Category Archives: writing exercise

Short and Long – #FlashFiction

The third exercise from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is called Short and Long. First, write a paragraph in sentences of 7 words or less, no fragments. Then, write a paragraph that is all one sentence. I decided to choose the same subject matter for both of the pieces of flash fiction that follow. Which do you think works better?


The red sky burned brighter than fire. Streaks of smoke filled the air. Screaming children ran through smoking fields. Orange embers drifted through the air. Dead grass swayed in the wind. Singed leaves floated down the river. Heat swelled beyond the fire’s edge. It burst forward, ever expanding. The front grew, gobbling up acres. The blaze swallowed farms whole. It spit out charred tree skeletons. Blackness trailed the flames. A small girl’s lungs constricted. Her breathing was slow and labored. Her wheezes were louder than the fire. Her steps slowed. Her energy waned. She stumbled, falling to her knees. Then, she grew silent.


The wind roared as fire crackled into the air, smoke rising up and up and up into the blood red sky, a sky more fierce and vibrant than flames, a sky filled with thick smoke, particles, sparks, and embers floating through the air, landing in blackened fields dotted with the skeletons of trees still steaming; children ran through these fields, fast as their little legs could carry them, screaming though their lungs burned–one young girl in particular, wheezing, coughing, sputtering as she stumbled, falling to her knees amid charred soil, energy waning as she gasped her last breaths while small feet pounded past her upturned face.

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Punctuation – #FlashFiction

The second exercise from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is all about punctuation. Write a paragraph without any punctuation at all. Is it readable? Does the subject matter fit the format? What follows is a short piece of flash fiction that I wrote for this exercise.


The line of people camped out around the electronics store building buzzed with anticipation at five minutes till opening on Black Friday when the clock struck seven am the buzz built into a roar as people packed up their tents and sleeping bags and foldable camp chairs some began to shove and push and shout and trip and fall and bruise and skin knees the click clack of keys in the door could only be heard from inside the store where an army of employees in blue shirts prepared for the onslaught of battle the doors burst open nearly shattering the shatterproof glass blue shirts shoved aside as the stampede flooded into the enormous room trampling over tidy displays knocking over cardboard cutouts advertising aspects of the sale battered blue shirts hunkered down behind counters and cash registers fingers ready to call in the police for backup if necessary chaos reigned a cacophony of yells and shouts customers breaking into fist fights over the last new game cartridge TVs flashing a variety of nature programs and music videos and action-packed movies as customers emptied the store of its contents the riot died down to embers individuals complaining demanding a rain check on the sale price of the item in question management pointing out the advertisement small print while supplies last

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Focus on Sound – #FlashFiction

The other day I was at the library browsing through the non-fiction section on the craft of writing, and I picked up Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. I’m going through the exercises, which has been really fun so far, and I thought I’d share them with you over the coming weeks.

The first exercise is about focusing on sound (onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, etc., but NOT rhyme or meter). What follows is a short piece of flash fiction that I wrote for this exercise.


The seaweed sits on the beach, strung like a strand of pearls of varying size and imperfect shape. A glowing amber against pale sand, soft and gritty between my toes. A slimy sheen reflects the blinding white sky. Fanned feathers create circling shadows of relief from the sharp glare. The deafening crash and whoosh of waves assaults the sandy shore, leaving uneven trails of salty foam wiggling across the tide line. Damp footprints cast from bare skin lead up and down and in and out of the surf, disappearing, melting away, then forming again, first soft, then more defined. A toe dragged in the sand draws a line, a curve, a face at once playful and knowing. Paw prints dance a swirling samba circumnavigating driftwood, punctuating the damp beach next to trailing vines of kelp. The aftermath of a crashing wave laps cool, salty water over exposed toes and stings the freshly cut skin of my sole.

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Loveless – #flashfiction

My writing group did this exercise this January between meetings. It’s from Brian Kiteley’s website, excerpted from his book. Let me know what you think of my piece. Is it funny, or did I go too far? Try the exercise yourself, and share a link in the comments.

Loveless. Create a character around this sentence: Nobody has ever loved me as much I have loved them.  Do not use this sentence in the fragment of fiction you write.  The sentence comes from Guy Davenport’s aunt, Mary Elizabeth Davenport Morrow, via his essay “On Reading” in The Hunter Gracchus.  Resist the temptation this exercise offers for a completely self-indulgent character.  Of course, some self-indulgence will be fun with this character.  But don’t write from inside your own wounded sense of the world.

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After Myra’s latest breakup, in her vapid desperation, the only thing she could think of was the childhood rhyme:

 

Nobody likes me

Everybody hates me

Guess I’ll go eat worms

 

She remembered having heard that worms were a delicacy in some cultures, and it just happened to be a rainy day. She peeked out the window and watched the drizzling drops fall. Looking at the sidewalk, she saw a few fine specimens squiggling across the gray expanse. She rummaged through her closet for a plastic pail, donned rubber boots and a raincoat, and stepped out into the rain.

Only having the stomach to collect ten wiggly worms, Myra then walked around the block, swinging her pail, lifting her chin to feel the light precipitation on her face. Her steps were uneven, but the sidewalk was empty, no one in her path. She felt a squish under her boot and cringed. Oops. Oh, well. She didn’t think squashed worms would be good to eat. She would have google how to cook them when she got back to her apartment.

Myra sighed.

She really thought she had had something with Brad. She thought he was going to propose any day. She had picked out names for their three kids, had Photoshopped pictures of them, morphing their faces together into their kids’ imagined images to create a family photo. Turns out he was trying to find the right moment to dump her. He was just using her for sex. It wasn’t love. Not on his side, anyway. And he wasn’t the first. At 29, Myra had been dragged through relationship after relationship, thinking they were all going somewhere, then suddenly finding out they weren’t.

After a turn around the block, she peeked in her pail to see the worms squirming together, twisting and tangling their bodies. It reminded her of being in bed with Brad. She sniffled and tears started running down her cheeks.

In her apartment, she set the bucket on the kitchen counter and opened her laptop. She googled “cooked worms” and scrolled through the entries. There were images and YouTube videos. It seemed eating earthworms was a popular practice in Vietnam. The top answer on Yahoo Answers was “Boil them until they are a lovely al dente.” She wasn’t so sure about that, so she scrolled on.

After reading an article on eating earthworms, she discovered you should definitely not eat them raw, for sanitation reasons. They are apparently 82% protein and rich in Omega 3 fatty acid. To clean them, you should put them in water for a few hours or feed them moist cornmeal for a day. Myra filled the pail with water and checked the clock. It was 2pm, so they should be ready by dinner time. Keep them under 60 degrees F, moist, and don’t cook any dead ones. Myra couldn’t decide if she should put them in the refrigerator or not. The water she added was pretty cold. She decided she would just check the water temperature periodically and make sure it didn’t get too warm. She didn’t want to kill them by making them too cold. When you’re ready to cook them, start by boiling them until the water is clear, changing the water as necessary. This was to get rid of mucus. After boiling, you can fry them, roast them, dehydrate them by baking, or just chop them up and eat them. You can even grind the dry ones into a powder to add to flour for baking. The article included a number of recipes. Myra thought Caramel Worm Brownies sounded the best, which included worm flour. The article mentioned that American Indians, Australian Aborigines, Maoris from New Zealand, and some Chinese ate worms.

Getting excited about the prospect of freshly baked warm gooey Caramel Worm Brownies, Myra started to forget about Brad and his insensitive ways.

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Note: Earthworm cooking information from eattheweeeds.com.

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So You’re a Vampire Now – #flashfiction

Hopefully you’ll find this a little more entertaining/humorous than my last post. I wrote this piece last month for my writing group. Our assignment was to write a short piece imitating the style of “Orientation” by Daniel Orozco, a witty, satirical short story that uses a deadpan, second person voice and inane details to desensitize you to the oddities taking place in an Office Space or Dilbert-like cubicle farm (it reminded me a bit too much of my old workplace). I had a lot of fun writing this. I hope you enjoy it!

Writing Exercise: Try your own hand at writing a short piece in this style of voice. Post a link in the comments to your piece!

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This is the alleyway, and here’s the bar where we like to hunt. Come on inside, and you’ll see two areas: the dance floor, and the lounge. The dance floor is the elders’ territory. You can take your pick from the lounge. Never feed IN the bar. Except in the bathroom. That’s okay. But only during an emergency. Try to get your victim out of the bar and into the alley before you begin to feed. If you have an emergency and need to feed in the bathroom, ask your master first. If you can’t find your master, ask any older vampire who isn’t currently feeding, but try not to be too intrusive if he’s busy charming a victim. If  you feed in public, you will be punished. You don’t want to know how.

You must pace yourself when you feed. What do I mean? I’m glad you asked that. We pace our feeding according to the 2-pint night–one body to drain–at least to begin with. If the whole gang is going somewhere and we’re taking down a crowd and you’ve got four bodies to feast on, pace them out; don’t suck them dry all at once. Alternatively, if we’re headed into a desert spell and one’s gotta last you a whole week, sip on her. A little here, a little there–make her last. She’ll get drowsy and regenerate more supply. Good question, good question. Ask too many though, and you won’t see the outside of a coffin for a long while.

As I was saying, that’s the ladies room, and that’s the men’s. Don’t get them confused. Only use your designated restroom to primp and only use it to feed in an emergency with prior approval. If you see a lady go into the men’s room, do not follow her. It could either be someone going in to meet the Master, or, there are a handful of cross-dressers around.

There are three bartenders: two men named Andrew, who look completely different, and a woman named Erika. Never speak to the bartenders. Don’t even look at them. Pretend they don’t exist.

The emergency exit is in the back of the bar, past the restrooms. An alarm will sound if you use it. Try not to use it. If you end up covered in blood and you can’t remember where it came from, use it and run. Run like the wind.

If you cut yourself, your skin will magically knit back together. If you break a bone, it will magically heal too. There will still be blood, ooze, and pain. But you’ll get over it. Pretty quickly too. It’s kinda awesome. You want a demo? No? Alright, maybe later.

You can’t eat food anymore. Can’t drink anything either. The only thing you can consume is blood. If you try to eat or drink anything else, you’ll just barf. I’ll let you try that one on your own.

You can’t have any contact with your former family or friends. No one you used to know. If any of them ever show up at the bar, point them out to your master, then leave. Your master will make sure they are not on the night’s menu. If you can’t find your master, find an elder vampire. Go down the list. If you can’t find anyone else, feel free to ask me.

Can I see your cell phone? Thanks! No, you can’t have it back.

Sorry about that. Doesn’t look like the SIM chip survived. This is your new cell phone. It has the whole gang’s digits pre-programmed into it. Only call if you’re in a bind or if you’ve been invited to call. I think that about covers it. And we’re back in the lounge.

I call dibs on the redhead. Yes, I can do that.

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It’s fun breaking out of your routine to try to imitate someone else’s voice sometimes, especially if that writer has a strong voice. It’s a good learning experience. It’s something we did often in the Fiction Writing class I took at De Anza college. I think it’s a helpful exercise when you’re trying to figure out what exactly your own voice is. I highly recommend trying it on occasion.

In other news, the process of revising my novel to incorporate an urban fantasy element by introducing a new character has become more involved than I expected. I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s fun though. She’s spunky. The other night when my husband came home from work, I bit him on the shoulder (not hard). He asked me, “What’s gotten into you?” I shrugged. I think it was a bit of my character.

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Knitting to Pass the Time – #flashfiction

Snick, snick, snick. Needles rhythmically sliding over each other helps me pass the time. I might be holding on to the needles as tight as I possibly can, the only thing I can control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. My father is in the hospital having surgery. If I knit faster, he’ll get out of the O.R. faster. To knit faster, I hold the needles tighter; my knitting becomes tighter. Hours pass. What if he never comes out?

Snick, snick. Sometimes I knit slowly. The needles glide over one another, held loosely in my relaxed hands. I am watching television or chatting with friends. I don’t even have to look at what I’m doing, if it’s a simple pattern. My shoulders are loose, my arms are loose; no tension anywhere. Knitting can be very relaxing, almost zen-like, a meditative aid.

Back in the hospital, my neck aches, my shoulders tense, the muscles in my arms bunch with each motion. My back is sore. One leg taps out a spastic beat on the carpet. Snick. Round and round my sweater grows. I jump every time someone walks down the hallway outside the waiting room.

At home, with friends, sometimes we all just sit listening to music and the sound of different sets of needles working together to create different things: wooden, metal, and plastic needles yield shawls, socks, sweaters.

A hospital bed is wheeled through the hallway and my knitting falls to the floor.

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I wrote this piece shortly after my father passed away.

Writing Exercise: Have you had a very emotional experience? How did you cope with it? Take some time to sit with your feelings, maybe listen to some music. Then write. Write from your heart. Write what you feel; let your raw emotions run free.

I wrote a lot of poetry after my father passed. It seemed a more appropriate form of expression. See what fits your mood, depending on your experience. Share a link to your writing in the comments if you feel up to sharing.

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Re-envisioning

My husband finally had a chance to read my first novel when we were on vacation last week. He had quite a few thoughts (on almost every page). He is a very critical person. But I figure, if I can take his criticism, I can take criticism from anyone. And, I think that I greatly benefit from his insight. He has read a huge number of books, mostly sci-fi and fantasy, so although he is not exactly my target audience, he is a good beta reader.

Before he read my first novel, my husband and I discussed how my second novel is in the urban fantasy genre, and how I think I’m leaning towards wanting to write urban fantasy and dark urban fantasy/horror more than science fiction in the future (maybe UF with sci-fi elements). We discussed how I was a little afraid that publishing my first novel as a sci-fi would pigeon-hole me as a sci-fi author.

So, when he read my first novel and decided that he thought parts of it would be more plausible if you add urban fantasy to it, I decided I liked the idea. If my first novel is sci-fi and urban fantasy, then it will pave the way for my second and subsequent novels to be urban fantasies. This novel is more than just sci-fi and urban fantasy; it’s a mix of a lot of things: sci-fi, urban fantasy, romance, and technological horror, with a little humor thrown in to dispel the tension. I suppose it would more generically be called speculative fiction.

I’ll be re-writing a number of passages, adding a few new sections and a new character over the next few weeks. I think it will be a fun challenge. I’m going to alternate working on this re-envisioning with writing new scenes for my second novel.

If you feel stuck in your writing, you might want to try Writer’s Digest’s (@WritersDigest) 30 Writing Assignments for the 30 days of June.

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Choose Your Own Adventure with Twine – #flashfiction

    • Twine is a program that lets you create a Choose Your Own Adventure type story. Instead of having to flip to a page in a book you just click on the links in the story to move forward.

    • My writing group tried out the software last month. We each wrote a story using it. You can find mine, more of a character study than a story, about Hectar the Horrible, a vampire whose personality you choose, here.
    • Make your own story/game and share a link in the comments!

 

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A Joke – #flashfiction

We tried this writing exercise as a 15-minute timed exercise during the April 2013 meeting of my writing group. It’s from Brian Kiteley’s website, excerpted from his book. We all used the same joke, so it was fun to see what everyone did with it. Let me know what you think of my piece. Try writing something of your own, either with the same joke, or a different one. Share a link in the comments.

The Joke: End a fragment of a story with a joke you like or loathe. Use the joke as a way of coloring the whole passage, but don’t just lead up to the joke. The joke should be relatively short, and it might be better if the joke is somewhat odd.

“Come on, Al! We’re late!”

Al plodded along behind her, as usual. She opened up the back of her van and he jumped in. She walked around to the driver’s side, got in, rolled down the windows and turned up the volume on the stereo. She started singing along.

“Dark in the city …” She bobbed her head to the music. This was one of her favorite DJ’s; she loved Duran Duran. She could hear Al thumping the side of the van in time with the beat.

“Let’s go for a walk before we grab dinner,” she said.

She drove to the beach and pulled into a parking spot along the boardwalk.

“We’re here, Al!”

She hopped out and opened the back for Al. He vaulted out and followed her along the hot pavement, garnering stares from passersby. They walked slowly, gulls flying overhead and children screaming in delight and fear as their mothers hastily pulled them in the opposite direction. One little boy’s ice cream toppled from its cone, and he cried out. Al licked it up off the ground, smacking his large teeth.

“Oh, Al, that’s disgusting! Don’t spoil your dinner,” she scolded, “We’re almost there.”

They continued down the boardwalk, past palm trees and tumbling litter. Eventually, they arrived at their destination.

A woman with an alligator walks into a bar and asks the bartender: “Do you serve lawyers here?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ll have a Bloody Mary and my ‘gator will have a lawyer.”

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Start with a Sentence – #flashfiction

In September 2012, during our meeting, my writing group tried this exercise:

Writing Exercise: Start with the first sentence of a book and go from there…

The book we chose was Perfume by Patrick Suskind. We all started with the same sentence, the first sentence of the novel, and then wrote whatever we felt inspired to write from there for a timed period during the meeting.

We read the novel afterwards and discussed it at our November meeting. The main character’s obsession with sense of smell also inspired us to write a piece focused on sense of smell between meetings in September and write another piece focused on the sense of touch between meetings in October.

    In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His razor wit outshone the wits of everyone who surrounded him, and he knew where to cut deep; places that would not easily heal.

    It was best to go unnoticed around this man. To walk with a slouch, head tipped down. For if you caught his eye, it was a challenge to escape his presence unscathed.

    He lived alone in a small, dimly lit apartment off a narrow alley. He was an inventor of all sorts of odds and ends, the strangest gadgets, but they all worked. He had an extensive laboratory in a basement somewhere in town, but only he knew its exact location and the codes to the many locks on its door. No one was quite certain what he did with all the profits from his inventions, for they certainly were not used on his accommodations.

    His meagre apartment was sparsely decorated with used, battered furniture. One old, small painting hung on the wall, the paints pastel and starting to peel. It was a portrait of a beautiful woman with curly dark hair, elegantly dressed, smiling radiantly.

    Occasionally, he would disappear for a few days, and then reappear. No one knew where he had gone. He could have spent the time locked up in his laboratory, or perhaps he went on a short jaunt abroad. No one would dare ask him where he had been, and he wouldn’t volunteer the information.

    One September afternoon, an unwitting traveller gained his attention while the man waited for his boots to be shined.

My writing group has done this exercise with a number of different sentences; the first sentences of novels, and random sentences chosen from the middle of novels. We’ve done it both as a short timed exercise and as a longer assignment between meetings.

Try this exercise out, either with the sentence from Perfume above, or with a sentence from another novel. Give yourself a 15 minute time limit if you want. Post a link to the results in the comments!

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