In a poem or a few paragraphs of prose, describe a pleasant scene from the eyes of a character who just experienced/is experiencing a negatively impactful or otherwise traumatic experience. However, you may not explicitly state what this experience is but instead provide clues through the narration of the piece.
Examples of situations:
- A sunset through the eyes of a person who just lost a loved one.
- A young couple holding hands through the eyes of a person who just went through a break-up.
- The woods through the eyes of a person with depression.
- Children laughing in the park through the eyes of a person who had a traumatic childhood.
- Parents singing to their baby through the eyes of a person who can’t have children.
A typically pleasant scene can stir not only pleasant emotions but also unpleasant, at times painful emotions depending on the past experiences of a person. A traumatic event can severely influence how a person perceives the world around them, and conveying this in writing is a powerful tool in producing empathy in readers as well as the writer him/herself, if not catharsis if it reflects personal experiences. In addition, learning to shape the narration to fit the eyes of a person with a specific experience without explicitly telling the reader what this experience is allows you to train your brain to think deeper and more carefully about the descriptions you use and the thoughts and reactions your characters have to this pleasant scene. Sometimes what is not said can convey a lot more than what is said.
In your writing throughout this class and beyond, think about how you might juxtapose elements like this (typically pleasant ideas tainted by the narrator’s unpleasant perception). It adds a layer of depth in your writing, conveying how there’s more to a text than the scene taking place. A layered piece of writing is typically more thought-provoking than a piece of writing where the text itself is to be taken at face value.
Rewrite your third (i.e. most in-depth) passage from Tuesday’s writing prompt three times (at least ½ – 1 page long each), this time using first-person narration. In each of the three rewrites, convey a different voice in your character’s narration, so that you have three passages with an identical plot but each with a distinctive personality narrating the scene. The voice (and therefore personality) of your protagonist should be clearly differentiable among the three. To do this, think about who your character is: Male or female? Old or young? Witty or serious? Outgoing or reserved? Uptight or laidback? Anxious or confident? A realist or an idealist? A leader or a follower? The list is endless. The traits the three versions of your character have will influence how they perceive the world, and this should be visible through their voice in the narration.
Experimenting with voice allows you to practice writing characters with distinctive personalities, so you are not merely writing characters with indistinguishable voices, which, more often than not for beginning writers, sound a lot like their own. As you establish the voice that suits your character best, the more you will get a sense of the kind of person they are and how they might react to certain situations. Then the story will begin to build around this information on its own.
As you write in this course beyond, should you choose to do so, use this exercise to explore the possible voices for your characters so they become distinctive. Draw from your past experiences of interactions with different people, analyzing the way they speak or their perceptions of the world and adapt it for your characters to make it more realistic. Build your characters into people.
Write three passages written in third-person narration, each conveying the same plot but using different structures: the first merely a summary-like “skeleton” of the scene (At least a few sentences long); the second fleshing it out by adding the “meat” such as dialogue, sensory description, distinctive characters, etc. (At least one lengthy paragraph); and the third an alternative, more in-depth retelling, using a more fleshed-out structure (At least 1/2 – a single page long).
The final structure should be at least ½ – 1 page long.
- Joke woke. He tossed the covers back. A moment later he was standing by the bed on the rug.
- Joe woke. Dragging one hand from beneath the covers into the chill, he twisted the heel of his thumb against one eye socket. Then he snagged his fingers around the coverlet’s edge. He raised it—and the chill slid down his arm, along his side some eighteen inches. Dragging in a breath, he raised the covers further. Somewhere below, something put two cold palms over his kneecaps. He heard breath halt a moment in his throat. The bedding beneath his shins was suddenly so warm. He gave the quilt’s rim a toss and began to kick free even before it fell, off below the bottom of the t-shirt he slept in these November nights. One foot made it from the mattress edge, then the other—as the first slid from under the blanket to hang an instant, an isolate entity out in the cold room. He pushed into the pillow with his fist, so that his shoulders rose; his feet lowered. A moment later he was standing by the bed on the rug.
- Waking assailed Joe and retreated, a wave foaming up and sliding from the sands of day. At its height, there was a sense or a memory of dark green sheets beneath his belly, his knees, the pillow bunched under his shoulder, the quilt across his ear. Rising and retreating at an entirely different oscillation was sexual desire, now an unfocused and pulling emptiness, now a warm fullness in the groin, a sensitivity within his slightly parted lips under the susurras of breath. Somehow the cycles met. He opened his eyes—aware of the room’s silence. (But what had he been aware of before…?) He could feel the dawn moisture drying along his lower lids. Dragging one hand from beneath the covers into the chill, he twisted the heel of his thumb against one eye socket. Then he snagged his fingers around the coverlet’s edge. He raised it—and the chill slid down his arm, along his side some eighteen inches. Dragging in a breath, he raised the covers further. Somewhere below, something put two cold palms over his kneecaps. He heard breath halt a moment in his throat. The bedding beneath his shins was suddenly so warm. He gave the quilt’s rim a toss and began to kick free even before it fell, somewhere below the bottom of the t-shirt he slept in these November nights. One foot made it off the mattress edge, then the other—as the first slid from under the blanket to hang an instant, an isolate entity out in the cold room. He pushed into the pillow with his fist, so that his shoulders rose; his feet lowered. The shag rug’s nap trickled his soles, till the weight of his legs crushed it away beneath. Every damned bone in his feet had to move this way or that a couple of millimeters, it seemed, to get into the right position—and in the left foot, that hurt! He pushed himself forward, the hem of his limp t-shirt swinging forward over his upper thighs. As his body lifted, a cold blade of morning slid beneath his buttocks and down toward the backs of his knees. (Somewhere the springs clashed, muffled below the mattress.) It felt as if someone were shoving at his right kidney with the flat of a hand. He put his own hand there to rub the feel away. He blinked, standing in the silent room, flexing his chill toes on the rug, aware (or was it more a memory of something he’d been half conscious of before waking?) he had to go to the bathroom.
–“Some Notes for the Intermediate and Advanced Creative Writing Student” by Samuel Delany.
As creative writers, it is important to understand that the different ways to write a single scene are infinite, some ways more effective than others. A writer could conjure the best plot humanity has ever beheld, but the execution could make it the least compelling story you’ve ever read. Exploring different ways to convey the same plot will allow you to see the distinction between a compelling execution of a story and a poorly-executed version of the same story. When it comes to creating a good story, it doesn’t matter if you have an excellent plot if its execution doesn’t compel your readers.
Complete this prompt by Thursday, February 23, then see part 2.
Choose a word and create a hybrid piece of writing that centers around it. Branch out and experiment with a form that represents your word and/or its definition. Your piece can take the form of a dictionary page (Ex: A. Van Jordan’s piece, p. 232), a crossword puzzle, a picture made of words, a timeline, a letter/email, or anything else that works for you and your piece. If necessary, also refer to Ander Monson’s work, p. 272
This assignment will help you to shape unique ways to approach the art of creative writing. After all, what we’re doing is creative—not merely in its content but in its form. A piece of writing doesn’t need to specifically be a traditional prose story with a rising action, climax, and resolution; or a poem with a specific rhyming and metrical structure. We have the freedom to experiment with our work, play with the language and represent them in different ways.
Once the boundary that confines you within the rules of traditional prose and poetry is broken, you will be able to explore the world beyond it. You will see the number of options you have to choose from to convey your ideas in creative ways. Once you have practiced this new frame of thinking, you will be able to create unique work that may catch the attention of literary magazines, many of which accept experimental work.
Think about two opposing concepts and juxtapose them to form a narrative about a world issue. The issue may include but is not limited to racism, sexism, homophobia, global warming, human rights, etc. Feel free to experiment with the way you represent this piece: a poem interlaced with two conversing narratives (Ex: Craig Santos Perez, p. 345), a list (Ex: Terrance Hayes, p. 246), sectioned paragraphs (Ex: Carol Guess, p. 202), etc.
Using art as your voice in expressing your opinions and beliefs is a powerful way to be heard. Juxtaposition adds impact to your point, as it showcases the duality between two opposing views, or the two sides of one’s hypocrisy, or what the world is and what it could be.
I hope this assignment will inspire you to turn to art and writing in times of experiencing (firsthand or secondhand) injustice or witnessing inhumane acts. Art gathers people together to celebrate and commiserate the joys and hardships of being human. Participating in this community, as writers and as artists, gives us a stronger voice in difficult times as well as a community of likeminded individuals who share both our joy and our pain with us.