Thursday, April 13, 2006

Writing Exercise, and Advice *UPDATED*

*In the grand tradition of giving credit where credit is due, I have this disclaimer to add:
The following writing exercise was suggested to me by Pam Garvey, a Creative Writing instructor at St. Louis Community College at Meramec.*

Sometimes, as a writer, I get bogged down in a certain narrative style, point of view, tone, or language (use of language, not, you know, stuck using Czechoslovakian). Here is a handy exercise that really has helped me figure out how I am going to go about fixing my latest short story (the twenty-one page epic "Kissing Girls, Here and There"). I had gotten only as far as this exercise gets, and I wasn't sure where else to take it, so I rewrote the beginning a different way. I ultimately stuck with the original way, but the second way helped so much in that it let me see my main character through eyes that were not his. I even thought about going back and rewriting it from yet another perspective, and in fact I am considering taking the whole story and writing it in four different ways (having already written the "other side of the story" with "Look At How God Damn Ugly the Stars Are") just to see how else my characters can surprise me.

Without further ado, the exercise:

Take a passage from a longer short story you have written or are in the process of writing, or take an entire piece of shorter, flash-style fiction (say, 500 words or less) and rewrite it either from another narrative perspective (i.e. third person instead of first person, second person instead of third, or go more subtle and write it in third person limited perspective if it's written third person omniscient) or rewrite it using another character as the conduit through which we see the world you have created. If you are feeling ambitious (like I was), try doing both; if you've originally written it in third person omniscient with Character A as the main conduit through which we see the world, maybe try writing it in first person with Character B or even Character C as the narrator.

I have taken an excerpt from my WiP (work in progress, from now on I won't remind you of that) titled "Kissing Girls, Here and There" and rewritten it. The original text (in third person limited) is first, then following is the exercise, written in first person through a different character:

Cameron decided to become a math tutor, because he didn’t have a job, didn’t need one anyway, but was bored and wanted something to do. So, he talked to his first semester math teacher and that’s how he met Amanda; the week before Valentine’s Day she knocked on his door and Banning opened it.
“Hello, what can I do for you?” he asked, barely looking at her as he kicked a foot-shaped doorstop into place and wandered back to the middle of the room where his bicycle sat, dismantled.
“Bike trouble?” she asked, picking her way to a chair, stepping daintily around sprockets and other unidentifiable bits of bicycle. Cameron was lying on the bottom bunk of the beds, reading an electronics magazine. Peering from behind the pages, he watched her walk with grace, a dangerous span of four feet, the floor littered with his roommate’s perpetual junk, but she didn’t seem to be looking down; her large, soft blue eyes never wavered from their mark; the plush easy chair near the head of the bed. Cameron sat up, folded the magazine over his right leg, and immediately wished he had showered after his run. She sat in the chair and, for the first time, made eye contact with him. “Which one of you is Cameron?” she asked.
“That’s him,” Banning said, pointing at Cameron, who smiled at her. She smiled back, her lips easily moving into place, her eyes growing and, he thought, glowing.
“I’m your math student,” she said. “Amanda Abrahms. Doctor Macke said you could help anybody get an ‘A’ in his class. I’ll take a ‘B’ so you won’t have to work as hard, though.” He smiled at this, let out a little bit of a laugh. She laughed out loud, so loud it shook Cameron’s chest. “We’re going to have a problem if you don’t start talking.” She gave him a coy look.
“Fantastic shirt,” he finally said, though there was nothing spectacular about the shirt. She was wearing a UC Boulder t-shirt over a pink long sleeve tee. He swung his legs to the ground and the magazine fell to the floor. He bent over to pick it up, but it had slid close to her foot and she was reaching down to get it, too. They bumped heads, and both came up after exchanging “ohs” and a “sorry” or two.

New Text:

My roommate Cameron never did anything but go to class and take these long walks with his camera. He came to a bike race I did the third week of first semester and took some pictures, but that was the extent of our sharing anything more than living space. It must be nice, I thought, to have enough money coming from home that you don’t need to have a job, but he seemed bored and restless anyway so I was glad when he announced he was going to be tutoring second semester.
It took until the first week of February to find somebody to tutor. Racing season was getting ready to start, so I had my racing bike disassembled in our dorm room on Wednesday that week when somebody knocked on our door. “That’s probably my student,” he said from behind his magazine, or catalogue, whatever it was. He was laying on his bed, and despite the fact that I had grease all over my hands, he didn’t show even the slightest movement towards answering the door.
“I’ll get it,” I said after a minute. I opened the door and noticed a girl, briefly, before I pushed our doorstop into place to keep the door opened. “Hello, what can I do for you?” I asked. I walked back to my spot to continue cleaning my bike.
She started walking to this chair in our room that Cameron brought back with him from winter break and said, “Bike trouble?” I didn’t answer, just kept cleaning. I heard her sit down and sigh. “Which one of you is Cameron?” she asked.
When Cameron didn’t respond, I pointed and said, “That’s him.”
“I’m your math student,” she said. “Amanda Abrahms. Doctor Macke said you could help anybody get an ‘A’ in his class. I’ll take a ‘B’ so you won’t have to work as hard, though.” I continued cleaning, wiping away dirt from the crankcase, and I heard her laugh out loud. “We’re going to have a problem if you don’t start talking.”
Cameron’s response was, “Fantastic shirt.” I looked over at him as he dropped his magazine. The two of them bent down to pick it up and bumped heads, giggling like children. I glanced over at Cameron’s desk where, out of view from either of them, a picture of his girlfriend smiled at me.

As you can see, the story comes out much differently through Banning's eyes, and we have some immediate sources of conflict not prevelant in the first excerpt, though these later come out in the continuation of Cameron's story.

Hopefully, somebody out there stumbled upon this who was stuck with writer's block and this helped. Most likely, though, Jerry, Colleen, Kathy, Mo, Kevin, Alan, Mom, Bridget, Mark, and various other hangers-on (fellow Targeteers, any of you in my creative writing class who know how to find the blog, anyone from Art Conspiracy who may have somehow managed to find my ancient profile and gallery in the sea of new postings there, old friends clicking on AIM profile links, and anybody else that stumbled blindly here--welcome, by the way--plus anyone I forgot about) will read it and say, "Good Lord, the boy does ramble. Let's see what our dumb president is up to."

Use this advice and this exercise wisely. In the wrong hands, it could wreak a havoc so dangerous, so destructive, so powerfully dangerous, that children everywhere will, um, eventually peter out and mumble incoherently when they can't think of a good way to finish what they started to say...

Music to Blog By: Blood, Sweat and Tears - Forty Thousand Head Men
(I like me some B,S,&T, so S,B,&L*)

*Shut it, Bite it, and Leave

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1 comment:

Carmen said...

Dumb president, indeed