1) Update the words within your circle if you feel that they have changed since you first complete the exercise. Starting from the inside out, underline five of the words or phases that are closest to the center. One at a time, use these as a starting point for a paragraph. The paragraph need not include the actual word or phrase -- instead, write the word or phase as the inspiration -- it should be the "core" of the paragraph. Use it as a title to remind yourself of the word. Also, don't spend time thinking about where and how the paragraph fits into your larger piece -- just concentrate on having the paragraph accurately reflect the idea or theme of the word or phrase.
And here are some writing exercises that will help you reach the center of your piece. Try to do as many of these as you can freehand -- it actually makes a difference as to what part of the brain is exercised! If you can do one of these over the weekend, we'll discuss the experience in class on Monday. Bring in your work to share!
1) LISTS (automatic writing). As a warm up, begin making two lists. The first is a list of associative words. Start with the first word that comes to your mind and then write another word that might be associated with the first word. They can be opposites, synonyms, or contextually related, etc. Give yourself 5 minutes. Keep your pen on the paper at all times. Next, start a list of non-associative words. Start with the first thing that comes to your head, then quickly try to write another word that has no apparent association to the word you just wrote. Try to write another word, that has no association to the other two. Continue to write words that have no association to any of the words that have come before. This is relatively hard, but try to maintain it for a full five minutes. Keep your pen on the page at all times.
2) CHARACTER EXERCISE. Open a newspaper and find someone's name. Without reading the article, write down that person's name at the top of a piece of paper. With only the name as a reference, begin writing down character traits for that person. Write quickly and keep the traits to simple statements about the person's personality, looks and interior life. Once you have a page or so, go back and look over the statements. Cross out anything that doesn't ring true about the person you've created.
2.5) Once you've established who your character is, start circling statements that concern the character's inner life (their beliefs, fears, secrets, dreams, obsessions, etc.). Put your character in a situation where they are speaking, and start to write dialog that reveals the inner life statements in as subtle a way possible. Try to avoid "on the nose" dialogue such as "You know, I love you more than life itself . . ." -- instead try to elude to the inner life with something like "Meeting you makes me believe in fate . . . " Try to find as many ways as possible of expressing the statements through dialogue.
3) VISUALIZATION -- DEEPENING A MOMENT. Lie on the floor in a relaxing position. Think about a single moment in your story -- it can be any moment, but this exercise will work well if you choose a moment of great significance. Begin to picture in your head from a visual sense, the location, what the characters may be wearing, how they are standing, colors, textures, shapes, and anything else that will help you complete the scene. You want to get a single "snapshot" of the moment -- as though you were looking at a still photograph or a diorama. Once you're able to visualize every aspect of the moment, start to write out exactly what you see. Keep your descriptions to visual elements only for now. Try to fill a page or so. examine every detail.
3.25) Now, with a detailed description of the moment, lie back down again and picture the scene in your mind's eye. This time, however, begin to add in all the sounds you might encounter during the scene whether it's street noises, shouting, a couple of phrases of dialogue, or a piece of music. Transcribe these, and repeat the exercise for taste, smell, and touch. You may only have a few key descriptions for the other senses, but try to get as many as possible "alive" in your head and then describe them on the page.
3.5) Next, write down the emotional context for the moment. You can include what the characters are feeling, or what the narrator is feeling. Try to get a full paragraph that describes the depth and complexity of the feeling. If someone is angry in the scene, specify the kind of anger, the reasons behind the anger, and the consequences of the anger.
3.75) Lastly, put all the elements together in a rewrite. You may want to leave the exercise for a day or two, in order to let the elements settle inside you. Obviously, some of the elements will be more important than others -- try to keep the rewrite confined to the SINGLE MOMENT that you started with. Avoid writing ahead until you have fully explored all aspects of the moment.
4) WISH LIST. Start with a blank piece of paper. Begin with the statement "I wish my writing were more ____________________". It's okay to put anything you like in blank. Repeat several times until you have a decent wish list. Articulating a list like this will give you concrete things to keep in mind as you approach your writing. Step two is to periodically take one of the wish list items and exercise it. The procedure for this is to take a small sample of a current project and rewrite it with the SINGLE objective of achieving the wish. For instance, if you wish your writing was more economical, then you would take a chapter of your work and try to make it more economical. If you wish your writing was more descriptive, then take a chapter and spend some time expanding the visual, and sensory aspects of that chapter. I know this sounds like a simple technique, but you'd be surprised how often our desires for satisfaction in our writing play second fiddle to working on technique or making it work, what ever that is. Spend some time making your wishes come true and you'll find that your authentic voice will soon follow!
And here are a couple of exercises for just "opening things up" and getting things flowing. These are based on some of the teachings of Keith Johnstone.
1) Write a scene of dialog between two characters in which they both only speak in the form of a question.
2) Write out a climactic scene between two people. Write the scene that happened five minutes before. Now write the scene that happened between them, five years before . . . ten years before . . . now write the scene that happens two days after the initial scene. Write fast -- limit yourself to half an hour to complete this exercise.
3) Write "a day in the life" of one of your characters -- just the normal everyday things that happen in the course of your character's day. Be deliberately "boring". Keep this to two or three paragraphs. Next, write the same story from the point of view of the character's pet, or a small animal that has attached itself to the character. Allow the animal to comment frankly on the character's life. If an animal doesn't work for your character, try a deceased relative, or a stake-out cop, secret admirer, or even a part of the person's anatomy.