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.

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