I. The following exercise is from Laura Williams McCaffrey's class called ACT YOUR AGE,
an exploration of ways to depict age in fiction. She spoke about the influence of science, history, and culture and how we can use these influences to portray the age of our characters. At the end of the workshop, she assigned us the following exercise:
Think of a historical moment in your life at age sixteen and write your memory.
I sit in fifth period study. My stomach growls. I think of my ppj and apple in my locker. I try to focus on my homework-finding Slope. I carefully recopy the equations from the text book into my notebook. The teacher pushes a TV into the room just as the bell rings for first lunch. We, unfortunately have third. I erase a mistake, rewrite a problem. There’s only a few of us in this study, mainly other sophomores, a few seniors who don’t have permission to leave for lunch. The teacher must have turned on the TV because I hear a hum and soft buzz then the squeak of the rolling cart again. I’m still pretty engrossed of the which is odd but I am concentrating pretty hard and don’t look up when the teacher clears his throat and says, “Uh, I’m turning on the TV for those of you who may want to watch the war.” Now I stop writing and look up at him. “We are showing it now in all studies. Uh, if you don’t want to watch, you can go to the library.” He fumbles with a bunch of papers. “I have passes. Does anyone want one?” I look around. Everyone else does the same thing. One kid leans back in his chair making a loud squeak but other than that no one makes a sound. “Well okay. Uh, so if anyone changes their mind, let me know.” He turns the dial on the TV. The screen is black with flashes and pops like bottle-rockets. The bottom of the screen is a scroll: WAR IN THE GULF. A reporter narrates in the background but the sound is muffled. I pick up my pencil and get back to work trying to block out the muffled pops and ignore the flashes I can still see even when I look down at my work.
*When I looked at this after I thought about how this was a way of showing the time period in history and the age of a character versus telling. This might be a good exercise to do for character development.
2. The following exercise is from David Yoo's class MINING PAIN FOR HUMOR which focused on the different ways to incorporate humor into your writing.
David had us take come boring and overused cliches and make them funny. I failed at my attempt but perhaps others out there can do better:
Cliche Exercise: Take a cliche and make it fresh and funny.
cold as ice
cute as a button
smooth as silk
sweeter than sugar
strong silent type
strong smelly type
cute as velcro
sweet as Splenda (these are my lame attempts)
Another exercise he had us do was "titles of heavy metal bands that never made it".
My lame attempt:
Puns and Moses
*These types of quick exercises are ways of practicing being funny...which I think you have to practice, like anything else.
3. David Yoo ran the critique workshop for my group (writing for children and young adults) and he had us do these awesome exercises that were quick but powerful. Check them out.:
Three lists of 10. At age 16, who were the 10 people most important to you? The 10 happiest moments? The 10 saddest moment?
1. My three best friends
5. several ex boyfriends
6. a few cool teachers (math, director of school play, AP US History)
1. Camp summer ’91
2. Hanging out at HoJos with friends
3. Cast party for You Can’t Take it With You
4. Getting the lead in YCTIWY
5. Performing solo for dance
6. Going to Sachuest after play practice
7. Boston 17th birthday with my best friends
1. Party gone wrong at Fort Adams, rushing friend to hospital
2. Being stood up on my 17th birthday
3. Valentines day ’91...
4. Every night I stayed up to await HIS call....
What I notice is how, looking back, these things that seemed so great or terrible are so insignificant to my adult self but felt HUGE to my 16 year old self. Also that had I written a list for 17...it would be a lot heavier. Sixteen was the last year of innocence....I only had three sad things...I think that this also forces me back into my adolescent self and that will help me write from for that age more authentically.
4. Another list type exercise from David:
Describe the “villain” in your life when you were in high school from your point of view at sixteen and then take on the pov of the villain describing you.
won’t go away
shows up unannounced
goes out with all the wrong dudes
like her friends
think of her as my friend but not really
*So...this proved to be very hard for me. I kept wanting to be the adult and psychoanalyze both myself and the person who I called "villian". I also think drudging up this stuff is uncomfortable because it's from so long ago. But this is the stuff that helps me write for teens, so drudge up I will!
5. This is from Dennis Lehane's class CHARACTER AS ROADMAP. He focused on how you develop characters and shared with us his new technique for starting novels. He begins with a series of questions that he answers through his main (and minor) characters. The answers provide the "story" of the character.
1. Which quality of yours makes you most proud?
2. What’s your personal quirk(s)?
3. What about you is borderline negative but not particularly harmful?
4. Greatest hope for your self in your life?
5. If you could have one wish no matter how impossible what would it be?
6. What’s the personal event or person who broke your heart?
7. What is your greatest flaw?
8. What is your greatest fear?
9. What is a phobia of yours?
10. Have you ever let someone down who was in need?
11. Describe a moment you rose to the occasion or did something exemplerary.
12. Have you ever lied to someone you love the most in the world? (Big lie)
13. What’s your addition?
14. Have you ever engaged in behavior that you shouldn’t?
15. What would make your life PERFECT?
16. What’s your first dramatic memory?
6. Finally, I conclude with ADVICE FOR THE FUTURE from our commencement speaker (I have not graduated yet but we all attend the graduations every residency) Philip Lopate.
1. Be more arrogant
2. Learn how to bluff until the world starts saying “yes”
3. Cultivate specialties...research enhances writing
4. Don’t quit your day job
5. Don’t get hung up on self imposed boundaries.
6. Make lots of friends...because you will lose some.
7. Hang around enough people who don’t have enough money to sue you.
8. Cultivate detachment
9. Cultivate judgment
11. Yes...do try and get published.
12. Mulitple submissions is a good idea
13. Go to parties and sleep with editors..make yourself known.
14. Be patient.
15. Don’t get pessimistic about the “death of literature” stuff
16. Don’t allow yourself to get yanked around by contradictory advice. Don’t try to turn yourself inside out.
17. Be wary of taking advice from strangers especially those in suits.
Love that you had a class with Dennis Lehane. Haven't read him extensively, but he wrote one of the best short stories ever. Based solely on that, he's aces in my "book" and I'm interested in reading more of his short fiction. I'm confused, though, about the reference to your commencement speaker. You've commenced already? Anyway, another great blog piece that I will refer back to periodically. Many thanks!
Oops! I did not graduate but we do attend the ceremony every residency. Glad you like the info!
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