Part One: Write a paragraph of narrative, 100-150 words, in sentences of seven or fewer words. No sentence fragments! Each must have a subject and a verb. (Le Guin, 47)My paragraphs are below; I used the same narrative for each part. As always, please feel free to try it too, and share your results. I found the first bit more difficult than the second, but we all know by now what I'm like with semicolons. Sometimes-- I swear-- it's like having a king-sized pack of M&Ms in my pocket. Can't have just one.
Part Two: Write a half-page to a page of narrative, up to 350 words, which is all one sentence.
Suggested Subjects: For Part One, some kind of tense, intense action-- like a thief entering a room where someone's sleeping...
For Part Two: A very long sentence is suited to powerful, gathering emotion, and to sweeping a lot of characters together. You might try some family memory, fictional or real, such as a key moment at a dinner table or at a hospital bed. (48)**
Part OneLe Guin offers several options for playing with your paragraphs once they've been written-- switching from a formal narrative voice (say the sort you'll notice in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse), or an "authorial" narrative voice in part one to a more informal, colloquial one, perhaps one which mirrors the character's background. For part two she suggests perhaps tinkering further with syntax-- taking simple clauses joined by ands or semicolons and making them more complex, or conversely, breaking into a more intense, "torrential" style-- lots of dashes, ands, and run-on clauses. It's interesting to play around with something that way, and see how different choices can affect the tone of a paragraph.
Just imagine the thing, if you can. Its taloned forelegs grip the ivy branch. The moth climbs, stops, climbs, rests. It splays its wings: they're vivid green. And its body-- that fleshy, pointed thing. The hindparts curl up and in. They curl: up and down, up again. Hetty watches the thing; she crouches, stares. She's never seen anything like it before. She can't say whether it frightens her. If she's honest, it makes her sick. Sick with love, or maybe just sick. Hetty doesn't know for certain. After a moment she gets up, stretches. The thing doesn't move again. It looks like it's waiting for something. "Don't you dare," Hetty tells it.Part TwoImagine the thing, if you can-- taloned forelegs gripping at the ivy branch, reaching, climbing, stopping, climbing again, coming to rest with its wings splayed flat against its fleshy thumblike body-- imagine its pointed hindparts curling and uncurling, up and down; imagine that and notice all the while that Hetty hasn't moved, she crouches and stares at the thing as though she's never seen anything like it before (and she hasn't, never in her life, and if she's honest she isn't certain whether or not it frightens her; it makes her feel a little sick, sick with love, perhaps, or more likely just sick); after a moment she stands, stretches, then waits, hands on her hips; she doesn't move, and neither does the thing (it seems to be waiting for something, maybe to burst from the ivy and flutter into her hair, where it'll get tangled, and buzz, and maybe bite-- Do big moths like that bite? Hetty wonders-- she's certain to scream when it does, so she takes a deep, deep breath), and Hetty addresses it directly, loud enough for anyone happening along nearby to hear: "Don't you dare," she tells it, and then she thinks at it too, for good measure, fixing the moth with an angry beam of hot white thought-light-- don't dare even think about it.
I do think that this is the book for me, and the workshop; it's a very comfortable, approachable sort of book to work with. At the same time I've been working with the Le Guin text, I've also been looking through Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter's What If?; granted, the version I have is the first rather than the most recent, but I can't say I find it nearly as useful as I've found Le Guin. It's something of a disappointment: while absolutely jam-packed with all sorts of exercises for writers, the exercises themselves seem a bit generic, and the explanations which accompany them aren't especially helpful, reading more like a list of dos and don'ts than anything. But, as I say, the third edition of that book may be much improved compared with the first.
*As it happened, Mothra felt content to wait for me to return with my camera and start snapping pictures like some crazed, down-on-her-luck fashion photographer who has somehow been granted, miraculously, one (only one) ten-minute, anything-goes shoot with Pamela Anderson. That's it! Work with me. Work those wings! That's right. That's beautiful. Little more to the left. Stretch out that foreleg a bit. There you go. Pout, baby, pout! Flick me a little proboscis. Oh yeah! Fantastic!
**Le Guin, Ursula K. Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew. Portland: The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998. p. 47-8.