(Feel free to try all of the following exercises; then settle in on
the one that hits better pay dirt, and do that one for class.)
- EXERCISE: Write a story with "you" or "we" as the narrator[s]. (Click here for an article describing Second Person. Also take a look at the Jeannette Winterson exerpt from The Power Book, on herwebsite. For first person plural, read The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides.)
- SELF-AWARE NARRATION: Allow yourself to interrupt the story with asides to the audience or observations on the writing process or other intrusions which call attention to the artist's conscious process in constructing the fiction. Read Ursula Heggi's Intrusions for examples of the self-aware narration. Also read Jamaica Kincaid's self-aware narration about writing Mr. Potter. For another variation on self-awareness, see John Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse," or read the article about him at Scriptorium.
- STREAM EXERCISE: (Wait to write): Allow your mind to do whatever it does over the course of a measured ten (or fifteen, twenty or thirty) minutes. You might want to seed your thought period with a notion, to avoid the tedium of variations on the theme: 'What am I doing this silly exercise for, anyway?' But once you start, allow your mind to do the wandering, and just follow it.
Try making very short notes as the minutes pass, about the thoughts that enter your head and the progression of one thought to another. But do not allow the making of the notes to impede the free flow of your thoughts. In fact, if that happens, you might try dictating into a tape recorder.
Now, narrate, in full detail, that ten minute thought process. For our notes on stream-of-consciousness, click here.
- SURREAL EXERCISE: Write something surreal, based on a system the world does not know until you reveal it. (Read any of Amy Bender's short stories; or read the article at Scriptorium about Donald Barthelme, and while you are at it, find Donald Barthelme's short stories too, and read them. Also read Jeanette Winterson's "A Short Introduction to the Art of Storytelling," from Sexing the Cherry. Also see these links to Magical Realism resources
- HANDS EXERCISE: Observe: Hold your hand in front of
you. Look at it closely, perhaps more closely than you ever have before.
Move it around. See how it looks when most comfortable. Flex it.
Contort it a little. Make a fist. Look at the back of it. View it from
several angles. Turn it around and contemplate the back of it.
Sometimes your hand will tremble. It probably isn't used to being looked at by you, so it may be nervous. This is all right. If it bothers you, just rest it on the desk or on your lap.
And don't worry about looking silly. If you are doing this in class,
then everybody else is doing the same thing, and if you are doing it at
home, then just do it in private.
Entertain Yourself: Now take a little break from all
that concentration. Snap your fingers. Make your hands be funny. Make
goofy shapes. Now rub your hands together. Pretend to be greedy.
Pretend to be cunning and conniving. Wring your hands and imagine fear
or concern or worry.
Finally, gently move one palm on another, round and round, so that
it makes a faint "krish, krish, krish" sound. Allow that sound to
transport you. Hold your moving hands beside your ear and notice the
other-worldly affect the sound makes. All the while, realize it is
your hands that are entertaining you.
Remember your hands touching in love -- caresses, pats -- remember the babies your hand has held.
Remember suitcases you have carried.
Remember your hand as it learned the dexterity of sports or skills.
Remember the smoothest thing your hand has touched.
Remember the slipperiest thing.
Remember minor burns.
Remember the coldest your hand has ever been -- perhaps on a day you were forced outside without mittens.
Remember opening gifts.
Remember your hands when they drive a car, when you use them for crafting or art. Remember your hands when you sit in the dentist's chair, or when you are in fear.
Remember anything that comes to you as your hand reintegrates
with its history.
You might also look at your hand and watch, in your mind's eye, as
the years dissolve and that same hand becomes the hand of the child
you once were, starting as an adolescent and then gradually working
back, younger and younger, until it is the grasping hand of a tiny
infant. As you do this, be aware of what is going on around the person
to whom that hand belongs -- you at all your earlier stages. Allow
yourself to regenerate wherever you think appropriate, and let your
memory form, all of it expanding from your vision of your regressed
Now, as you have been remembering, there probably are one or more
memories which stand out and are asking you to write. Choose one and
go. What you write need not focus upon or feature your hand. It can if
this feels natural. But perhaps the experience simply leads you to a
memory. Let it do that too.