Saturday, January 12, 2008

Weekend Writing Workout #10 - Objects / Images / Incidences (#5 of 5)

Hey, it's only taken me 2 months to get back to this... life gets in the way like that... This is the final installment of the Object / Image / Incident 5 part exercise series.

The following exercise was inspired by Milan Kundera. I call it a "literary definition."

Kundera often comes up with fabulous "definitions" for things via an incident or image. For instance:

"The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful... Their love story did not begin until afterwards: she fell ill and he was unable to send her home as he had the others. Kneeling by her as she lay sleeping in his bed, he realized that someone had sent her downstream in a bulrush basket. I have said before that metaphors are dangerous. Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory."

I've always admired that definition of love. Well, we can't all be Milan Kundera, but we can have fun with this idea of creating definitions. The idea is to pick an abstract idea (we'll focus on an emotion) and define it by first visualizing the demonstration of it. Then we'll write the definition of it using that demonstration.

First we start with an incident.


Set your timer for 3-5 minutes for this warm-up exercise using the "I Remember" technique invented by poet Joe Brainard. Think back to your childhood, to an incident that still conjures an emotion (joy, fear, excitement, guilt, grief, embarrassment, etc). Start your timer, write the words "I remember" and continue the sentence, recalling the memory.

Without stopping to think or edit, simply keep writing lines, forming a "list-poem" with the words "I remember" starting each line. Do not write " " marks, you need to actually write the words "I remember" on each line, as it gives you a moment to find the next memory. See where the memories take you. You can skip through time as much as you like. Don't think too hard about it, just let it flow...


I remember dancing around a pizza parlor during my 6th birthday in my favourite long green and purple dress, thinking I knew how to tap dance. I couldn't stop dancing and everyone was watching and laughing with me.

I remember my mom tripping over the cat and hitting her head against the wall. She started bleeding everywhere and I ran to the neighbor's house to get help.

I remember my mom sobbing at the kitchen table the night after my Dad died.

I remember sticking a paperclip into a light socket and getting shocked.

I remember my friend riding her bigwheel into her pool and her Dad jumping in and saving her.

I remember singing "Hello My Baby" in a can-can line at my friend Kiki's house.


This could be a poem itself... but wait, there's more!


Pick any one of the above lines, especially if it conjures a strong emotion. Move the memory around in your head, what do you SEE?

Set your timer for 3-5 minutes. Without stopping, simply jot down a list of the images you associate with this memory.


old brown kitchen table with green legs
my mom bent over, her shoulders shaking as she sobs
her reddish blonde hair
newspapers piled up in the corner
mail piled on the table
dinner plates


Now, name the emotion. Then, demonstrate the emotion through the incident. Use the images from your list in your paragraph or to inspire your paragraph or both. When you get to the end of the paragraph, write your definition. The key is to put yourself in that moment and to FEEL, really feel, the emotion. Then describe it in words as if writing it in a literary dictionary. This is an invaluable tool for a writer.


I watched my mother sob at the kitchen table - shaking, wracking sobs that burst through an irreparable crack in the foundation that was her daily routine. Her life with my father would forever more be a litany of past-tenses. He was a good man. He had a contagious smile. He loved his work...

In that moment, all but her pain ceased to exist. I could only watch as it swallowed her whole. Grief, true grief, the one that leaves us helpless and empty-handed, is an immeasurable wrench of the gut that no mortal words can relieve.

What to do with this? Well, try a bunch and see which ones you like best.

You can then use them to create a poem
or perhaps place them inside a short story or a novel as part of your character's experience.


My mother sobs at the kitchen table -
surrounded by yesterday's mail -
wracking sobs that burst
through an irreparable crack
in the foundation of
her daily routine

Life with my father would forever more
be a litany of past-tenses
He was a good man...
He had a contagious smile...
He loved his work...

Dinner, newspapers, the garden
all but her pain ceased to exist
it swallowed her whole

Grief, true grief,
leaves us helpless and empty-handed
an immeasurable wrench of the gut
no mortal words can relieve

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great strategy d, to go deep, and come up with something

i talked about you a lot on weds in both my classes. it was all good. i gave them the first page of the book of writing exercises. they were inspired.