Writing Prompt: Synesthesia

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Prompt

In writing, synesthesia is a technique that fuses color, sound taste, and smell together to present ideas, characters, or places. This technique makes ideas “more vivid and adds more layers of meaning to a text for the readers’ pleasure” that makes the piece of writing “more interesting and appealing” (LiteraryDevices.net).

Examples:

“Back to the region where the sun is silent…” – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

“With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz…” – Emily Dickinson, “Dying”

“All colors immediately fell an octave lower…”– Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles

“A creamy blur of succulent blue sounds smells like week-old strawberries dropped into a tin sieve as mother approaches in a halo of color, chatter, and perfume like thick golden butterscotch.” – Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

“The room’s carbonated silence is now hostile.” – David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.

Write a list of 6–10 descriptive sentences of your own using the technique of synesthesia.

Rationale

Synesthesia is a device that stretches your brain to create descriptions beyond what one would normally expect, thus breaking away from automatic writing. Choosing how to blend two senses together allows you to practice making connections between two seemingly opposing ideas that create an entirely new texture to your words when combining them together.

For Later

As you continue to write, you may be tempted to use clichéd descriptions, like “white as snow” or “deep blue sea.” By substituting these with descriptions using synesthesia, you will be able to break away from automatic writing—words your readers have heard many times before—and more towards fresh and original writing that surprises your readers.

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Writing Prompt: I Remember

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Prompt
The “I Remember” exercise is based on Joe Brainard’s book of the same title. Here are some lines from his book I Remember:

I remember my first erections. I thought I had some terrible disease or something.

I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie.

I remember when my father would say “Keep your hands out from under the covers” as he said goodnight. But he said it in a nice way.

I remember when I thought that if you did anything bad, policemen would put you in jail.

***

I remember when polio was the worst thing in the world.

(from poets.org)

The key to writing an “I remember…” is to focus on the details of your own memories as your recall them (or (re)inventing the details as you see them). For example, if you are going to write about the your dog’s death, you would not want to write “I remember when my dog died I was sad.” Emotion, if it happens in these, will be in the details; stay away from statements of emotion played straight. Instead, try “I remember the odd angles of my dog Fozzie’s legs and his lump-crushed torso under the Bridgestone off-roads on my Dad’s F-150. I remember he still had his cloudy brown eyes open, looking at me like he did when he wanted to understand what I was saying, full of concentration & what & why.”

Rationale
The “I remember” is a way to mine your own experience and memory for content while simultaneously avoiding automatic language and cliches. Like Brainard’s pieces, you can keep them really short but pack them full of specifics. Try to keep them under four sentences.

This exercise also reminds us that our memories are not as fixed as we might assume. Memories are more fluid and then become fixed when they are recorded and supplemented with details.

For Later
Besides revising or expanding your “I remembers,” you can keep this tactic in your arsenal of exercises to use when you want to create details or start new literary texts but are stuck. You can always edit out the “I remembers” or condense lines or sentences, but I sometimes like the repetition.

Writing Prompt: Thinking Short

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What to do:
For this assignment, reflect deeply on three images that each represent a memory or event from your past that has remained with you. Turn each of them into < 200-word prose piece (< 600 words total). Each prose piece must include as much concrete detail as possible using the five senses as well as using assonance and consonance to sharpen the language. These prose poems can range from a full paragraph to even a single sentence (assuming it is carefully thought through and effectively delivered—remember, every word counts!)

Rationale:
A powerful creative piece is often conceived starting with a single image. The writer then builds around the image to create a scene. In this assignment, you are to do this using a very short amount of space. When writing lengthy genres like novels, sometimes it’s easy for the technique of our craft to become lost or diluted while stretching plot points into 50,000 words of text. Writing shorter, more concise works allows the technique of our craft to become more concentrated.

For Later:
You will learn to capture the tone of a single scene using a shorter writing form. Writing short, stand-alone pieces using a minimal amount of words trains your brain to slow down and focus its “lens” on a single scene. Unlike when writing a novel, it allows your brain to think more in terms of a brief clip instead of an entire two-hour movie. Prose does not need to be long and verbose. Sometimes fewer words are much more effective. Using concrete imagery and language techniques in the process allows you to focus on every single word you write so that none fail to serve a purpose.