Thursday, July 28, 2011

I am a camera

So, I decided to pick up my "Making of a story" book again, by Alice LaPlante. I'm working my way through very slowly. This exercise peaked my interest because of the simplicity of it, but the necessity.
When I was younger I used to write long descriptive paragraphs about people I saw here and there in coffee shops, restaurants, on the bus. Somewhere along the way I fell out of habit of doing this, but now I realize I should actually be doing it more often.
Many other writers I'm sure have the same natural instinct. It's a response to my environment. Sometimes I prefer to observe rather than interact.
It's also a very natural thing as a reporter to do.
As my old J-school prof. Rick MacLean is fond of saying, "Show me, don't tell me".
And as it turns out, this kind of writing can help you creatively...getting into the practice of really looking at details. In this exercise, you act as a camera, simply recording everything you see on a walk, or a daily routine. It can be as long or short as you want.
The trick is to not interpret anything, just to lay it all out there. Well, here it goes.

The old man leans against the church wall, smokes and stares as my car pulls out of the driveway. The girl in the tights doesn’t look to see if there is anyone coming, just walks across the street in front of me.
Someone decides to pull out of a parking spot on my left. I break.
An old man walks slowly across the four-way stop.
Then a young woman with stringy hair and a quick step.
The light is red by the time I arrive at it. I check both ways to make sure no one runs the green.
Getting a paper at the Petro Canada the girl at the cash looks tired. She doesn’t know the code for the West Prince paper. No one ever buys it.
This is the third time I’m here this week. She doesn’t seem as though she’s noticed. Back in the car, construction on Prince. Again. This time a stop sign, so I have to go down a side street.
Four cars are in the parking lot when I arrive.
The building is cold for July. I’m glad I have a sweater. Nod hello in the hallway. The fluorescent light flickers and goes out.
Hello and keep walking. Drop my lunch in the fridge. Walk up the hallway. The carpet still looks new and unstained.
I can see Julie’s head at as I reach the bottom of the stairs, and take them quickly. My brown chair is there waiting. Everything looks the same. My neon sticky reminder notes. No pen in sight. Notebook half open. Notes cover the desk from the day before. Exactly as I left it. I put down my sweater and turn on the computer.

As a first crack at it, it's not bad. However, here I'm just going off of memory of my morning drive. Ideally, next time I do this, I will take my pen and paper with me, and write as I walk. That way I can be more detailed oriented. As you can see, I don't have a lot of details in this piece.
It's amazing how much can be said without interpretation, except from the reader's perspective. You form judgements without even realizing it.
Happy writing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I don't know why I remember....

So I finally buckled down and bought "The making of a story" a Norton guide to Creative writing. I highly recommend it. Now I'm going to try out some of the many exercises inside.
They start with the individual, and personal stories, which I like. No better way to start than with yourself.
So, the first one is to evoke some emotion that steers away from sentimentality. All you have to do is conjure up a memory that doesn't have to deal with life or death, or some really significant thing in your life...then start with the sentence " I don't know why I remember, but...."
Write the little story. It can just end, it doesn't have to be anything amazing, just a strange something you recall from your youth....

Here's mine:

I don’t know why I remember the exact pattern of the dress I wore that day, the day I was taken to see a movie on a big screen with my older cousin, whom I wished was my brother, and that way we could live together.

We are also taking Margaret, who sometimes came over and is usually bossy. She wants to be my cousin’s favourite.

I stand at the door of the house. Mom looks me over and smiles.

I am four years old. I have never seen a movie on a big screen before with lots of other people all at the same time.

I look down at my dress, it’s black with little red and yellow flowers on it. I twirl. My aunt comes to the door. It’s time to go. I said goodbye to mom.

I will be a big girl.

We stop off at Margaret’s house. She’s coming too. Only the big kids. No little babies allowed, like my little sister, and hers.

Margaret is eating perogies with paprika. We have to wait. I stare at the wallpaper. It has yellow teacups on it.

My aunt is restless. We are going to be late. She should have already eaten. But she hasn’t.

I sit down and watch her eat.

Had I eaten? I’m asked.

Of course.

We aren’t late after all.

Once we arrive at the theatre, I sink into the seat and don’t move. I can barely see over the heads in front of me.

I sit completely still, afraid I will miss something in the movie. I’ve never seen it before. Sleeping Beauty.

The colours are so bright, brighter than the T.V at home which mostly looks like snow scattered across the screen.

She’s singing, the princess. Her skin is so perfect.

When it comes to the part with the evil queen I’m not scared. Mom told me it’s just pretend. It’s not real. It won’t hurt me. I’ll be okay.

This screen is enormous. It’s like ten stories high. The room with all the seats is the biggest one I’ve ever seen. I will get lost if I get up. I don’t dare.

I hold my breath until the end. And my nervous pee.

When we return back to the house, it’s dark and I’m smiling.

I’ve had an adventure.

I think I'm going to start doing some of the regular exercises from this book, they seem to be very helpful, and