Thursday, February 14, 2008

Fiction Calisthenics

Today's entry was inspired by an entry over at Jeff Draper's blog, Scriptorius Rex (go check out his site; good stuff), and my response to it.

If you're ever stuck, or you just need to warm up your writing muscles and flex those fingers before confronting your current project, be it poetry or a manuscript or a short story, then here's an easy, fun exercise:

1) Choose a notebook or a loose-leaf binder that you will use only for these writing calisthenics. The reason? Just like hauling out the right exercise mat or choosing your favorite punching bag, you always know where to go when you need a workout. Also, every time you do this exercise, you will end up with something interesting you can use later; if you use the same notebook every time, you always know where to find the material.

2) Each time you start a fresh exercise, put the day's date at the top of the page, then make a list--1,2,3--on the first three lines.

3) Pick a book, any book. Pick a magazine, if you want. Any printed material will do; I prefer thick books.

4) Flip through the book at random and, without looking, point to the page. Write down the word closest to (or underneath) your finger; feel free to try again if the word is "the" or "and" or something else bland. Multisyllabic words are best, but any word will do. Repeat this part of the exercise until you have at least three words listed beside the numbers at the top of your page.

5) Look at the clock--or set a timer--and, without stopping to think about what you're going to compose, write for no less than 5 and no more than 15 minutes straight, incorporating those three words in your list. When the timer goes off or the second hand ticks past the 5-minute or the 15-minute point, stop writing, even if it's in the middle of a sentence.

In my experience, the results are often a lot of fun and help provide some interesting openers for what can become longer stories. I'm surprised at the variety of topics, settings, and eras that I've written about whenever I've just let my mind wander free.

Below is one example from my apple-green spiral-bound notebook which bears the same title as this post--"Fiction Calisthenics"--and the three words in the list are in bold in the text:

7-16-07

1) school
2) arms
3) gloves

No.

No way.

Impossible.

He stared at the gleaming silver benches, the neatly bordered aisles with their shiny aluminum handrails. At least twenty rows of bleachers--and he was supposed to run up and down how many times?

First day of school in this backwater town, and he was already in trouble.

He glanced over his shoulder. Coach Winters stood with his arms crossed, whistle lanyard dangling from one meaty paw, stopwatch lanyard dangling from the other.

Jerk. Can't take a joke.

Coach Winters spat on the track, and little puffs of dirt flew up around the wad of phlegm. "Two minutes added to your time. C'mon, boy. Twelve minutes and counting."

He swung his arms, limbering up. A couple twists, a couple hamstring stretches, a few seconds of jogging in place as a warm-up--

"Thirteen minutes."

What he wouldn't give for three minutes, a boxing ring, and his favorite pair of gloves; flabby Coach Winters wouldn't last one round. Guaranteed.

His tennis shoes banged on the first bleacher, the sound echoing in the stadium. Blowing out his breath, taking it in again, he started up.

And there ya go--you've warmed up your writing muscles, and you have material to use later, and (hopefully) you've had a little fun doing it.

4 comments:

The Texican said...

Good program. I think I will try that. I need a boost from time to time.

KEANAN BRAND said...

I've done this with a circle of writing friends, and it's cool to read everyone's creations aloud when they're still "hot off the press" and haven't been prettied up. It's amazing the places the mind can go when it's not being prodded toward perfection.

Eaglewing said...

That's a great idea. Sometimes you just need something to prod you out of a rut, and this would certainly work. I'll have to try it sometime.

KEANAN BRAND said...

I like easy, quick mind-joggers to get the imagination pumping.

If you do this exercise some time, share what you came up with, if you'd like. I'm always interested in how different writers create different works when they're all using the same basic material.