From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing Prompts/Assignments

In one of my creative writing classes this semester, we've been given specific creative writing assignments. Regardless of what you turn out, I think its a useful exercise for stretching yourself and your writing, so I thought I'd post some of the assignments here, full credit given to Dr. Lance Larsen.

-How To: Write a piece in a second person following these guidelines. First, give specific instruction or advice on a recognizable subject, such as how to see a ghost at night, change a car tire, get over a breakup, etc. Second, be sure that your piece violates its own purpose or otherwise wanders far afield. A piece on shooting free throws might end up rhapsodizing about interior weather patterns or complaining about love. The piece should be paradoxical and enticing and arrive at wisdom. Example: "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid.

My piece was called How to Eat Cold Cereal, and ended up being about how cold cereal will always be there even when you have no one and nothing else to turn to. Still heavily in need of revision, but once thats done I'll send it out or maybe post it here.

-Ekphrastic: Write a piece (probably a poem) that describes a black-and-white photograph, detail by detail, and in the process discovers a conflict not apparent at first glance. This might include proposing a narrative of your own devising. Your poem should be clear enough that it doesn't require the original photograph to make sense. Almost any kind of picture will do: documentary, family snapshot, postcard, artistic masterpiece. Why does a given photograph disturb, intrigue, or entertain you? A good ekphrastic poem will set up a problem or spring a trap.

My piece was on Fox Terrier on the Pont D'art by Robert Doisneau. His photographs provide wonderful inspiration for ekphrastic pieces, actually.

-Dialogue: Write a piece that relies predominantly on dialogue. The language must be concrete and lyrical. You might construct some kind if Q & A. The key here is that you strategically use the gaps between voices.

My piece was called Cross-Eyed and was about two sisters on a drive to the airport arguing over what to do with their senile father.

Hope that helps! I'd love to hear about how you've used these assignments and what you've come up with.

Sarah Allen

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Personal Editing List

Ever writer has their own unique method, style, and voice, and with this comes unique issues. There are certain quirks, turns of phrase, and specific cliches that they tend towards in there writing. Recognizing these is the first step in avoiding them. It can be hard to figure out what they are, but having others read your writing is one way. Don't get so emotionally involved that you can't change up a few things, and make your writing fresh and intriguing.

My suggestion is to make a list of your own personal writing cliches, make a "personal editing list", and keep it up by your writing area. If you know that you have certain bad habits, you can consciously keep from falling into them.

Here are some things from my own personal editing list. Some of them are specific, sentence level things, and some have to do with the overall, general idea.

-Struggle vs. slump: I have the bad habit of setting my characters in emotionally hard situations that they can't really do much about except passively accept it and try to be happy despite the problem. This can turn into simple "portrait of a saint" stories, which may show kind, generous characters, but they are passive and not interesting as characters. Every story needs active, immediate and relatable conflict, and this is something I have to consciously remember as I come up with my story ideas.

-Words that don't do enough: I have a list of words that I have a habit of overusing, which don't do as much as I want them too. Some of those words are smiled, laughed, sighed, cried and looked. Words like this are so generic that they don't really show whats going on.

-A story isn't poignant/meaningful/significant just because its about infidelity/abandonment/abuse. These things are poignant and important, of course, but they are often such huge topics that they overwhelm the piece. An incredibly meaningful, successful piece can be about things as simple as sister jealousy, unmet expectations, or just the small things that make meaning in our every day life. I have a habit of picking topics like infidelity just because I assume that if its about something significant like that, the piece itself will be significant. That is not necessarily the case, and remembering that helps me steer away from sentimentalism.

Anyway, I hope this helps! What are your bad writing habits, and what are some good ways for getting over them?

Sarah Allen
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