Kate Flora: Rerunning a slightly tweaked version of a post I ran a few years ago.
I really wanted to teach a writing class this summer. Alas, the kind of six week class I like to teach didn’t happen. Still, today I found myself rummaging through the files, looking at some of the exercises I’ve used, and I was reminded of how I like to send my class home at the end with some exercises to do at home to continue their writing practice.
With summer here, lunches again a possibility, and as we look forward to some of those leisurely summer lunches, maybe outside, maybe by the sea, maybe in a place that provides a rich collection of fellow lunchers to observe, here are ideas:
1. Pick a interesting couple you can easily observe and write the conversation you imagine they’re having.
Ex: I know the first thing she said was, “Why didn’t you call?” because I overheard that as I passed their table. What I didn’t expect was his reply. “They don’t let you make calls from jail, Kat.” She didn’t look like a Kat, and he didn’t look like a jailbird, so I hunched nosily over my coffee, waiting to hear what they’d say next.
2. A variation on the exercise above is to pick two people in the room who aren’t together, and imagine the conversation they’d have if they were. You can do this with two people you think would go well together; then try it a different time with two people who look like they’d ordinarily never meet.
Ex: You wouldn’t put them together in a million years. She was a saggy-baggy old hippie in Birkenstocks and a snarled Peruvian shawl. He was pimply, pierced and Mohawked.
Ex: It was sad, really. He was young and attractive and looked so miserably alone, bent over his lunch, while she was vibrant and pretty and also alone, and looked like she’d just lost her friend.
3. Pick a particular food scent out of the air and write what it makes you think of. (see my recent blog post about making your own scent museum) You can go so many places with this exercise, so you can do it many times. Pick soup. Fried food. Breakfast smells. Coffee. Ethnic foods.
Ex: Frying bacon on a winter morning flashes me back to Uncle Henry’s camp. A few deep, greasy breaths and this neighborhood diner melts away.
4. Using only one of your senses, describe what is going on in the room around you, keeping your observations isolated that that sense. Repeat the exercise, using a different sense. You may be surprised how hard this is.
5. You’re about to bite into your favorite sandwich. Before you bite, describe that sandwich in a way that make someone else want to eat it. Go overboard, be lavish and excessive.
6. Describe the same sandwich in only 20 words.
7. Find someone who is wearing an interesting piece of clothing, an unusual hat or tee shirt message, or carrying an interesting object—pack, purse, umbrella, walking stick—and write the story of how they got it.
Ex: the other day I was in the liquor store and the guy ahead of me was wearing one of those vibrant yellow-green “notice me” tee shirts. On the back, in huge letters, it read: CAN YOU SEE ME NOW??
Note: the idea behind these exercises is to get you thinking and observing like a writer, asking yourself “what is this about?” and practicing the skills of writing description, dialogue, and interior narration.
And speaking of teaching, I will be teaching this coming October for Maine Media Workshops. Here’s the link: https://www.mainemedia.edu/workshops/item/crime-fiction-101/
And the class description:
Got a story idea lurking in your head that you never seem to get down on paper? Are you a big mystery fan who has always wanted to write one but never gets to it? Maybe you want to write a book but don’t how to start and the mystery structure is the answer? We all know writers write, but sometimes it takes a nudge, or a class, or someone giving you an approach to get you started.
These daily sessions will focus on some of the elements that go into crafting a mystery novel. We’ll cover the basics of mystery plotting—that all important framework on which we hang our stories—and we’ll work on creating credible and distinctive characters, both good and bad. We’ll discuss point of view, the importance of setting and the role it plays, review some strategies for planting clues, and examine how mystery writers create tension page-by-page. There will be daily writing assignments, and wherever possible, if the student has a story idea in mind, his or her story will form the basis for the day’s exercises.