Category Archives: Exercises

[marginalia] girly girl – the challenge of channeling men : : colette sartor

I’ve never been much of a girly girl. I rarely wear makeup or get my nails done. Most days I forget to brush my hair. Waxing any body part seems like a torture designed for others braver than I am.

Even so, I appreciate girly things, like clothes. I love clothes. When I was a young, single entertainment lawyer, I didn’t spend money on expensive vacations or cars. I spent it on clothes, and shoes. God, the shoes. Back then, I used to budget for the Barney’s Warehouse Sale, held for a week in an airport hangar. Everyone in the entertainment industry–lawyers like me, agents, development execs, assistants, production people–lined up to flip through racks of designer suits, tuxedos, evening dresses, coats and purses and jewelry and belts. I once found an Isaac Mizrahi evening gown marked down from $3,000 to $300. It was backless, sleeveless, classic. That same shopping trip, I also bought deliciously sensible Oxford shoes and a raw silk chocolate-brown Calvin Klein pants suit. The suit was boxy and mannish and gorgeous. I loved it even more than the dress. I wore it more. It made me rejoice in the more “masculine” side of myself that felt comfortable showing up to weekend brunches scrub-faced and wearing clogs with ripped jeans. The side that loved to sweat, that would weight train for two hours at dawn and take a spinning class at noon. Continue reading

Picture credit: We Will Become Silhouettes by Joey Gannon, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Unmodified

[marginalia] you’ll never guess what happens next : : colette sartor

To some writers–including me–plot can seem like the dirtiest, most despicable of four letter words. Writers of this ilk have been known to run screaming from a room when we hear the word. “Make something happen?” we call, quaking in our hiding spots. “Why would we do that? Stories come from character, not plot. Stories should be about someone, not something.”

This, I’ve learned, is a huge, smelly load of horse shit.

Plot is important. Stories need plots. Every story. Every. Single. One.
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[exercise] Conference Survival 101: Found Fiction in Boring Presentations

boring

As the speaker at the front of the room drones through her PowerPoint presentation, you furiously take notes. Those seated near you are impressed. At the break, over coffee and stale pastries, they point you out to their friends: he must have written down every word she said.  Not far from the truth, but instead of taking notes you were discovering free verse. Here’s how. Continue reading

[writing prompt] the misconceived history story :: Marisela Navarro

car

In the Misconceived History story in “A Public Denial” by Allan Gurganus (published in the anthology Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories) the narrator attempts to restore his deceased grandfather’s dignity by challenging rumors that his grandfather’s death was the result of his own foolhardiness.

The story opens with this line:

Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, my grandfather did not die driving a Toyota across his pond.

The story resembles a persuasive essay; the narrator uses transition words such as “despite,” “while,” “admittedly,” and “evidently” to compose his argument. What I love about the story is how Gurganus uses no emotion to tell it, just the facts, yet it still carries an emotional impact. For a story that spans only two pages, I find this remarkable. Continue reading

memory as redemption


Civil War bullet, 1898

Tobias Wolff’s story “Bullet in the Brain” ends with a particularly vivid and evocative memory, the last one that the main character, Anders, has before his death.  This memory “works” so well because we can read it as a moment of redemption for Anders, a literary critic, who throughout the story has been brash, entitled, obnoxious, and critical, and who is, by the story’s end, redeemed through his pure memory of a moment in which the simple music of language awed him.  He recalls a moment of innocence and untarnished wonder and, in doing so, achieves some small measure of salvation.

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Psychological Tests as Writing Exercises

Psychological tests are very weird and typically rely on verbal interpretation, two attributes that comprise a good writing exercise.

Rarely do products of writing exercises become anything substantial. Perhaps a line, an idea that can be expanded, but on the whole they are what they are: exercises. Practice. Necessary when you’re not performing, creating, inspiring yourself. At their best, these psychological tests as writing exercises get your brain going crazy, which allows you to do something new, which is what you want, isn’t it? Continue reading

Input/Output



Kyle Minor has the writing prompt to end all writing prompts over at HTMLGiant, a list of criteria and questions called The Story Generatorwhich is activated with the roll of some dice.

This is a fantastic thing that I’m stealing and using in my classes and maybe even for myself for that thing called “fun with writing.” It would even be fun to have students make their own story generators, changing some of the parameters themselves.
My favorite elements in The Story Generator include: Continue reading

Emblems of Anti-Hope

One technique I’ve found useful in revising is coming up with one word that my story is about in an effort to find a center. For instance, say I finally realize that the story I’ve been trying to wrangle for months is about “hope.” Great. Then I ask myself, Does the main character lose hope or gain hope? (Normally, they will abandon all hope in my stories.) Then, I have some sort of idea that the story begins with a scene that demonstrates hope, then contains more scenes with emblems or messages of “anti-hope,” and finally ends with a loss of hope. Thinking in really simple terms like this helps me see where I’m going more clearly. “How does this scene communicate ‘anti-hope’?” I can ask myself. “Is the half-eaten donut an emblem of anti-hope?” You get the idea. Continue reading