May 15


Seven days to get writing again: day three

The introduction to this series is here. But the idea is simple: one quick writing exercise a day for seven days. Post the results in a comment below, or, if you prefer, email them to me (at my name at gmail).

Day three! Several people mentioned that day two of the series was a lot trickier than day one. I found this a little embarrassing, as this series was originally meant to be a brisk stroll rather than an obstacle course. I am learning something about myself, then, through this process: my fondness for obstacle courses…

Anyway: while today's exercise is less challenging than yesterday's, it should still get those writing muscles working. It is simple. Write a paragraph of about five sentences, more or less, in which you

1. describe a character's disappointment with something or someone.

2. involve something “red”, or something connected to “red”–sunsets, blood, red velvet cupcakes etc.

3. use only words of one syllable.

The last requirement is where the magic comes in. A constraint on the words we can use can have remarkable effects on our writing, our subject matter, even our thinking. It is like being a completely different writer.

Here's one from me:

The ground was bright and dry at the crest of the hill. In the clear sky, the moon hung low and round, like an eye of bone. You were in the red tent, the one sign of life in all these woods. You and the girl with the long dark hair: I could see in my head how the two of you touched. Your lights moved on the tent's walls, and your voice was loud in the night. The moon shone on my knife, as I turned it, this way and that. I was so glad we could talk, you and I, one last time.

PS If you teach creative writing, I've found one-syllable writing to be a very popular and interesting assignment / classroom exercise. But I find it powerful for my own writing, too.

Enjoy! Looking forward to reading your examples: they've been really good so far. I'm very excited that people are enjoying this series.


writing exercise

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  • The one-syllable rule is such a great teaching method! I’ve never written with that constraint before in school or anywhere, so I found this exercise greatly rewarding. Still, I labored through this one just a bit. I might have cheated because I noticed I kept writing short sentences! I’m going to have do some practicing.

    There she was by the bar. She had a drink in her hand. Her long black hair curled near the small of her back and she wore a deep red dress that gripped her slight form. Jim, a friend of a friend and my tour guide for this night on the town, said to go for it. “Be brave. Go talk to her,” he said. I found my foot and took a small step. He nudged me. “Do it,” he said. But I was faint and I froze, swooned by some spell that held her in my thoughts. Jim pushed me back and went up close to her side and, his mouth to her ear, spoke to her. I read his lips as he gazed at me and she laughed.

    • I really like how this communicates that strange thing about approaching someone in a bar / party: that it is often as much, or almost as much, about one’s relationship with one’s friend, the sense of being better or worse than them, as it is the actual person one is interested in.

  • James missed his shot. The round red dot on the sheet leered at him. Old, worn out. That’s what they would say. Past his prime. He held the gun up, stared at its curve, so snug in his grip. It was not the same as last time. It looked strange. Odd. Out of place. What was wrong with him? Why now? Why not last week when no one watched? Then he had hit the red dot dead on three times. Bam. Bam. Bam. But this shot had gone wide, and now, they would send him to his death.

  • Great final sentence! Yikes. I hope he gets another chance to shoot, at the end of the story…

  • Sam flicked her red hair out of her face and stole a glance at Dan. He stared into space, looked at the clock, and grabbed his phone from his bag. “I just have to make a call” he said as he walked to the door. She was stunned. And bored. So she pulled out her phone as well and sent a text. “Jane. Help me. I need out!”. She knew Jane would get it, so was not shocked when the phone rang just as he got back to his seat. She picked up and talked for a while. Then “I have to go. My friend is hurt and she needs me. I’ll call you.”
    As she left Sam thought “Phew. That date really sucked…”

    • Jenn, this is a fun vignette–and it was hard for me to remember, while reading, that you were only using one-syllable words. Impressive. I wonder if Dan could do something more boring, unpleasant, to justify Sam’s dislike. Or if Sam could begin the passage more into Dan, thinking he was great.

      “Sam flicked her red hair out of her face and stole a glance at Dan. He was cute. But now she was pissed off, as his eyes were far off. He looked at the clock, then at the bar’s front door. Sam liked him, but she could not stand rude men, not since her ex…”

  • Dear Daniel,

    Sorry for troubling you over the mail. I have already sent two exercises. This the third one. If you are free you may comment. As you said I found this tough. But I enjoyed doing it.

    thanks much

    Ramesh * * * Tom’s hurt (Third exercise) * * * * * *Her blood boils when she thinks of Tom, her boss. He told her that she was dull in front of all. His words still ring in her ears and hurt her. Tom is numb and does not care for her pain. But things changed soon. Tom fell from stairs one day and limped. She was cool. And this hurt him much and made him see what he did to her. He felt sorry for her and said so. *

  • Sylvia Schwartz says:

    Exercise Three (thought it might be fun to create the arch of disappointment at the head of the piece meeting a happier resolution at the end, after all it’s sunny out today):

    Oh dear me! she writes. No! No! No! she writes. Red beets, good. Check. White bread, bad. Check. The thin girl stalks her head. Then she thinks. The heart, the soul, how are they to be fed? She draws a line. It curves. Swells. Jumps out of form. Then she writes: oh, my dear, yes. And puts the pen back down.

  • I’m glad this piece ended sunnily! Good stuff.

    A suggestion: I suspect you need one more sentence near the beginning, to explain a bit more the conflict going on inside the character. “The thin girl stalks her head” is powerful but not immediately obvious as the key to her problems–is there a more prosaic, real world sentence that could clue the reader in (on first, rather than on second, reading)?

    Thanks for trying this exercise out.

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