The Writer's Writing Guide: Appendix

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Dialogue Punctuation Made Simple

There are nine different instances which require specific knowledge of dialogue punctuation. Here we'll review them, from the most simple to the most complex.

But no matter which you use, remember that each new speaker gets a new paragraph. Also, dialogue paragraphs are just like regular paragraphs, indented when they start, and then running continuously from margin to margin until they've reached the end. To invent new kinds of indentations, or to insert blank spaces on the lines, or to ignore the regular left-to-right margin rules, is to be glaringly incorrect in your handling of dialogue.

1. Single quotation, followed by attribution.

"I'm going to the store," she said.

In this most common of cases, the quotation ends with a comma instead of a period. The comma goes inside the quotation. The period does not come until the end of the attribution. [If your quotation is a question or exclamation, the question mark or exclamation mark will go inside the quotation marks, just like the comma above.]

2. Single quotation, preceded by attribution.

He said, "But the car is broken."

The attribution ends with a comma, which goes outside the quotation marks. Once you are inside the quotation marks, the necessary punctuation that belongs to the dialogue (period, question mark, exclamation mark) remains within.

3. Double quotation, interrupted by attribution. Quotation is actually a single sentence.

"Well, I figured," she said, "that I would walk."

The first half of the quotation is handled like #1 above, with the comma inside the quotation. However, since the line of dialogue continues beyond the attribution, the attribution ends not with a period, but with a comma (as in #2 above). Note that the second half of the sentence begins with a small letter, since you are inside a sentence with is already underway.

4. Double quotation, interrupted by attribution. Quotation is actually two separate sentences.

"I hate to walk," he said. "You know I hate it more than almost anything."

Again, the first half of the quotation is handled like #1 above, with the comma inside the quotation. But this time, the line of dialogue ends with the attribution, and so the attribution should wrap up with a period. The next line of dialogue opens with an upper case letter, since you are beginning a new sentence.

5. Single quotation, followed not by attribution, but description.

"Sorry you feel that way." She stood up from the chair.

Since there is no attribution, quotation ends with a period inside the quotation marks. Description follows as its own sentence, beginning with a capital and ending with a period.

6. Single quotation, preceded not by attribution, but by description.

He grabbed his sneakers. "Don't leave me here alone."

This is simply the reverse of #5. Since you have no attribution, the description is punctuated like a normal sentence, and the quotation is punctuated with the period inside the quotation marks.

7. Double quotation, interrupted by attribution and description. The quotation is actually a single sentence.

"Do you really," she asked, opening the door, then turning back with an incredulous frown, "want to come with me to the supermarket?"

Follow the rules in #3. The only difference is that you are adding description after the attribution. Nonetheless, since the line of dialogue is a single sentence, you end the attribution/description interruption with a comma, and begin the remaining dialogue with a lower case letter.

8. Double quotation, interrupted by attribution and description. Quotation is two separate sentences.

"Oh, I didn't realize you were going there," he said, dropping his Nikes. He flopped back in his chair. "Well, if that's the case, then forget it."

Follow the rules listed in #4. Since your line of dialogue is two separate sentences, your attribution/description interruption can include more than one sentence as well. Just make sure that your final sentence of the interruption closes with a period, unless, of course, you choose to use an additional attribution, such as:

"Oh, I didn't realize you were going there," he said, dropping his Nikes. He flopped back in his chair, then peered up at her with a lazy gaze and mumbled, "Well, if that's the case, then forget it."

9. Dialogue by a single character that runs on for more than one paragraph.

"I just don't know how I'm going to cope with you anymore," she said. "No matter what I do, no matter how nice I am, you just remain contrary and difficult. It's as if we're at war instead of in love.

"I remember when we had our first date. You leaned across the booth at the diner and told me that love tames everyone. Even your father. And that you were hoping love could someday tame you.

"Well, I hoped so, too," she finished, and started to cry.

He stared up at her, hands on the arm rests, as she wept above him. Finally he said, "Don't make such a scene. It's just the damn supermarket."

She glared through her tears at him. Then she turned around, picked up her purse, and left the house without him.

When dialogue spoken by a single character runs for more than one paragraph, omit your closing quotes at the end of the paragraph - but use opening quotes at the beginning of the next paragraph. It is those closing quotes that indicate that the speaker is done. In this example, the closing quotes don't appear until the end of the third paragraph.

Possessives versus Plurals versus Contractions

Apostrophes sometimes confuse people because they have three different purposes:

1. Showing possession: Jane's dog, Marty's house, the Jones' car, the computers' defects (the latter 2 are plural possessives).

2. Showing that two words have been combined into one (i.e., creating a contraction): Didn't, wasn't, he's, it's.

3. Showing plurality only when the noun consists of letters only (usually an abbreviation): I got straight A's on my report card; We own five TV's.

But that's it. Let's go into each of these rules again and explain how they can be misinterpreted.

1. Possession. Some apprentice writers think that, since certain pronouns reveal possession, they should include apostrophes. So they take such words as his, her, hers, its, whose, your, your, and their, and try to add apostrophes. However, these are already full words, so instead of showing possession, the writer is showing a gross misunderstanding of language. Occasionally, the writer is so obsessed with getting in that apostrophe that s/he will alter the word entirely, changing their to they're, which of course alters the meaning of the word from a possessive (their chess game) to a contraction ("They're playing chess.") Remember: Apostrophes are used to show possession only when the noun does not already show possession.

2. Contraction. Yes, apostrophes are used to connect two words into a single word, much as train cars get coupled together. Some apprentice writers, though, forget this, and so include the apostrophe in words that sound like the contractions, but are in fact pronouns. The most common errors in this area are:

its
Possessive. The dog scratched its back against the wall.
it's
Contraction for "it is." I reach for the milk jug, but it's leaking all over the table.

whose
Possessive. Whose pencils are these? He was a man whose attitudes suffocated her.
who's
Contraction for "who is." Who's coming to dinner? Tell me who's at the door.

their
Possessive. Their camera tumbled off the wall into the mud.
they're
Contraction for "they are." They're not coming to my wedding.

Remember: Apostrophes are used for contractions, but some contractions sound like certain pronouns. Always ask yourself - quite consciously - if the word you are using is two words - such as "it is" - or really one. Many editors are unforgiving about this error.

3. Plurality. Sometimes apprentice writers think that, if they add an apostrophe to a plural, it will somehow make the plural more emphatically plentiful. So they write "house's" when they simply mean several houses, or "raindrops'" when they mean several raindrops. Remember: Apostrophes show plurality only when the nouns consists of letters only.

Run-ons and Comma Splices

Many people think they know what run-ons are, but are mistaken. A run-on is not an exceptionally long sentence; it can actually be a sentence as brief as four words. This is because a run-on is two complete, independent thoughts which run into each other without the proper divider. For example: "I drove to school I went to my classes."

A comma splice is a subset of run-ons. This occurs when the writer erroneously thinks that the way to create the break between the two independent thoughts is to insert a comma: "I drove to school, I went to my classes." This is as grammatically incorrect as a run-on.

Both comma splices and run-ons are to be avoided because they confuse readers. Readers look for punctuation marks and certain words to indicate transitions in thought, mood, and pacing within a sentence, and if these forms of transition are omitted or misused, the reader will stumble. Nothing throws a reader out of a piece faster than that.

Before you can begin to correct run-ons and comma splices, you need to learn to recognize them. Remember that they are two complete, independent thoughts that are crashed together. They are not an independent thought is joined with a dependent, such as: "He zoomed up the street toward the house, wincing when he caught a glimpse of his girlfriend's car at the curb." This sentence is grammatically correct. The sooner you come to spot run-ons and comma splices, the sooner you can make all your writing better.

The Four Main Approaches To Correcting Run-Ons and Comma Splices

1. Break your run-on or comma splice into two separate sentences.

Comma splice: She whipped open the back door, her mother was in the kitchen.

Separate sentences: She whipped open the back door. Her mother was in the kitchen.

2. Keep the two independent thoughts in one sentence, but use a FANBOYS word (otherwise known as a coordinating conjunction) to hook them together, like the coupling that hooks together two train cars. The FANBOYS words are:

F — FOR
A — AND
N — NOR
B — BUT
O — OR
Y — YET
S — SO

For example: "We took our umbrellas to the mall it didn't rain."

This can become: "We took our umbrellas to the mall, but it didn't rain."

Note that frequently, FANBOYS words use commas.

3. Keep the two independent thoughts in one sentence, but separate them with a semi-colon. This is in fact the primary use of a semi-colon (the other one is to separate elements in a list when the elements themselves require the use of commas). The idea here is that the second independent thought is generated by the first one.

"Our mayor was a fool, he would wear an upside down hat to get attention."

This can become: "Our mayor was a fool; he would wear an upside down hat to get attention."

4. Make one of the two independent thoughts dependent.

What is a dependent thought (otherwise known as a dependent, or subordinate, clause)? It's when an independent thought is preceded by a dependent word, and thus becomes unable to stand alone. Such as: "I'm going home now." This is clearly independent; it can stand alone. But once you add on a dependent word, "Because I'm going home now," you make the independent sentence into a dependent clause, one which needs to attach itself to an independent sentence to survive. (I think of dependent clauses as parasites which require a host.) So you then need to say something like: "Because I'm going home now, I'll miss the bride throwing the bouquet."

How do you make a sentence dependent? Start it off with one of these words:

After

Although, Though

As, As if

Because

Before

Even, Even though

If

Since

So that

That

When, Whenever

Where, Wherever

Which, Whichever

While

Who, Whoever

Unless

Until

If you decide to begin your sentence with a dependent clause, you need a comma to separate the dependent from the independent clause (as I just did in this sentence). Here's a second example: "Whenever we went to the beach, we brought the dog." You can also begin the sentence with the independent clause and end it with the dependent one: "We also brought the iguana whenever we went to the beach." Note that when the dependent clause ends the sentence, the comma isn't as necessary.

One more thing about dependent clauses. There are a number of additional connecting words (also known as adverbial conjunctions) which can jazz up your sentences, but which are not to be confused with a dependent word, and which therefore do not create dependent clauses. This, for example, is wrong: "They got to the box office at noon, however the movie was already sold out." Here you still have a comma splice, because "however" is not a proper dependent word. Rewrite the sentence as: "They got to the box office at noon; however, the movie was already sold out."

Here is the list of common connecting words which can be mistaken as proper dependent words. (You can still use these, but you need to find other ways to make your run-ons and comma splices work.)

Also

As a result

Consequently

Except

Furthermore

However

In addition

Indeed

Instead

Meanwhile

Moreover

Nevertheless

On the other hand

Otherwise

Then

Therefore

Thus

If you use one of these common connecting words, the placement of your period, semi-colon, or FANBOYS word will strongly influence the meaning of the sentence. Look at the difference between these two meanings:

a.) "We buried the goldfish. As a result, it was a grim day."

b.) "We buried the goldfish as a result. It was a grim day."

Here's another example:

a.) "She was broke; therefore, she couldn't take the bus."

b.) "She was broke, therefore; she couldn't take the bus."

In short, the skills you need to eliminate run-ons and comma splices are some of the same skills you need to write better sentences in general. Master run-ons, and you'll also master commas, semi-colons, and, inevitably, sentence variety.

(My thanks to John Langan's English Skills textbook for the lists of words used here.)

General Principles for Workshops

For first-time writers, I tend to think that writing workshops are not the most effective approach to teaching writing, since many first-time writers have not yet learned how to separate their egos from their work, and so might well take the critiquing process very personally. However, when students feel advanced enough, a workshop may be useful, if handled properly.

For workshops, I recommend that the student read the work aloud (or the class read the work in advance). If the latter, the rest of the class follows along on their own copies. Then each workshop participant speaks one at a time, starting with three positive comments (the first two of which should be, preferably, on the macro level), then moving toward more critical comments (again, the first two of which should be on the macro level), while keeping in mind the 10 Commandments of Giving and Receiving Criticism (see the next few pages). The discussion proceeds in an orderly fashion, everyone listening as each speaker has his/her say. Free-for-alls are to be avoided. The teacher does not speak until the end, unless someone needs to ask something. The author should also not speak until the end, lest s/he attempt to defend the story rather than let it stand for itself, or give in to the temptation to snap at a fellow classmate.

At its best, a workshop can be a true artistic community, offering insight and support in equal measure, providing all the writers involved with high standards in a safe environment, promoting growth by making it acceptable to try. At its worst, a workshop can stifle inner voices, prompt writers to pursue risk-free creative choices or even mediocre standards, become so attached to a critical-free group that they stop growing, or become so fearful of aggressive group dynamics that they stop writing.

May these Commandments help you find and sustain the former kind of group, and never stay long in the latter.

The Ten Commandments of Giving Criticism in Workshop

1. Respect the writer's feelings and efforts. Along the same lines, remember how you would feel being in the hot seat. Deliver your comments with empathy and tact.

2. Begin your comments with something positive. Indeed, strive to have several positive things to say (preferably a minimum of three). If other people have already said them, say them again. If you have nothing positive to say, find something positive to say. This is a useful skill to develop for all areas of life, and the literary world is no exception. And when you switch to saying the more critical comments, try not to refer to them as "my negative comments," or "what's wrong," or "where you sucked." A more helpful way to speak (and think) of them is "the more critical comments," or "areas which could be improved."

3. For both the positive and the more critical comments, focus on the macro first, then the micro. The author first needs to see whether the big picture is working before examining small details.

4. Don't ever glare, indulge in sarcasm, slip in an oblique insult, laugh derisively, or otherwise behave in hurtful or inappropriate ways. Don't ever shrug, "Well, I just didn't like it." Critiques are not about you, nor about what you like or don't like. Critiques are about what works and what doesn't work, and how you can help the author recognize both. They are also about assisting the author in exploring how to strengthen the elements that aren't working as well.

5. Don't tell a writer, "Don't change a word." That is, do not attempt to limit the journey of a writer's inner voice by suggesting that the work has reached its fullest potential; the writer's inner voice might nudge the writer toward pushing the work harder and farther, and you should not discourage that. View each piece as a work in progress.

6. Don't leap right to the prescription without first addressing the diagnosis, and don't give the diagnosis without first addressing the symptoms. Remember that when something is amiss with your health, you go through three stages: first, the recognition that something is amiss (i.e., the acknowledgment of the symptoms); second, the diagnosis; third, the prescription that will help you heal. If you receive the prescription without a diagnosis, you might have a swift recovery, but you won't have acquired the knowledge you need - the name of the problem - so you stand a better chance of preventing a recurrence. Moreover, if you receive a diagnosis, but do not recognize the symptoms, you will probably continue to overlook them when they return in the future. In other words, first explain what seems to be amiss (the symptoms), then give it a label (the diagnosis). Only then should you give the prescription, if you give it at all (see #7).

7. If you do give the prescription - if you make a suggestion for how to improve a certain element of the story - make at least two suggestions which are qualitatively different. Yes, you can treat a cold with aspirin and decongestants, but you can also treat it instead with hot tea and Echinacea; there is no one solution to any problem. This is just as true in writing, even in revision. Indeed, revision can be handled as creatively as a first draft, and the sooner you help the author see that s/he can handle any problem in a thousand different ways, thus helping to enhance his/her mental flexibility, the more deeply you will be helping the author, and the more enduring that help will be. Plus, the more creative you are with the solutions you propose, the more creatively you will view your own options for revision when you re-attack your own work.

8. Don't deliver feedback on a personal level. If you are having a personal difficulty with another student, remove yourself from the discussion by saying "I'll pass." In private, bring up the tension with your teacher, and ask for guidance in the class.

9. Be clear with the reasons you give for why something didn't work for you. That is, be precise and articulate with your description of the symptoms, and then with the diagnosis. Remember, the author will listen better if your reasons are legitimate, and they will be more legitimate if they are articulate.

10. If you don't agree with other readers, that's fine. But treat their comments with respect.

The Ten Commandments of Receiving Criticism in Workshop

1. Don't take feedback personally.

2. Don't get down on yourself.

3. Don't get defensive toward others.

4. Don't assume that your readers are dolts not worth listening to, idiots who don't understand true art, nit-picky prigs.

5. LISTEN

6. Don't look for the quick solution to your problems, i.e., "Well, do you think if I changed her from fourteen to sixteen and made her a brunette instead of a redhead, that would solve the problem?" The quick solution is almost always the lazy solution - a solution resulting from fear, not a true desire to improve the piece. Although it might be comforting to get a swift, simple prescription, it is important to remember that hastily applied treatments are not likely to work on a deeper or broader level, and in fact might encourage you to remain on the most shallow level of revision rather than a more involved, and ultimately far superior, one.

7. Don't ask your readers if the story will work if you do X, which you then describe to them. Readers cannot know if that solution will succeed when it is spoken, but only after it has actually been written. Think of all the would-be writers you meet at parties, who tell you their whole novel idea, insisting that if they only had a few weeks they could become best-sellers. But stories are about the writing, not about the verbalized plan; it's the way those ideas are turned into sentences, and paragraphs, and scenes, and characters that ultimately counts. Remember: the pen is far mightier than the mouth.

8. Recognize that your resistance comes from your holding onto your ego, and from your impatience - not from you being leagues ahead of the others around you. A true genius listens, and always wants to improve. Get rid of the ego by remembering that it is the story, not you, that matters. After all, once it's out in the world, you won't be around to defend it, or stare down the dummies who didn't tremble in the face of your brilliance. It will need to stand on its own, and that's what your workshop readers are there to help you do. As for patience, develop it by meditation, jogging, sense of humor, delayed gratification, or plain old brute force.

9. If you don't agree with a comment, be sure you have given the reader a lot of opportunity to provide legitimate reasons for his/her concern, rather than immediately dismissing what seems off-base. Also, recognize that it is possible that the reader has a very reasonable concern - sees the symptoms accurately - but isn't articulating them, or the diagnosis, in a way that makes sense to you. Seek to understand the reader's concern. Ask for a more detailed explanation of the reader's problem if you don't see the reason for it.

10. Try to hold off responding to feedback until the end of the critique. Then, you can say what you were trying to do - if you truly want to get a better sense of how to accomplish that goal. However, don't say what you were trying to do simply so you can blow off your readers, who just didn't get it.

Exercises for Writing

Freewriting I. Write for 10 minutes, non-stop, without looking up or thinking. You can try to write about anything that comes into your head. If you run out of things to say, write: "I don't know what to say, I don't know what to say" until you hit on something. DO NOT STOP until the time is up.

Freewriting II. Do the above exercise, but each 10-minute stint is triggered by (though not necessarily about) each of the following nouns:

apple

loneliness

freedom

hat

sorrow

poverty

horse

desire

loss

skyscraper

ambition

betrayal

Sensory Exercise I. Describe what each of your senses is experiencing right now. Try to write in full sentences. These need not be put into a story. Get as detailed as you can imagine. Make sure you hit each sense.

Sensory Exercise II. Imagine one of your favorite spots for hanging out. This might be a closet under the staircase where you played as a kid, a tree house where you made out with your teenage sweetheart, a restaurant in Cape May where you like to go now. Then do the sensory exercise of above, but put into the context of this place.

Sensory Exercise III. Invent a location and do the sensory exercise again. The location can be a real place, such as Paris or a tugboat in the Delaware River or Mars. It can be an imaginary place, like the Garden of Eden, or a castle in the clouds. What matters is that it is a place where you have not been before, so that you can stretch your imagination.

Sensory Exercise IV. One more time - but this time, you are no longer you. You are some other character who is describing his/her senses. The location can be where you are now, your favorite spot for hanging out, or an imaginary location. (It can also be an ordinary, low-key place, such as a Septa bus or a grocery story check-out line.) The character needs to be different from you in some significant way, such as age, sex, race, size, class. The choices you make for what you describe - and how you describe them - must tie in with this character. (For instance, a seat on a bus will feel different to a character who is obese than to a character who is anorectic.)

Sensory Exercise V: Imagine you have one sense which you experience particularly acutely. (Such as, you can smell all kind of subtleties undetected by others, or you can see people's emotions, or you can hear in the range heard only by dogs.) Then write how you would feel in a school hallway, or in a big city, or during a family celebration.

Exposition Exercise I: Find indirect ways to communicate the following pieces of information. Come up with at least 5 distinctly different possibilities. Remember: the reader must be completely clear on what you are communicating, so that, for instance, s/he doesn't mistake your indirect exposition for "pregnancy" as being indirect exposition for "fat."

Pregnant

Elderly

Winter

Suburban

Middle of the night

Celebrity

Exposition Exercise II: Find indirect ways of communicating the following emotions. Again, you need to come up with at least 5.

Anger

Love

Nervousness

Intoxication

Mourning

Elation

Character Exercise I: A character who is working at a job tells us about what s/he does, what place the job has in her/his life, and how s/he feels about the working conditions. The character needs to speak to us in first person, and the way s/he speaks should reveal something about the character (especially the character's disposition). Try to use as much indirect exposition as possible. Some jobs you might want to consider:

Airline pilot

Baggage handler

Security guard

Thief

Ballet dancer

Hat check person

Astronaut

Street vendor

Undertaker

Grave digger

Midwife

Kindergarten teacher

Character Exercise II: Write about the same character as above, but this time do it in the third person, from the same character's point of view. This means you are not going to use voice as much, but that you need to use even more indirect exposition. In addition, expand what you say, so that you are describing the character in more depth, or are describing her/him in different aspects of the job.

Character Exercise III: Write about your same character - but this time, have someone else tell us about her/him. The someone can be a person at the job, or a person in some other aspect of her/his life. (A spouse, a child, a clerk at a store the character frequents, etc.) The someone can tell us about the character using first person, or third person. This exercise, if written after the above two, teaches point of view.

Voice I: Using the elements of voice, tell the story of a character who is away from home - at vacation, work, school, store - and has an experience which will stay with him or her forever. Write this in the first person.

Voice II: Using the elements of voice, tell the story of a character who is at home, and has an experience which s/he desperately wants to forget. Write this in third person limited, but be sure to make it read as if it is in the protagonist's voice.

Point of View I: Tell the story of something that made you very angry - something that involved at least one other person. Write about it in the first person. Then, write the same story, but tell it from the other person's point of view. Select your details, attitude, and even slant on the whole story so that they are in keeping with the character of this other person. Do this in first person as well.

Point of View II: Tell the story of something you read or heard about where one person hurt another. First, write the story from the point of view of the one who was hurt. Make this in the third person. Then, write the story again, but tell it from the point of view of the one who did the hurting. Again, make this in the third person.

Point of View III: Tell the story of two people who have a misunderstanding while they are away from home. (They could be two people who know each other and are on vacation, or at the movies, etc. They could also be strangers in a store elevator, at the bank, etc.) Begin in the point of view of one, and then halfway through the story, switch to the point of view of the other. You will need to think of how to make that switch read smoothly. This is, in part, an exercise in transition. (This can be written in first or third person, or even first to third person.) The misunderstanding should be of great importance to both characters.

Point of View IV: Tell the story of a large gathering where something goes terribly awry. The gathering includes both intimates and strangers. Some possibilities are a family or college reunion, church picnic, office party, beauty pageant, town parade. Use third person omniscient and switch points of view throughout the piece. You can either focus on two or three main characters only, or on many characters. Hint: this is also an exercise in theme.

Transition and Compression: Write a story in which a character is in a situation, leaves a situation, and then returns, changed. The period of absence can be a few moments or a century. The situation can be a party, a family, a house, a university, a town, etc. Write this story using clear transitions from the original situation into the departure and back to the return. Compress the period during the departure, so that the focus is not on what the character does while away, but what s/he does in the original situation and at the return.

Showing and Telling I: Take the following words and explore the options for showing them. Do at least three possibilities for each, going across the continuum using, first, single words, and, finally, a brief scene.

Car

Dog

Running

Blue

Silence

Festivity

Performance

Fight

Relationship

Showing and Telling II: Take the following simple sentences, and, by showing rather than telling, expand our understanding of the situation. Keep to one brief paragraph.

The woman laughs.

The truck breaks.

The house burns.

The man weeps.

Showing and Telling III: Take the following simple sentences, and, by showing rather than telling, expand each into a full scene. By the end of your paragraph, something needs to have changed, or have been revealed, since the beginning.

The girl climbs the tree.

The boy sneaks into church.

Julie skates across the lake.

Mark strums the guitar.

Showing and Telling IV: Take the following simple sentences and, by showing rather than telling, expand each into a full story. To give us background information, use both habitual action and embedded moments.

The couple fights in the supermarket.

The man visits the cemetery after hours.

The kids hide in the school boiler room.

The woman sleeps on the beach.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends I: Write a story in which a stranger enters a situation in which everyone knows everyone else. The situation can be a family, a town, a club, a commune, a sports team, a job environment, etc. You need a clear beginning, middle, and end. The point of view can belong to anyone but the stranger.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends II: Write a story in which a person goes on a journey in search of something important. The journey can be through one place, or a succession of places. The point of view belongs to the person on the journey. Here's the hitch: the thing the person is searching for needs to change over the course of the story. This may be because it becomes unimportant, or something else becomes more important, or the person actually obtains the thing but then realizes s/he needs something else. Note: the "thing" can be an object, person, emotional state, kind of knowledge, etc.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends III, aka Incongruous Images: Write a story about each of the following incongruous images (that is, an object that is out of place in its setting). Try one where the image is at the beginning of the story, thereby making the story result from the discovery of it. Then try one where the image is in the middle, thereby making your story contend with the problem or mystery posed by it. Then try one where the image is at the end of the story, thereby making your story cause the conditions which lead to it. For your fourth attempt, write a story which tries again the approach which you found hardest.

- A smashed cassette tape lying not in someone's cassette case or a tape player, but lying shattered on the shoulder of a country road.

- A menorah and Star of David not in the house of a Jewish family, but in the rectory of a Catholic priest.

- A house not sitting on its foundation, but resting on the back of a flatbed truck as it is being transported along a highway

- A bed not resting in a bedroom, but outside under a tree.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends IV, aka Incongruous People: This time it is not an object which is out of place, but a person. Do the same three approaches as above, making sure that you try the hardest one twice.

- An infant alone in a booth in a bar

- A naked man in a bookstore

- A bride at a funeral

- A teenager in a nursing home

Avoiding Cliché I: Go through the following clichés and find original ways to communicate the same basic thought. Note: this will be easier if you put the cliché in a sentence or paragraph, thereby giving it context. (In the chapters, this is discussed in Mistakes, and Metaphor.)

hungry as a horse

flat as a table

hourglass figure

shrieked with laughter

The crowd roared.

His eyes welled up.

A shiver ran down my spine.

He swept her off her feet.

Avoiding Cliché II: Take 2 characters who are sometimes written as stereotypes (the cheating husband, the blonde secretary, the drunk welfare mother, the slick politician, the black leather biker, the gum-cracking beehive-wearing waitress, the greasy-haired rock star, etc.). Break the stereotypes by developing each of your two characters, and have them meet. The outcome of their meeting must be unpredictable and based on their unique personalities - not on their stereotype. (In the chapters, this is discussed in Character.)

Other exercises to give you some juice:

Write a story about a young person's relationship with a parent. Try a version in which the young person is down-and-out, and the parent successful. Then try a version in which the young person is on the straight-and-narrow, and the parent is unconventional.

Write a story about a relationship that changes over time. Try the following relationships: parent-child; sibling-sibling; friends; lovers; employer-employee. Watch your transitions and compressions. Play around with different settings. Try this in a straightforward chronological way. Then try it with a frame structure, so that we begin and end in the present, but spend the body of the story reviewing the past. (See Structure)

Write a story in which a character speaks in the first person, but is clearly addressing someone specific - an interviewer, a child, a priest, a former spouse. The character should be revealing a secret, and is using this forum to confess her/his deeds. Try this once where the listener is not much more than a passive receiver. Then try it again where the listener is relevant to the story, perhaps because s/he is referred to in the story, or because s/he is important to the resolution of the story.

Write a story that is one long, continuous sentence - which is also grammatically correct. To justify the form, the story which is being told must be a story of urgency, involving panic, high drama, a rush of emotions, or anything else which calls into question the characters' sense of control.

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