Writing Exercises

I gave you a couple of exercises in the last few weeks. I was asked to post them here, to make sure the instructions were clear, but since I explained them in class, I am going to have to try remember them exactly. (Sometimes variations on exercises are possible, so I’m trying to remember exactly which version I gave you.)

1. Tense, Isn’t It? (Due 11 Nov. 2010): Take an innocuous scene, and fill it with tension. That is, take any scene in which you’ve observed people doing something–sitting side by side on a park bench, or chatting in a car while they go to the supermarket–and use description word choice, rhythms, and so on to fill the scene with tension. The reader doesn’t need to be able to guess what is wrong, but it should be clear to an attentive reader that something indeed is wrong.

Ooops, this exercise above was due 4 Nov. 2010, and titled something else. Scroll down to see the original. The dates are wrong below, also, but I’ll leave it as it is since you have a lot of exercises to do these days.

2. The Narrator (Due 18 Nov. 2010): Create a narrator persona with a very distinct and noticeable voice. Think of the example I read to you from Adrienne Kress’ novel Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate.   The voice of the character should be clear, should tell us things about how the character sees himself or herself, but should also hint at how the character is mistaken, deluded, or wrong about himself or herself.

3. A Crash Course in Dialog (Due 25 Nov. 2010): This is the complicated exercise I mentioned in class on 4 Nov. 2010. Essentially, here’s how it works:

A. Read a few dialogs from short stories or novels originally written in English, and find one that you like and feel is natural in its flow. Then do up a “schematic” of the dialog, preserving the end punctuation and quotation marks, but turning everything else into markers for types of content. For example:

“What are you doing?” Mary screamed. The car was coming towards them quickly.

Tim didn’t have to think twice. “Jump!” he shouted, as he grabbed her hand.

“That’s crazy,” Mary mumbled. “We’ll never get out of…”

“Just trust me.”

The car was getting louder.

Finally, Mary smiled. “Well, today’s a good day to die.”

“Shut up, baby. We’ll be fine,” Tim said. And then they jumped.


“____?” CHAR. ACTION.


“_______,” CHAR. “_____________…”



ACTION. “__________.”

“_______________,” CHAR. ACTION.

B. Choose a dialog from an English-language film you have watched before, a dialog you found interesting and memorable. Transcribe the dialog from memory, watching the scene as many times as necessary. (But transcribe from memory, not by listening to the scene over and over.) For a movie with the above dialog, you would get:

MARY: What are you doing?

TIM: Jump!

MARY: That’s crazy. We’ll never get out of…

TIM: Just trust me.

MARY: Well, today’s a good day to die.

TIM: Shut up, baby. We’ll be fine.

C. Turn this script into a dialog like you’d see in a novel or short story. Choose which actions from the movie scene are important enough to use in your written dialog, and leave out the rest. For formatting your dialog and knowing where to put in action or description, try using some of the structures that you created in your schematic, or experiment with other structures if you like.

D. Hand in the following:

  • A copy of the original dialog and schematic from Part A.
  • A copy of the “script” from Part B.
  • A copy of the final dialog you create using the script, the structures from the schematic in Part A, and whatever actions you chose from the film.
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