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Writing Workshop: Good for the Soul

Good for the Soul

We have added two new word games to our warm-up in the past few weeks. In Guggenheim, I write a word across the top of the board, such as SHARK, with one word per column, and four categories down the left side of the board, such as countries, flowers, or women’s first names.  We then time how long it takes the group to think of words that begin with each letter in “shark” and fit in each category.

The other game is called Monosyllables, and it requires one person to ask a question composed entirely of monosyllabic words.  The next person responds with only monosyllabic words and poses the next monosyllabic question.  This generated questions and answers such as:

Why do you write?
It is good for the soul.

Am I a duck?
You may or may not be a duck.

We have responded to more exercises from Rip the Page.  We have tried to get inside a color through a series of questions such as: How does your color move? What does your color wish for? What is it the shape of?  We also explored the idea of synesthesia through a series of questions.  The answers together could make a poem, or each answer could be expanded into its own poem.  The questions included:

What color does a star sound like?
What is the smell of a circle?
What color is a baby’s cry?

Answers included:
A baby’s cry is a pale rosy violet mixed with ice blue polar bears.
A circle smells like freshly baked bread and butter.
A new idea feels like a light bulb.

Participants have been suggesting prompts, and we have tried them out.  One suggestion was to write first names on slips of paper and put them in a bag.  Each person was asked to create a character with their selected first name and write about that person, beginning at birth.  Here is an excerpt from one draft:

I was born on December 12th, 199999999999999929999995, in a hospital for average IQ births. When I was a baby, there was always something off about me. I was always trying to smash my toy cars together, and trying to sink my little action figures in makeshift quicksand. Eventually, I grew up, and became aware of one thing. I had a desire. TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. This is mystory. I am currently 25 and live in a cheap housing apartment. Here is the point where I wake up.“Glurbhle, I don’t wanna wake up...”
“Okay, fine.” I get up out of bed and head to the bathroom to get washed up.
As I wash my face, I remember the invention I made last night to take over the world. “I hope it works...” I think to myself. I walk downstairs and put on my lab coat. Down in my lab, I have tubes going everywhere, going in one wall, coming out of another, failed experiments laying on tables, and a giant machine in the middle, with billions of tubes running every which way. I press a button on the front and a giant monitor comes flashing on. A slight humming sound could be heard all around the room. It was quite a bit scary, actually.

Another participant suggested that we write about dreams that we have had.  This yielded vivid descriptions of quicksand, sheep-eating pigs, throwing fish in a grocery store, and a Cyclops who yelled, “The British are coming!”

We have been looking at the short story for the past few weeks.  I read aloud a short story by Arthur C. Clarke entitled “If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth,” and we discussed the ways in which it differed from a novel and how Clarke built the story around one idea.  I challenged everyone to write a short story within the next two writing sessions.  One draft begins:

The smog floats around the city of Zero. Huge banners cover the walls. They picture a dark-faced wizard mastermind and bear a simple but strict message: OBEY.

Billions of masked and cloaked citizens roam the streets, their minds subconsciously doing the Grand Dictator’s bidding without reason. The city is filled with them, their weak minds possessed by the dictator wizard’s unspeakable power. They are- The Zeros………
But there are the others, the rebels, who struggle to save this evil nation that knows nothing but their pointless laboring. Each of the Zeros has evil in them, witchcraft of the Dictator Zero. This story tells of the rebel invasion of Zero, the day that the dictator’s burning powers ceased to remain, and the human race will prevail….

For inspiration, I told the group about the current NPR “3-Minute Fiction” prompt to write a story of 600 words or less in the form of a voice mail message.  One participant found this idea intriguing and created a message from a mailman who keeps some of the letters he is supposed to deliver:

Oh, is this a recording? I think it is. Okay, so, I’m calling you, because, you got a letter, in your mailbox, and uhm, actually, do you want me to read it- I think you do, okay, so it goes like this, “Hello, Steven. Right now, I’m on my vacation in Hawaii. I left on the 2nd, just to let you know. There’s a favor I need you to do. In my apartment, I left a small bracelet with markings on it on  my dresser. The key to my apartment is in this bag.” But that’s not all of it! Davis sent you a super weird letter. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to him... Anyways, the rest goes like “After you obtain the bracelet, I need you to get a dab of water, and copy the symbols on the bracelet onto the mirror in my apartment. As you are doing this, you might hear rustling coming from inside the mirror cabinet or the shower curtains. Ignore it. It’s not real, and it can’t hurt you at all. After you copy the symbols onto the mirror, you should hear a knock on the door. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. Whatever the man outside says, DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. If you open it, well, let’s not think about that. After you hear the 3rd knock on the door, RUN. Jump out of my window. Don’t worry. You won’t get hurt. You’ll land safely. I promise. I’m sorry I had to get you involved in this, Steven. But you have to do this for me. When I get back, I’ll explain. -Davis”

Another participant wanted to try writing especially short stories and soon amassed about a dozen, including this tale of clock and light bulb:

“What time is it?” asked the light bulb to the clock.“9:02,” recited the clock.

From the time that the clock had been here, (Before she had been stuck up in the attic; she was thankful that was over.) she had realized that light bulbs were very impatient.

“You know,” said the clock, “you remind me of the old duster I knew in the attic, always wanting to know what time it was.  She still thought that someone would come up to that old stinking place and start using her, not that that would do any good.”

After this outburst, the light bulb stayed quiet for a few seconds.  Then, as if nothing had happened, he asked again, “What time is it?” and the clock answered dully, “9:03.”

One participant typed up a story starter and distributed it to fellow interested writers.  It went like this:

Rose played that night like she had never played before; the girl and the flute were one. She had played that song before, of course, and her family had loved it every time.  But this was something different.  These people who were listening now had never heard anything like it before.  For music had died out long ago.

And it inspired a story in which Rose lives far in the future, and her mother receives an official letter telling her that Rose must turn over her illegal flute.

"It's not stealing, Rose. It's a contraband item. They have every right to confiscate it." Xorrah hated telling her daughter this, but she didn't want to get Rose and herself into even more trouble. If Rose hadn't been a twelve-year-old girl, they may have thrown her in jail, along with taking her flute.

"I won't-" Rose sobbed."I won't let them. We have to hide it. Or-or fight it. We've got to..."

"It's a flute, Rose. You can still sing. Or write. Or paint. Or…" Xorrah tried.

"You sound just like them." Rose spat, brushing her tears from her cheeks and roughly grabbing the flute back out of her mother's hands. "If you won't help me, I'll deal with it myself."

Rose sniffed, and whirled around. She cast a disdainful last look at her kitchen and mother, and stormed out the back door, slamming it behind her.

She looked around at the vibrant green world.  Her building complex consisted of fifty houses neatly lined along a smooth road. Each house, painted in one of a few varying pastel colors, had a straight white picket fence, green grass, and a row of pink and blue little flowers in the front. To any century-old survivors of Old Earth, it looked unreal; the colors too bright, the lines too straight, the rows too perfect.

But to Rose, a Pure New Earther, it was normal.

We will continue to dabble in short (and very short) stories in the next few weeks and move into more poetry.

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