Week two: Here come the drums

This week, I learned that not everyone loves fiddling with sentences, and with the flow of a paragraph, as much as I do. You may find that you hate what follows; my workshoppers certainly did. Do it anyway. The torment doesn't last long, and the results can be interesting.

My workshoppers wrote stellar stuff last night. So will you. Hop to it.

Ebb and flow - the Narrative Sentence

Making stuff up, telling tales, is only part of a fiction writer's job. Fiction writers ask questions about the world around them: What if? and How? and Why? They point a flashlight beam at things readers might not ordinarily look at, or fear to see. They look hard at the things they see, and say what it is they've seen. They make things up in order to tell the truth.

Now suppose that I want to tell you about a room in my house-- say the den in which I do most of my work. I could describe it very simply: there's a chair for sitting and reading, a desk, a computer, wall-to-wall carpet. That doesn't tell you much, though, about what sort of room my den is. To explain that, I need to give much more specific detail. I could tell you, for example, that the chair is one of those light, lounge-type chairs from Ikea, with a footstool, and just my size; I could say that the desk is long, with a fold-up top and lots of nooks inside for keeping a random accumulation of pens and other objects-- a little plushie cat, a handful of horse chestnuts I found, fabric swatches for the window blinds I can't get round to ordering.

These details give some sense that my office is a comfortable, well-lived in sort of place, perhaps a bit cluttered. It even suggests a little about who I might be: quiet, sedentary, rather distractable. Simply adding detail, however, doesn't really get at what it's feels like to be in my office, or, more importantly, what it feels like to be me in my office. To do that, I need to think about not just what I describe-- though the choosing of details is an important part of the task. I also need to think about how I go about describing what I see.

Ursula Le Guin says: The chief duty of a narrative sentence is to lead to the next sentence (Le Guin 39). It's that narrative flow and rhythm-- one line into the next, one idea into the next, one detail into another-- which guides a reader through a story. To tell a reader what it's like to be me sitting in my den, I need to selectively arrange the details and moments I choose so that one flows effortlessly into the next. What I do with each sentence might create a cinematic sort of movement in the reader's mind, like following a series of cuts. Or it might feel more like being inside a character's mind, following his train of thought. It might be an entirely sensory feeling-- a permeating hint of sound, smell, image-- that provides a quiet backdrop to the story (much of the language in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, for example, follows a rhythm rather like waves on a beach, to mirror the setting). With the language rhythms I choose, I create movement, or stillness: an atmosphere, a tone to draw the reader in to the story.

Think of it like this: You place the reader in the center of a white square, then draw a painted canvas about the boundary of the square to make walls, and a three dimensional space for the reader to stand in. She's not simply looking at a picture of a room-- she's in the room.

Take another look at Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour". What sort of feeling does the language she uses evoke for you-- is it melancholy, does it make you want to laugh, or wince, or grin ruefully? (There's no real right answer to that question, by the way.) Note also that there's very little dialogue; likewise, there are very few concrete physical descriptions regarding Mrs. Mallard's room (we know there's a chair, a door, a window, things outside the window). What is it, then, that tells you what it's like inside the room, or how the room seems to Mrs. Mallard? What does Chopin do instead to set the scene? What do we learn about Mrs. Mallard, and the world she lives in, as a result of how she sets the scene?

This next series of exercises explores how changing the rhythms of sentences and sentence lengths changes the atmosphere of a scene. It's a good idea to try to use the same paragraph in all three parts; that way, it's easier to see the difference.

Exercise: Narrative Rhythm

Part 1: "I Am García Márquez," Le Guin p. 34.

Even if you've done this one before, do it again: write a paragraph or so of narrative without any punctuation, line breaks, or paragraph breaks whatsoever. Read it aloud, to yourself or in a group. What feeling do you get from the scene? What might it suggest about the narrator, the characters, the setting?

Part 2: "Short and Long," Le Guin p, 47-48.

Now take your unpunctuated paragraph and rewrite it, punctuating it so that the finished result is made up entirely of short, simple sentences-- say seven words or less. Be warned: it is possible to do this exercise by simply sticking in punctuation where it ought to go, but you won't get much out of it doing things that way. Revise the paragraph: find better ways of stringing ideas and lines together. The flow of a paragraph containing short, choppy sentences is much different than the flow of an unpunctuated one; it may require you to rearrange things a bit in order to arrive at something you like. Now how does the passage feel? What's the difference? Do short, choppy sentences suit your scene better? Worse?

Once you've done that, rewrite (rewrite, don't just re-punctuate) the passage a third time, punctuating it so that it's one long sentence: use colons, dashes, parentheses, semicolons-- anything to link the ideas together. What's the effect of changing the language rhythm this way on your scene? What seems to fit what you've written best?

In a week or so you might go back to your paragraph, and revise it in any way that seems fit. Play with rhythms and sentence lengths; see what you like the sound of, and the feel of.

Punctuating long sentences: a few hints
  • Dashes, semicolons, colons, and parentheses keep clauses distinct from other clauses.
  • Colons have two purposes: they set off a main idea from something which further elaborates on that idea, or they signal the beginning of a list. For example, here are some numbers: one, two, three, and seven hundred ninety-seven.
  • A semicolon is end punctuation; it goes where a period would go. The clauses on either side of a semicolon should be directly related to each other in some way, usually in that one elaborates upon the other. The structure of a clause on one side of a semicolon also should (ideally) mirror the structure of the one on the other side.
  • A semicolon can also separate elements of a list the way commas do, if each list element is long, or already contains commas. For example: here is the first item in my list, and you'll notice it's very long; a second item follows, and it too includes a comma; here's a third.
  • Dashes and parentheses are similar, and can contain a sentence fragment, a list or even a single word. Dashes signal something like a tonal interruption. Parentheses, meanwhile, signal something more like an aside to the reader, or a whisper.

Say it once, say it twice, play it again: Repetition

Repetition in fiction writing-- or in nonfiction, or poetry-- isn't the same thing as redundancy. Redundancy usually means the unnecessary overuse of a word, or the restating of an idea the text already makes evident. Rather, repetition is a rhythmic device: it can give emphasis to an image, create a mood, or lend a certain sound to a passage. Used wisely, it can be an effective way to establish the tone of a story, or reinforce its thematic elements.

Here are a couple of brief examples. The first is simply redundant, involving the ineffective and completely unnecessary repetition of a word:

A Redundant Bus Ride

Adria took a seat on the bus, faced the front. Her face reflected in the window beside her as she watched the streetlights go by. It was late. She couldn't face the long walk home from the bus stop, or the look on her mother's face when at last she arrived. What would her mother say, when she arrived?

The second passage works a little better; its repetitions reinforce the main character's plight, and hint at how she must feel.

Repetiton on a Beach

She'd waited three days without a sign of any other living thing-- not a boat, not a person, not even an animal of any kind. For three days she wandered up and down the beach, up and down, back and forth along the long, grey line of sand stretching from one end of the narrow island to the other. It had not stopped raining in all that time. She shivered, hunched her shoulders, kept walking. Three days. And three days. And three more days. Could she wait that long?
Now you try it.

Exercise: Narrative Repetition

Parts 1 & 2: "Again and Again and Again," Le Guin p. 56-7.

Write a paragraph to a page of narrative which repeats one of the following:
  • a noun, verb, or adjective
  • the structure or rhythm of a particular sentence, or part of a sentence
This exercise involves turning your mind's ear up to eleven. It's about the way sentences sound next to each other, and the effect of repeating sounds. It's also an exercise in finding the important bits, or the interesting bits, of a paragraph which are worth re-emphasis. Don't simply use the same word over and over again-- find a reason to repeat. Reinforce an idea, create a rhythm; whatever you repeat will affect the mood of the passage.

Bonus points for using both sorts of repetition at once.

The third part of this exercise calls for the use of structural repetition: where something echoes something said or done in another part of the story. This last part may take you some time; feel free to use it in your work on the assignment for next week.


  • Read Gabriel García Márquez "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," and Le Guin Chapters 3&4.
  • Le Guin exercise p. 56-57, "Again and Again and Again": Write a short narrative passage, up to 1000 words, which makes use of some of the repetitive elements Le Guin discusses in chapter 4. This assignment does not need to follow directly on the heels of the previous one, unless that seems appropriate to you; feel free, however, to use the same characters and narrative situation you used before, or even to expand what you've written already. Jump in anywhere, or write something completely new.

Nota Bene: The links to the exercises go back to the notes I made on each chapter of the book a while ago; there you'll find the instructions for each, and what I came up with when I did them myself. That stuff-- which has a lot to do with my own writing and teaching prep, and not much to do with then workshop proper-- may or may not prove useful to you. Often it's much better to do things on your own first, rather than checking ahead of time to see how someone else did them. As I've said, there's no real right or wrong here; the point is to use these exercises in ways which are helpful to you.


Week one: I put on my robe and teacher hat

So the first workshop session was last night. This is the second creative writing workshop I've taught for the library, and the first long workshop-- six weeks-- I've done in a while. I think it went well, in spite of occasional stammering and thought-train derailment on my part. Writing is easy. Leading a discussion is something else altogether. I suspect I will always find the latter more difficult. But never mind me-- let's get to the good stuff. I've had a couple of requests to post the lesson plans as I go, in case anyone wants to follow along, so I'll do that. If you'd like to tag along, welcome aboard!

The text that follows is from a handout I put together for the first night, with a few additions here and there. Most of my workshoppers, while very able writers, are new to fiction writing and feeling fairly tentative about it. The workshop material I post on here will, as such, largely be geared toward the beginning writer; depending on where you, dear reader, feel you are as a writer, some of it may seem rather elementary. Equally, since we're using Ursula K. Le Guin's Steering the Craft in the workshop,regular readers of this blog will be familiar with a lot of the exercises already. But don't let any of that put you off. If nothing else, it never hurts to be reminded of what you already know, to realise that you know it, and to reinforce it.

The nice thing about the Le Guin text, I've found, is that it has a long shelf life and holds up well to repeat visits. Feel free to play around with the exercises in any way that suits you. There aren't really any hard and fast rules here; though I'd suggest you'll get better mileage if you don't skip anything. Do the exercises; do them again. Pull out your toolbox and really look at your tools: language, punctuation, details, structure, tone, and so on. Learn, or remind yourself, what they're for. Read the short stories and look closely at the decisions each author makes-- decisions about how to use those tools in the toolbox. Don't just appreciate and admire: really look. Ask yourself questions. Why did the author do that? How might the story, or the scene, or the character, change if he did something else? This is where a writer's confidence begins: seeing through a story's "magic" to its nuts, bolts and gears, and knowing what each part is for.

We have a loose goal of having one short story by the end of the six weeks-- it can be a first draft, but the idea is to start something, and follow it through. If any of you out there following along would like to share what you've been writing-- exercises or otherwise-- please feel free to do so. Slap it in the comments section or even email me with it, if you like. If you do email please bear in mind that it may take me some time to get back to you; my regular workshoppers have priority, because they've paid a registration fee to be there. But I'll do my best.

Or just work along quietly. That's okay, too. Whatever works for you.

What Stories are For, and Where They Come From

If you want to write, you have to allow yourself to write stuff down. You have to tell the page what's in your head.

When we ask ourselves what a good story should do, we often think in general terms: stories "make us think," "comment on the human condition," "spark our imaginations/give us wings/plant seeds in the soil of our dreams," etc. But good stories actually do all of those things, to one extent or another, at once. In order to understand what makes a story a "good" one, we need to ask ourselves not only why we tell stories, but what we enjoy most about our favorite stories-- in other words, what aspects make them work for us as well as they do.

Beginning writers-- and experienced writers-- sometimes pick up this idea that, once we get serious about writing, we have to approach stories the way we imagine a great painter might approach a canvas; we imagine that they come striding in with some vision, or concept, and execute it in a few grand strokes. (Of course, it's really not like that at all, as any painter could tell you.) While concept and vision may be where art begins, they aren't where stories begin.

Think about the stories you loved as a kid-- the ones that made you want to run home and act them out, or to draw a picture, or to head off to the library for more books. It's easy to forget, sometimes, what it is we love about stories, and telling them-- and to forget what it is that made us want to write them down in the first place.

A good story can be about anything-- even something we presume everyone's heard about before. A story's worth has less to do with the material itself than what you do with it. Often, the best stories are the ones that come out of something very simple, small, and commonplace-- a moment, an image, a thought, even just a word or two.

Look at Sandra Cisneros's "My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn" (you may need to zoom in a bit to read it) and Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl". Neither follows what you might call a traditional story structure. Ask yourself: how do we know, then, that they're stories? What's happening in each one-- what are they about, who are they about? What does each writer's use of language tell you about what's happening, and who the characters are? What else strikes you about the writing, the narration?

: Following a Line

Take two nouns, and two verbs, at random from a nearby book. Write down all four words, consider them for a bit, and then pair them off in different combinations-- write them down, or connect them by drawing a line between them.

Once you've done that, try writing a sentence, or a couple of sentences, using your favorite combinations; try to use all four words. Then rewrite what you've written: elevate the language, be poetic, be gorgeous, be rhythmic.

Part 2: "Being Gorgeous," Le Guin p. 26. (Follow the link and scroll about halfway down the page for the exercise.)

Begin with the line you just wrote. Write a short narrative, in a paragraph or two, or even a page, following on from that train of thought-- whatever comes into your head. Focus on how the language sounds as you write: it can be a rambling description, or part of a character's internal monologue, or something else. Do try to make it a fiction, but don't worry about whether it makes too much sense at this point. Just follow one line into the next, and see where it takes you.

Start Small, Make it New

The way we write stories, the things we choose to write stories about, have much to do with our individual perspective-- in his essay "On Writing," Raymond Carver calls this a unique and exact way of looking. By this he means not so much "originality" as "individuality." No two writers, or readers for that matter, see the world in exactly the same way. As we read a story, that individual perspective is the thing which can startle us, delight us, or disturb us; when we find precise ways of expressing that perspective, whatever it is, we bring it to life.

Look at "The One Sitting There" by Joanna H. Wos. Notice that very little action takes place; the story line itself is very simple. But what does happen? What do we know about the narrator? There's obviously much more to the story, and the narrator's past: why do you think the author chooses to tell so little of that background? How might this story be different if she did?

Exercise: The Meaning in the Moment

Think about this morning's routine, from the time you got up until you left the house. Choose a moment during that period of time-- some activity or event, be it brushing your teeth, or making coffee, or getting dressed-- and dramatize it in a way that hints at a problem, or something about to happen. It doesn't have to be an enormous, earth-shattering event. Start simply, and walk yourself through the scene. Find the meaning in the moment.

Which exercise did you find more challenging? What seems to work for you?

  • Read Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" and Le Guin Chapters 1&2. Do the exercises at the end of chapter two. Think about the way Chopin narrates the story, the language and details she chooses, the perspective she chooses. How does it compare with the others we've looked at? Do you prefer one style of narration over the others? Why?
  • Use one of the exercises we just did, or one of Le Guin's exercises from the second chapter, to begin a new story. Shoot for 300 words or so, or longer if you wish; just get started on something.


Now playing: Tom Lehrer - Lobachevsky
via FoxyTunes


Favourite chapter

My favourite chapter of The Graveyard Book.* Watch it if you haven't yet.

I've been wanting to do a bloggy review of The Graveyard Book for about a week now, but the only things I can think to say are oh, and also wow, and cor, and perfect. It is: it's perfect. Just astonishing. And the Danse Macabre happens right in the middle of the book! Of course it does! Perfect!

But it's something other than wowsome perfection: it's that same shiver I feel when I read the "Time Passes" section of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, or the suicide in "The Roses Were Stones" portion of Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan,** or the moment Kurt Vonnegut steps into Breakfast of Champions to speak with Kilgore Trout-- or even that point in Gene Wolfe's Shadow and Claw at which the reader witnesses, amidst feudal chaos and decay, a robot (a real robot, by golly!) become fully himself. In those ecstatic moments of a novel, themes and language and character meet for a crescendo and the story takes hold. You understand, as a reader, that you never ever want to leave it. You shiver. You lose a breath. You hear the music in the author's head.

That Gaiman marks the crescendo with music and a dance is...well, perfect. And why say more than that? Why should I be oversimple to talk about delight?

The heck with exercises. I can't go and teach a writing course now, when someone's gone and written that. Sit 'em down in front of the video tour and tell them to pay attention, that's what I'll do. Yeah: six weeks, couple of chapters a night. Sorted.

(Oh, of course I won't really, silly beans.)


*I do read other authors too. Honestly.

**Peake, Mervyn. Titus Groan, Book One of The Gormenghast Trilogy. London: Arrow Books Limited, 1992. p. 324.

An excerpt of the suicide scene. Listen:
Her head, turning, was dimensionless. A thong about her neck supported the proud carvings of her lovers. They hung across her breasts. At the edge of age, there was a perilous beauty in her face as of the crag's edge that she stood upon. The last of footholds; such a little space. The colour fading on the seven-foot strip. It lay behind her like a carpet of dark roses. The roses were stones. There was one fern growing. It was beside her feet. How tall?...A thousand feet? Then she must have her head among far stars. How far all was! Too far for Flay to see her head turned-- a speck of life against that falling sun.

Upon his knees he knew that he was witness.

I mean! Phew. Cor. Blimey.


Further than the moon

Ten million trillion neutrinos will speed harmlessly through your brain and body in the time it takes to read this sentence. By the time you have read this sentence, they will be farther away than the moon.

-- Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way*

One of the books I just finished closes almost precisely on the same line, and with a similar image, as a short story I've been trying to write, on and off, for the last three years. People talk about memes travelling like a game of telephone or Chinese whispers (and here I mean memes in the real sense, not in the sense of passing around links, quizzes, pictures, and the like on the internet). But the coincidence in this case seems so odd to me, and so unlikely, that I can't help but wonder whether ideas don't travel more like neutrinos-- zinging through each mind and then away. If a writer knows the moment for what it is when a thought arrives, he or she might grab it and give it voice; otherwise it travels on, hits someone else, and maybe that person catches it.

Nah. It's a lovely idea, but a bit woo*, really. It's far more likely that I'm not the first person to think of ending a story with that particular line, or with that image. There are only so many words, and so many images, and so many thoughts out there in the first place; repetition or concurrence of certain ideas may come as a surprise, but seems also inevitable. In any case, the discovery has finally convinced me that I need to start writing my story over entirely. It's not the first or only thing to convince me, mind you. Just the final straw, in a manner of speaking; now I genuinely understand what they† mean when they tell you to throw out the first thousand pages.

Start over, on a blank page one, without a draft to consult. The idea was suggested to me by Val somewhere down below, and it's a good one: more than hacking relentlessly away toward the truth, it takes you all the way back to the beginning-- the single creative kernel at the heart of a story. The moment before the narrative Big Bang, let's say. That's a scary prospect.

In the Beginning I had an image in my head of a girl having her bag stolen in a London tube station. Over the last three years I added things, and complicated things, and wrote lots and lots of lovely paragraphs describing how deeply and irrevocably the girl fell into trouble-- but the story ended up nowhere. Each addition to the narrative, no matter how accomplished, felt further and further from what the story ought to have been.

With a blank page in front of me, I think about the moment I first began to write the story-- much longer ago, actually, than the three years I claim. I didn't really know then it was something which might become a story. I just wrote. I was still living in Britain at the time, near Cambridge, and I'd just flubbed and failed my way through a couple of miserable job interviews. I sat on the floor of the tiny spare room we used as a study, up against the radiator, with a notebook in my lap. It may have been early, a weekend morning, say, my husband still asleep. Or it might have been a weekday afternoon, and I was alone in the house. The sun was coming in the window; it was chilly. The radiator clunked and hissed a little, but I curled up against it like an old friend, and wrote for a page or so about a girl who gets lost. She was lost because I was lost. She got lost on purpose: she let the thief steal her bag. That was where the story began.

When I sat down with that scene a few years later and began to rewrite it-- this time out on the back deck of the house I live in now, in the late summer sunshine-- I don't think I remembered how it came out of a sense of being adrift and helpless. I felt comfortable by then; I wasn't lost any more. When I go back and read the story now, it reads as though written by someone in comfort, someone far flung from that original kernel which began it. Frankly the whole thing's a bit glib. Somehow I need to find my way back to that moment on the floor in the spare room, trying to write, feeling that I'd left everything I knew behind, and that everything which could possibly have gone wrong had done. And then begin again.

I'll let you know how I get on.

No exercise for this week-- and I still haven't done the the telling-a-lie one, mainly because it completely fails to interest me (which ought to tell me something about its potential use in a workshop), but I'm always on the lookout, and Jack P.-- whose Scary Halloween Story roundup I participated in last year (wonder if he'll host it again this year?)-- has posted some interesting suggestions for getting started from an old BBC page; I may try some of those.

Goldfish gave me a nice shout-out over there, too, which was awfully kind of her, and I can only return the favor: if you have not yet read Diary of a Goldfish, you need to. She's one of the best writers out there blogging, in my opinion. And she bakes a mean Dalek Cake.


*Ferris, Timothy. Coming of Age in the Milky Way. New York: Anchor Books, 1988. p. 344.

**See number four under the Urban Dictionary definition if you're not British.

† i.e., "The Wizards"


Sleight of mind

Oh, we make it all sound so bloody easy, don't we? Writers, I mean. When we're writing well. We talk about writing as though we'd know. Start from a line, I says to students, when I have them. Start from an image. Start with what happened when you brushed your teeth this morning. Anything. Begin where you begin! I call it spew. Natalie Goldberg says to begin from First Thoughts, which is much the same idea, while Ursula Le Guin says it all begins with language and the way it sounds (an idea I like very much). Neil Gaiman says that ideas come from asking yourself simple questions (I like this idea, too), and Ernest Hemingway once said, "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." Okay, Ernest. Stick this one in your truth pipe and smoke it:

Lately the inside of my head feels like a frozen yoghurt shake.

Actually Ernest has me, there. There are myriad possibilities in a line like that-- though when your head's full of frozen yoghurt, it can be difficult to see them sitting there, or figure what you might do with them.

I've been thinking, as I wade through the curdled mind-custard, a lot about where you get stories, where the ones really worth telling come from. There are those sort which seem to come out of nowhere, spilling out of your subconscious when you're not looking for them. Then there's that other sort of story, the one you've been working on, or thinking about, for years, the one you've gone and done research for, the one you care about. That latter type is the one most writers talk about when people ask them why they write, or what they're working on; to be honest, I've never felt that I have many of that type of story in me to write. Consciously, I never know what to write about. Sit me in front of a blank screen, tell me to write the truest thing I know, and nothing happens. Give me something that feels, on the other hand, like an idle problem to solve or a puzzle to play with, and things come alive: there's the wizened aunt in the gauzy flower-print skirt. She's got no stockings on, and probably no undies, either. There's a girl wandering lost down an alley; she'll die when she turns the corner. There's the ship captain in his white patent leather boots, about to kick a stowaway in the gut. Who knows where they come from? The same place that nightmares and half-sleep hallucinations come from, probably-- that part of my mind which felt utterly convinced, at 4:00 on one particularly dark morning, that a bat was climbing up one side of the hall window.

How the products of that idle puzzle-solving move from being the first type of story to the second type-- i.e., from daydream to the one story that matters more than any other you've yet told-- is the tricky bit. I'm not really sure how that happens; whenever I find myself flailing around, trying to find a story I care about, I mainly feel frustrated with anything I do write. I get picky, and grumpy. I often don't finish, having convinced myself the story's not really worth caring about. How to care is a question I will leave to the interweb's armchair psychologists, and How to finish warrants perhaps an entire entry on its own. How to begin is what concerns me for the moment: that mental sleight-of-hand which takes place, allowing one to tell a story at all.

In some desperation, I began all over again, a few hours ago, with the Le Guin book, and reread the first chapter. You might recall the exercise she uses there, which encourages free play with language sounds and rhythms. I wondered whether there might be some way of attaching that exercise to writing story beginnings-- there was that one idea of beginning with a poetic line which I stole, sort of, from a poet I know-- and also to working with setting. I like the idea of an exercise which begins a story the way an opening panning shot does in film-- a description which begins at a sweeping, wide angle, then moves in closer to reveal an object, a character, or a situation. An opening paragraph or two, let's say, which begins from a poetic description. Rather than trying to make something up for this exercise I actually went back to a dim memory of visiting Jerome, Arizona when I was twelve; you might say I began from memory, but tarted it up a bit.

The result is a little rough, and it doesn't go anywhere much; bear in mind, too, that I used the exercise more as a starting point rather than as practice in writing description. Consider this not so much an instructive post as an over-the-shoulder view of me attempting to write through whatever it is that's keeping me from writing very well this week. Feel free to try it along with me, if you like, and let me know how it works (or doesn't) for you.

We walked up Hill Street, right to the top on a clear blue day, past shops and galleries with their fronts painted blue to match the sky and green to match the blue, their windows dark because nothing's open on a Sunday in Jerome; nothing on a Sunday, nothing after five. There was a glossy-glazed earthenware pot in one window, a round pot like a miniature dutch oven, with a knob-handled lid. The pot had turtles painted round its middle, coloured deep blue like the ocean and spread-eagled like they were swimming, round and round and round the pot. I wanted that pot; I wanted to keep pennies in it. But the shop was shut.

My Aunt Sally put a hand on my shoulder and leaned down to whisper in my ear, in one of those whispers everyone nearby can hear. "I'll buy that for you come Tuesday, when we come in to do the shopping." She turned and clopped off up the sidewalk in her thick high heels, her flower-print skirt whipping at her legs in the wind. I followed, and my parents followed; we all went up the hill. I thought and thought and thought about the pot, and couldn't see anything else for glazed clay and shiny round and turtles, turtles, turtles; I would put it on my desk at home for keeping special things, for coins and fuzzy google-eye worms out of plastic eggs from supermarket penny-toy machines, and for the smooth little pebbles, better even than marbles, out of the creek. I couldn't see anything, not the clear blue or the clouds rushing along the early evening sky, or Aunt Sally's chunky front steps, which I tripped on going up not once but twice; when I leaned out through the square porch window cut right through the white brick to look back down the hill and the street, I couldn't see that, either. I leaned out and felt the wind in my hair and thought about a pot. "Come in, come in," Aunt Sally said.

I'll be a heel if I don't at least try to attempt the other exercise I had in mind-- the one about getting inside a character who tells a lie. Which seems, now I think about it, a very good way to play with unreliable narrators. So perhaps I'll do that next. (Anyone else try that one?)


Edit: Now with graphical enhancement! That's the pot-- or, at least, that was the pot I ended up with; either the pot I describe above wasn't available for sale at the time, or the friend in Jerome who sent it thought I wanted the vase instead. It was the very first piece of art pottery I ever owned, so it didn't really matter in the end. I believe it came from Made in Jerome Pottery. I'm not entirely sure about that, though, so don't quote me on it.