the ugly vulture-cleaned bare bones.

I think that one worked quite can see how the progression takes your character through the changing mindset. It's also a nice way of letting the reader imagine the actual blow out---or the actual epiphany, without having to write about it. Because, really, that might not be necessary to write about at all.
Happy writing!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Going Home Again

'Writing Fiction' by Janet Burroway has been the best book I’ve come across so far to help me out of a slump. It’s a text book that has lots of great exercises as well as explanations of how to get things going, beyond talking about metaphors.

One of the her exercises suggesting sketching out the floor plan of a house you lived in, mark X’s on spots of significance and then write out a tour of the house.


The picture is tinted green on the luggage tag, of the little white lopsided house with the red trim, the second from the end.

It looks so cute, I want to pat it on the head.

Two trees in the front, one bushy with pine cones, the other a large maple, I think, with a swing. But the swing wasn’t there until I was older.

The maple tree has a crook in perfect for climbing, and then sitting. Sitting mostly. With my back against one limb, a book balanced on the other.

But you need a ladder to get up there.

We don’t have a ladder so I get a couple of wobbly chairs and hope they don’t fall over.

No one asks where I am. I want them to wonder. But I stay up there for hours, picking sticky sap off the tips of my fingers.

Watching the tops of people’s heads....curly like a poodle. Shiny pink skull through thin strips of hair. Big ears.

It’s a luxury I never knew about before. Not even coming up to a grown-ups shoulder.

The old man down the street in the house with the crazy Christmas decorations walks by slowly wearing a hat. A gray one that looks old fashioned, like in old movies.

His cane clicks before he steps. He stops under the tree, and looks back down the block. He’s looking for someone, and I don’t know why it makes me sad.

He can’t see me, but I can see him. I hold my breath and concentrate on his grey hat. I’m in the tree. Look up. Come on, look up. I’m up here.

But he keeps shuffling down the street. I feel sad for the old man, waiting for someone, walking by himself. But he’s not alone, while I’m up here watching over him.


From the branches I can see the grey cold stone steps, one- two-three-four. Standing at the top, first day of school. Four years old, one sock lower than the other.

I’m squinting into the sunlight. I don’t like the camera. It’s proof that this is something, when I just want it to be another day.

But I have a brand new yellow backpack. I don’t know what it’s for, but I have to have it. I also have new sneakers, white ones with a pink trim. I’m going to have to play with kids I don’t know.

Mom’s mouth is determined as she takes the picture. She’s nervous. She wants me to look nice. I’m in a skirt. I only wear skirts to church or grandma and grandpa’s. She brushed my hair and put in a barrette. A little red circular one. I get to pick it out. But I don’t get to pick out my clothes. The collar is tight. Too many buttons that I can’t undo on my own. Up to my throat.

Stop fidgeting, she says, probably, from the bottom of the steps. Say cheese.

but I don’t. I don’t like saying cheese sometimes. When mom doesn’t look happy. I know something’s coming that I’m not going to like. I can feel it like butterflies in my stomach.

I just look stunned, disoriented, and not at all impressed.



The carpet in the living room is going to have to go. That’s what mom says to dad. It's beige. I like the scratchy feeling on my legs. I like to run my hands through it. But I’m only allowed after mom vacuums.

The first time I meet the carpet there’s no furniture. It’s still in the other house across the street.

But this is an important day. It’s the first day we have our new house. The new house looks exactly like the old one. But this one is different. This one is all ours, we no longer have a land lord.

We are eating MacDonalds on the carpet, and I have a fish fillet.

We never eat MacDonalds and we never eat on the floor, not at the table, not even on a chair or anything.

Mom puts a blanket down so it’s like a picnic. But I think picnics are supposed to happen outside. So this is a warm picnic. Dad and mom are laughing above the crinkling of the wrappers on the floor.

Hilary is picking the onions off her burger.

Dora doesn’t get MacDonalds. She’s only a baby.

I know this means things are going to be different.


Downstairs is the pull-out couch, peach coloured, it’s still intact. There are no pen marks yet. We never should have got a light coloured couch, but it was on sale.

Every Friday night we get to sleep on the pull out.

We have supper and mom takes the cushions off, puts on sheets, and Hilary and I put on our pyjamas and get under the covers up to our necks. She wants the wall side....and I let her because I’ll get it next time.

Friday is the best night because Full House is on, and we’re allowed to watch it in bed. But then we have to go to sleep. Right to sleep.

Full house is just like our house, kind of. We have a little sister too, but she doesn’t say silly things or put her thumbs up. She’s mostly annoying, especially when she cries. So that’s why she’s not allowed at these sleep overs.

When the show is over the lights go off, and we aren’t supposed to talk, but we’re in the basement, so they can’t hear us talking. They’ll never know. Especially when we do it with our pillows smooshed against our faces.

Whispers under the sheets. One--two--three--four--five, okay, now close your eyes and pretend to sleep.

Are you asleep? Me neither.

Seven thirty is so early.

Let’s sleep back to back so we know each other’s there. Like we’re not just sleeping alone. So even when I close my eyes, I know you’re there and we’re in the basement on the pull-out.

I feel like I could go on forever with this one, there are so many memories, I think this exercise has real potential for the backbone of a short story. However, these particular memories are not exactly riveting. I'd have to expand on them, embellish, or make them up all together. But they're a good jumping-off point. One thing that Janet Burroway stresses is the fact that the truth is usually boring...describing things exactly as they are, without any drama or conflict doesn't make things leap off the page. That's why fiction is so much more riveting. There are kernels of truth, or "truthiness" to quote Stephen Colbert...and you just have to make it better.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lesson One: Keep it Simple

So, let's start with something easy. A warm up exercise.
Many websites suggest sitting for five or ten minutes and writing everything and anything that comes to mind.
It doesn't matter if it doesn't makes sense, or it's complete rubbish.
This is not an exercise in writing something amazing, it's a cleanse, to get things moving.
So, I will set the oven timer for 10 minutes, and we'll see what comes out.

I dreamt it against last night, that I had a child. Actually it was two children.
A little blond one laughs in her high chair. It's like an audition. She isn't mine yet. She looks like she could be my own flesh and blood, resembling the children in my family.
She is surrounded by people, though I know she doesn't have parents. She needs me. Her little face makes me feel strange, maternal, this deep longing to hold her is taking over. But I never do hold her.
I have a black child as well, she has two braids. I don't know where she comes from, she is just there.
Each one holds my hand, their tiny fingers wrapped in mine. One on each side. They are about two or three.
The first place we go is the mall. I navigate us through the streams of people. They have to go to the bathroom, though they don't say this out loud. They don't speak at all. I just know.
I begin searching for a stall for them, while other women do the same.
Then I notice they look panicked. So I look around and see the floor is covered in three inches of water. The toilets are overflowing. All of them. I look at my feet and see I'm in flip flops. Blue ones with sparkles.
The children are in dresses and little white shoes. They don't seem to be getting wet. No longer holding my hands, they just stand there, staring at me. I don't pick them up. I am so disgusted by this predicament and my bare feet that I can't think of anything else. There are things floating around me. I don't look closely, because I don't want to know what they are, though I have a suspicion it's not good. I look back at the girls. They are motionless, emotionless, staring at me.
I look at each stall, and see they're all plugged with toilet paper and shrimp like creatures floating. I think I'm going to throw up. The search is fruitless, yet I continue.
Other mothers are more frantic. I seem to be good at hiding my outrage. The children don't cry or react to this disgusting mess we're in.

Ten minutes is up already. Wow, that goes really fast.
It feels good to write, even if it's just a stupid dream I had. I highly recommend trying this.
It's like warming up the car before you drive her on a freezing cold morning, when she's been there all night.
You wouldn't just get in and turn the ignition and turn on the heat, let her warm up, scrape off the windshield.