Another Writing Exercise

One of the questions I am always asked by writing students goes something like this: “I get these ideas. And then I read books that are sort of like my ideas. And so I stop writing. What can I do about that?”

The truth is that lots of ideas are similar. When THE CHOSEN ONE came out, I learned of several other books that were out, coming out, or being written–all about polygamy. In fact, a famous author just mentioned to me that he is writing a book on polygamy.

And then there’s that one English teacher thing that says there are only seven original stories. Or five, if you talk to some people. Or three, if you talk to others. Anyway, you get my drift (Hmmm. What does that mean, you get my drift?). There is no new idea out there. There might be a twist, but the themes remain the same.

So what sets your book apart from all the others? What makes a book original? What makes your book YOURS?

I think it’s voice. Your voice can be the truth of the story. Your voice can win you awards. It sets you apart. It makes you different.

Today’s exercise is simple. Write a few pages of a story starting with the first line of a book I’m working on, and the first line of a book that Ann Dee is working on. We won’t tell you a thing about the stories because that doesn’t matter.  This is a study of voice. Let’s see what you can come up with and how you make it your own.

Here’s one line:

After it happened, no one in school would talk to me.

And here is the other opening line:

One time.

So have at it. Keep the lines as they are and work your magic. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

By the way–when you participate, you run the risk of 1. maybe coming up with something cool that you can use in your own WIP and 2. winning something.

So there.

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18 responses to “Another Writing Exercise

  1. The book study I did for my PhD actually found that similarity to other more famous books helped a book sell. Also, originality hurt a book’s sales. So write your own book. And if it’s sort of like other people’s? Well, good.

    • CLW

      As well, publishers tend to shy away from things that may be too original. So there.
      Be original.
      But similar.
      Clever.
      But not too clever.

      You know the drill.

  2. I guess this would be a rough short story. Is this your line I used, Carol? Or is Ann Dee my muse this time?
    ————
    Masterpiece

    After it happened, no one in school would talk to me. Isn’t it interesting how quickly people can turn so cold… so unmoving? Most people would find it sad, but I found it intriguing.
    My art project left everyone speechless—students and teachers alike. Nobody had anything to say to me once my work was finished. Perhaps there was nothing that _could_ be said. At any rate, I didn’t care… I don’t mind the silence.
    I am still trying to decide if this is a good thing. My creation is undeniably beautiful, undeniably true. I don’t need praise. I don’t need recognition. I don’t even need an _audience_, truth be told.
    Yet I’ve always made sure to appreciate the comments my peers have given me, whether they be compliments or criticisms. In all honesty words mean nothing to me personally, but most people feel they are doing some great favor when they share their opinions of my artwork. I kindly accept the words and smile, the same way you smile to your friends after receiving a useless trinket on your birthday. I do not need people to care about me or my art, but if someone just so happens to care, I won’t complain.
    Though it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I do wonder why nobody has spoken a word to me since I completed my latest work of art. It is, without a doubt, the most magnificent of all my creations. Is everyone so moved that they are incapable of saying anything? Or is it that the rest of the world does not share my opinion of my work, and they simply don’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me how they really feel about it? If they’re worried about my feelings, they could always just _lie_. Not that I would care either way.
    For the most part my art teachers had all been impressed with my paintings and sculptures over the years. Ever since I was a child, I placed my heart and soul into every stroke of the brush, into every contour of the plaster.
    Jan Lievens was a professional, awe-inspiring artist at age twelve. John Everett Millais entered the Royal Academy as a painter when he was only eleven. Alexandra Nechita had her first solo exhibit when she was eight. And when Pablo Picasso was eight, he created _Le Picador_. I was already fifteen, and had nothing to my name. It didn’t matter to me that on a grand scale I was virtually unrecognized, but I knew deep in my heart that I had not created something that was truly awe-inspiring. I was ready to take that next step.
    Three days ago, I began what would become my magnum opus. It didn’t take long for me to complete the first stage of my masterpiece—it was the second stage that required many hours of careful planning and painstaking measuring. And, of course, lots of rope.
    It required a grand scale. Hundreds of subjects. Unprecdented vision. A truly unique atmosphere. An unshakable, uniform theme. Strong, vibrant color. And most of all: sheer, raw emotion. For many years it has been argued what constitutes art, and my work may very well have ripped asunder every traditional definition that could be applied to it.
    At first I thought this was the step I needed to take in order to truly grasp… something. I have always used my art to try gaining a better understanding of what I am… why I act the way I do… where my unnameable power comes from. Perhaps I thought I could learn how my existence fit into this world if I managed to create something—something greater than my own mind, my own being.
    I have spent the majority of the past fifty-seven hours letting my thoughts wander through vague, shadowy territories. It will be interesting to see where my thoughts will take me.
    In the meantime, I’ve found myself unable to stop tinkering with my masterpiece. It is a living work of art, requiring constant maintenance and care. The subjects keep falling apart. Crimson paint drips from their toes, staining the floors. It may take a few more days for everything to settle perfectly, but I am patient. The entire school is my canvas. Seven-hundred and seventeen human beings are the focal points.
    It is a captivating vision. Six-hundred and seventy four students. Forty-three teachers and other faculty members. I can walk down any hall and find them, spread apart from each other perfectly evenly. Each individual hangs from a noose.
    There have been many people that have come to the school to witness my work of art. In the end, they have nothing to say about it, either. My masterpiece grows and grows. There are always more hallways to fill. And I never run out of crimson paint.
    Though the materials used for my work are all very similar to each other, I have been able to carve my subjects as I’ve seen fit. I have created patterns as best I could, based on the color of people’s hair. I chisel out the eyes of dark-haired boys. I clip off the fingers of brown-haired girls. I twist out the teeth of red-haired students. I carve through the waists of blonde-haired teachers.
    And so on and so forth.
    The meaning of my work will vary from person to person. Some artists hate spelling out what their artwork means, but I have no qualms voicing my own feelings regarding my creations. To me, my masterpiece simply brings up one simple question to ponder over.
    Aren’t we all born missing something?
    —————

  3. One time. That’s what Mom says is all it took for her to get preggo with twins. First time ever when she was sixteen. I think that’s shit. She’s trying to scare me out of having sex, and her one time bullshit isn’t gonna do it. The girls poppin out kids in my school are sex maniacs. I know it cause Anna’s my best friend, and she’d been having sex for two years with Sam before she got pregnant. And Tiffany and Joelle and Kara and Melanie. They all did it at least once a week for awhile – probably more for Kara – before it happened to them. So I don’t believe this one time shit.
    But I figure to be safe, one time’s my max. I can do it with a guy once and be okay. The first time’s the best anyway, when it’s all exciting and new. After that, it’s all downhill cause they just want it all the time and in their way. I only know that from Joe, who wanted it all the time in any way he wanted and I said okay. For awhile. But after him, I made my rule: one time’s it.

    • i’m apologizing now for the swearing. i tried to change it, but then it wasn’t her voice and it sounded weird. so i sincerely hope i haven’t offended anyone. and if i have, please don’t read that book when it comes out.

      • Hey, I love the basic artistic standards defense, that is way better than the Twinkies one. You know, where you make a promise to cut out sugar and then binge on Twinkies and purge on the paper. Ergo: You have no control over your body or writing so you can’t be held accountable.

        Is that Latin really necessary, Neil. I am truly offended.

        Okay, you are right, and I will apologize for the Latin, but I wont excuse my French, no neva!

        BY THE WAY, DAMN,THIS IS GREAT VOICE.

      • I knew girls like this.
        Good job.

    • CLW

      I love this.
      And thank you for the apology.

  4. One time.
    Before right now.
    Before this little minute
    That passed all quiet.
    Except for the knock.
    I thought I’d get out.
    I thought I’d get away.
    That things would be better.
    Maybe not for me. Maybe not for people like me.
    It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s on
    The other side. This door. This wood.
    Primed and painted white. Scuffed with
    Shoes, with time. With filth.
    It should have kept it out. Turn
    The lock, turn the key. And have
    Dinner. Go to bed. With a kiss.
    And sleep. Supposed to sleep. Behind
    The door with the lock, with the bolt.
    “Police” he says. And my knees
    They whither. Paper thin
    Feels the door. And mine,
    The only heart left beating.
    Bangs against the wood. Alone
    In a house. That never was
    A house. With oven mitts. Or smells
    Of a hot stove. No meals to burn.
    “I’m not coming out.” I tell
    Officer Garcia. “You can’t help me.”
    My nose is wet, my chin lets go of
    Weighted tears. The smoke. Its
    Coming now. Black. Hot. Hungry,
    I hear flames bite at the walls. The
    House screams. No other screams.
    “Move away from the door, Maddy.” He
    Yells, Officer Garcia. “Maddy, you can’t
    Give up like this.” I feel nothing
    As I throw bags, Taco Bell, McDonalds,
    Into the fire. I throw and I throw. And I hear
    Them bang. And chop. And sirens.
    Tired. Only minutes.
    Maybe seconds. It’ll be over.
    We will all be
    black print
    In a gray paper. Words like,
    Tragedy. Family. Nothing
    Of the sixteen years
    Of pain.

  5. After it happened, no one in school would talk to me. But I guess that’s normal. It’s hard to talk to someone who’s dead.

    Why didn’t I turn into Casper or Demi Moore? Then at least I could tell someone what REALLY happened. Or make pottery.

    It’s not real about dogs and cats. How people say they can see spirits and ghosts and things. I spent all night trying to get Aggie, our Cocker Spaniel, to tell mom to stop crying. But she just laid there. Only stirring to watch a fly go kamikaze against the kitchen window.

    Idiot dog.

    Idiot fly.

    So I’m at school. Hoping one of my friends is a prodigy medium. No luck so far. But there have been a few bright spots. I have to admit it is kind of fun to yell at the jerks. To say anything and everything I always wanted to. Like William. I can’t say all the words I used, but I informed him of his severe insecurity. I may have also mentioned a few things about what I saw in the locker room. Hey, I had no idea guys in middle school actually took showers. In front of each other.

    Disgusting.

    I need therapy.

    But where to find a dead therapist?

    It’s weird not being able to smell things. I expect bad breath from some notorious offenders. But nothing. Not even from Mr. Davis. And he is an unmistakable cross between an ashtray and coffee grounds.

    Again, disgusting.

    Algebra, how I do not miss you at all. Jake and Cammie are holding hands under the group A desk. Cammie used to be – less free with her lips and body. We were actually pretty close in Elementary. She spent the night at my house a lot. My mom really liked her. Always told me to be extra nice to her. I didn’t like being over at her house much. Her parents seemed cool. But it just felt, weird.

    I think I miss her.

    I make my rounds in the room. And baby, I’ve got dancing skills. And singing skills. Too bad I was never this brave in front of others when I was, alive.

    Nothing.

    Cammie, Jake, Jessica, Caiden, Joshua, Heather, Alexis, Kara, Brandon, Nathan… nobody can hear me. No one can see me. And I only have three classes I haven’t tried yet.

    Maybe I’m doing something wrong. Where’s the, “Recently Dead” handbook when you need it? Maybe I need to switch music genres. Something more spiritual, like alternative. I pick one of Madelyn’s favorite songs. Of course I thought if anyone would hear or see me, it would be Madelyn. She’s like a green peace twinkie, hug a tree and save the world, girl. We were kinda friends.

    But no.

    I start blasting away a song about a crying wolf. I thought I knew the words better.

    “Shut up. I hate that song. And you look ridiculous.”

  6. Carol

    A good start to something that could be fun, Lucinda.
    Will you keep going?

  7. I don’t know. I just busted it out. I like the sarcasm. (I don’t know why.)
    I’ll hold onto it. Maybe I’ll go back and forth when the other starts to
    depress me.

    I’m already critiquing it in my head.

  8. No one in school would talk to me after it happened. Not that I’d ever really been the center of the social scene. But girls like me didn’t need to be. My goals and dreams had nothing to do with being well-liked by my peers. I’d never needed them before, and I didn’t need them now.

    In fact, it was a good thing. No dumb social life to distract me from what really mattered. Things had been so crazy the first semester with tennis and student government and everything–acing that chem final was a freaking miracle. But I couldn’t count on another miracle this time.

    Okay. Yes. It sucked being the only student body president in Stanley Park Prep’s entire history to be impeached. But student government was a joke anyway, and now I could focus on school. And I had to admit, finally having time to sleep was a major perk.

    I felt bad for my mom, though. Social stuff mattered to her, and it was lame for people to ostracize her just because I went and got pregnant. They were all a bunch of liberal hypocrites.

    So, with both of us on the outs in our respective social circles, we ended up home together way more than ever in my life. Did this improve our relationship?

    Not in the least.

  9. rbs

    These all blew me away!

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