Writing Exercise #7: Child of the Caldera

This post is approximately 950 words.

volcano-caldera-1

Writing isn’t just about the final piece, the story you want readers to consume. It’s also about the writer herself. Or himself, in my case. If I’m bored out of my gourd, the process will be a tremendous slog, and I’ll probably never finish. But if the idea feels fresh or unusual – or requires me to do interesting research – it can be as effortless as breathing.

In this post, beyond the typical short piece of fiction I just write until the energy fades, I thought I’d list some of my motivations for exercises like this. Especially since the resulting stories are unrelated to my current manuscript. And at the end of the post, I’ve written out some ideas on the piece. It’s an evaluation of sorts, to help me determine whether I breathe additional life into the idea.

The writing exercises…

  1. Allow me to practice my craft
  2. Give me a break from the manuscript
  3. Expand an intriguing concept to see if it can stand on its own
  4. Capture an idea before it disappears forever
  5. Entertain me

Let’s see if the following piece does those things.


Child of the Caldera

September 9, 2017 – Jakarta, Indonesia

“Three weeks have passed since Mt. Meracellus exploded, ravaging the island of Ruhlu Benda and causing havoc across the region. A plume estimated to be thirty-five kilometers high has dominated the skies of Southeast Asia and deposited ash nearly a thousand miles away. Tsunamis have killed thousands of people in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, with reports of damage coming from India, China, Korea, and Japan. Stories from as far away as Australia and Hawaii tell of black waves of dead sea life hitting their shores, the poisoned remnants of the volcano’s death.

Continue reading

Writing Exercise #6: A Working Of Color

This post is approximately 200 words – short n sweet, like the mystery fruit described below.

splash-of-colors-wallpaper-1.jpgWisps of cloud diluted the perfect blue of the morning sky, reducing its rich color to a softer hue. Young leaves, bright with verdant life, glowed in the light of the rising sun. Dancing green lights they seemed, as a warm breeze awoke them from slumber. Beyond the sentinel mountain that overshadowed this valley, the sun brought the promise of a perfect day, its yellow rays coaxing vivid summer colors from all things that fell beneath its gaze.

A tentative hand reached into the branches of a tree and plucked free a large red fruit, its rind as rich and dark as blood. Not an apple was this, he knew. It was too early in the season. The fruit’s sudden appearance had surprised him, considering this was a tree long thought barren. Compulsion, not conscious thought, brought the fruit to his lips, where the sharp white peaks of his teeth pierced the rind. The fruit nearly burst from the wound, and dark purple juices ran down the man’s chin as he chewed.

Writing Exercise # 5: Flare

This post is approximately 800 words.

This is just me, writing as far as I can after starting with nothing. No ideas, save for what popped into my head right before I sat down. No plan. The only goal is to write until the baloney runs out.

*     *     *     *     *

Rosalyn Flaherty’s paternal grandparents were both Irish. As in, straight from Ireland. They’d immigrated to America after World War II to start a better life for their children. Rosalyn’s father Peter was the their fourth child, but the first American-born. He always joked about being raised in a world of green. Rosalyn suspected this wasn’t an exaggeration.

Her grandparents never let her forget her heritage, and their tutelage ranged from the history of some obscure traditional dish at supper to celebrating some forgotten holiday, the names of which usually sounded like they were clearing their throats as they taught her the proper pronunciation.

Rosalyn hated it. She hated the history. She hated the culture. She hated her ancestry. If she’d put her teenage brain to it, she’d have realized it all stemmed from her own self image. At the heart of it, she hated her milky skin and the explosion of red curls atop her head, to which she credited her fiery temper, not her contrary nature. She took it all out on everything Irish. Continue reading

Tighten Up Your Writing (or not?) #4

This post is approximately 400 words.

calvin-resolutionsIt’s the first day of a new year, which generally means resolutions and other pledges of life changes, blabbity-blah. I usually don’t hold to such traditions, uh, mostly because I forget my New Year’s promises before January ends. But as an idea formed in my head this morning, it occurred to me I might be writing such a post.

Yes and no. This post does contradict other guidance I’ve given about reducing words during a rewrite. But as with most other advice in life, just because you CAN do something, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Forsaking context or intent for the sake of brevity is an excellent way to deliver a quick read that readers misunderstand. That’s why I’m going to show the other side of word reduction. Continue reading

Tighten Up Your Writing #3

This post is approximately 400 words. There’d be 25% more, if I hadn’t…tightened up my writing. Yeah, that’s right: bad jokes and math on this writing blog.

Many of the writing questions I’m asked are in the category of “Where do ideas come from?” which usually elicits a response about “mommy and daddy ideas that love each other very much.”

But I also get quite a few inquiries about mechanics, which to this grammar nerd, is pretty cool. We can all put words on paper in a coherent order, but it’s challenging to do it crisply and succinctly. Especially the first time.  I rarely deliver a sentence that completely satisfies me after the first writing.

kneading

It’s like making dough: you can put the ingredients together, but if you don’t massage that lump, it’s not going to taste right. As someone who’s reviewed thousands of pages, I know that many people are satisfied with the lumpy dough of first drafts. I get it. There’s that impatience factor. But just as people are discriminating about pizza joints, so they are about books. They’ll stop coming for sub-par sustenance.

Not stopping at one draft is the key. The following examples demonstrate various ways to change up your thinking as you work through the editing process. Compare my lumpy messes to the dough I’m putting in the oven (he said, reconsidering his analogy). Continue reading

Writing Exercise #4

This post is approximately 650 words, and there might be swears. I wrote this piece in August and forgot to post it!

This is just me, writing as far as I can after starting with nothing. No ideas, save for what popped into my head right before I sat down. No plan. The only goal is to write until the baloney runs out.

Usually, writers will recommend that you can’t write effectively unless you sequester yourself in a quiet room with no distractions, whether visual, auditory, or Internet-y. You need to be focused, wholly devoted to the art that is splashing upon the page as dripped by typing fingers than can usually concoct a better analogy than this.

But for this exercise, I’m sitting in the living room, which is our primary communal area in the house. Scout our dog is continually dropping a slobbery ball on my lap. Benji keeps running over, updating me on his play using non-verbal sounds. Sam is sharing Internet memes. Kirsten and I are talking about her work day. Hopefully, she’ll confirm that I’m actively participating.

If you care to read beyond this introduction, I can’t promise you’ll read anything particularly compelling. I might not even review it before I post this. I’m hoping at the very least, it’s grammatically correct (as far as my character goes). Perhaps most importantly, this entire post will be at least 500 words, which is more than I wrote yesterday. It all adds up. It all counts toward the improvement of my writing. Read on, if you dare; send feedback, if you care.

BTW, I wrote this introduction during the writing that you are about to read. I’m sooooo not a linear writer.

BTW2, the computer died in the middle of this, but it didn’t kill my momentum.

*     *     *     *     *

The world is full of good people. You know the ones. The neighbor who cuts that shared bit of lawn between your houses. The mom of your son’s teammate who offers who drive him home after baseball practice. Even that person who opens the door when your arms are full of groceries.

I used to be one of those people. Continue reading

Writing Exercise #3: Halloween Rhymes

This post is approximately 500 words. 

The following verse represents about an hour’s worth of work, which means it’s not highly polished, yet I still managed to work in rhyme and rhythm with minimal effort.

However, if you’ve ever written a verse in rhyme, you know that sometimes it requires a ridiculous commitment to the style. For me, I usually get about three-fourths done before I start to question my decision. It comes around the time I think, “I need a rhyme for itch: ditch, Fitch, hitch, kitsch, liche, Mitch, niche…” Then comes the expectation that the audience will find the verse absurd because stylistic compromises were made just to get a rhyming word in.

Well yeah….sometimes.

But that’s fine. In a writing exercise, you’re not seeking art or permanence. You’re chasing the muse, curious about where she leads. It’s almost disposable writing, which is not to say it’s worthless. To the contrary, it very well could end up in a finished work. But again, that’s not the point. The goal, the real objective, is to keep your writing tools honed. This makes your daily manuscript work easier because you’ve kept your mind sharp.

In the spirit of the Halloween season, I hope you can enjoy this little cautionary tale, written in the style of old nursery rhymes. Continue reading

Writing Exercise #2: Out of the Rain

This post is approximately 400 words.

Some people have a musical soundtrack that plays through their minds as they walk or run. I have this, too, but more often than not, I have narration. My head is filled with the story of what could happen to someone in my situation. Not so long ago, it was a rainy walk to work.

The first sentence is the exact first thing that came into my head as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The rest followed me as I went.

*     *     *     *     *

He walked unconcernedly through the rain. The quiet drizzle was a nice respite from the thunderous show of the night before. His umbrella echoed with rhythmic pit-pats as his shoes splashed through puddled evidence of the storm. All-in-all, he told himself, it was a nice change from his usual morning walk to work. A little variation in an otherwise monotonous journey he’d made hundreds of times in the last five years. People ran past with jackets over their heads or briefcases held high, but their attempts to stay dry were in vain. He allowed himself a smile, though it still took an effort to bring it to his lips.

It took a few moments for him to realize – at least, that’s what he would tell himself later when he tried to recall the exact series of events – that the sound of the rain against his umbrella had gone. His feet still splashed in puddles, but it seemed the rain had stopped. He lowered his umbrella, looking around, but still saw others trying to protect themselves against the wet. He stopped, thinking that he must be in some pocket of quiet, the eye of the storm where all was peaceful.

A sudden gale nearly blasted him off his feet, buffeting him and drenching his clothes. He had a momentary glimpse of his tattered umbrella before it disappeared into the gray of the sudden deluge. Then as suddenly as it had hit, it ceased. Again he was in the quiet in the midst of the storm. But it was different this time.

The rain still fell, but it no longer touched him.

*     *     *     *     *

I have no idea where this goes. And it doesn’t matter. It’s more fun that way.

–Michael

See also: Writing Exercise #1: Be Uninspired

Writing Exercise #1: Be Uninspired

This post is about 500 words and was originally posted on LinkedIn.

If you like to write (or like the idea of writing but hate the difficulty of it), I have an exercise for you to try. I used it to create this article.

Many of us have had those glorious days where the words are flowing to your fingertips faster than you can type. It’s effortless. It’s a wondrous feeling that re-establishes your faith in your abilities and confirms that The Great American Novel is just a few sessions like this from being completed.

Upon your return to the computer, the black reality sets in. There’s nothing. No inspiration at all. In fact, there are days where I’ve been certain that banging my head against the keyboard would produce better prose than the barely-coordinated tapping of my fingers.

This is where my exercise comes in. Trust me, it works. Continue reading