Tag Archives: writing exercises

THE RIGHT WORDS

What words would "Mr. Wonderful" say to impress a woman?

What words would “Mr. Wonderful” say to impress a woman?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful's words?

What would John Bunyan say about Mr. Wonderful’s words?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

What would a patient Grandpa say to his grandson about fishing?

In 1871, Lewis Carrolll wrote the nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” It begins “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ~ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” It’s a well-known poem, often praised for the flow and sounds of the words, and in every English class there are always some students who swear they understand exactly what Carroll was saying.

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a prominent novelist, poet and short story writer who was also known for Gobblefunk, his own language. Two examples are “swigpill” (disgusting food), and “splath-winkled” (hurrying about). Despite this special language he scattered through some of his writing, his also wrote this: “Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

Sometimes words work; sometimes they don’t. All writers know this, and most agree that one place where this is particularly true is when they write dialogue. It either works, or it doesn’t. 

To loosen up the writers in my classes and workshops, I often jumped right into exercises on writing dialogue. My favorite prop was Mr. Wonderful, a 12” doll with a flashy smile, a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and real-tie brown leather shoes. Press the palm of his hand and he said sixteen different phrases—all from the heart—and all as fake as his smile. Two of my favorites were “You know, I think it’s really important that we talk about our relationship,” and “You know, Honey, why don’t you just relax and let me make dinner tonight…and do the dishes.”

It was obvious to both males and females that Mr. Wonderful’s words were stilted and didn’t work.   So the writers were to act as his “coach” and choose any three of his phrases and write what a “real guy” would say. After they’d finished, they were to hand the sheet to another writer who would write what an imaginary Ms. Wonderful would say in response. Everyone relaxed with the dialogue of this fake-to-the-core doll. It was a great way to get started.

Before my mother’s dementia, once when she was visiting I introduced her to Mr. Wonderful. She listened to his phrases and laughed. Then she said that some of the hardest dialogue to write was how children talk, so another exercise for my students could be to write what a young girl or boy would say to Mr. Wonderful, telling him how to dress and what to say. I really liked her idea, and asked if she wanted to try writing some examples.

Mom looked around, shook her head and smiled. In her opinion, the best way to write dialogue was to get comfortable and sit quietly, in a waiting room or a classroom or anywhere adults or children talk and do things. Then listen to what they say, how they pause or move when they say something, if they chatter on and on or speak in short sentences, if they mumble or whine. That’s how you learn to write like people really talk, she said. You listen.

And then she laughed and added that you didn’t want to sit quietly too long. You might fall asleep and then some uppity writer might write about how you sleep with your mouth open or snore.

My mother taught me that getting words right is important, but so is watching and learning. And getting your heart involved, too. As John Bunyan, author of THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, wrote: “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

The same is true in life.

This "borrows" from Keep Calm and Carry On.  Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

This “borrows” from Keep Calm and Carry On. Write your own version, or choose another well-known saying and rewrite it in your style.

 

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell where the men are.

Use the title of this book. Write for five minutes and tell what happened to the men.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, special quotations, teaching, writing, writing exercises

EXACTLY THREE WORDS

Dear Mom,

As I was driving to see you in May, I listened to several interesting radio programs and talk shows. One I’ve already written about (“Mothers And Phone Sex. Really?) Another less controversial program I listened to reminded me of a writing seminar you and I attended together many years ago.

One of the speakers told the participants to practice writing tight, with as few words as possible to make the point. As a warm-up exercise, he gave us ten minutes to write as many descriptive sentences as we could. They could be descriptions of characters or locations or any of the senses, but each sentence could not be longer than ten words. The winner with the most sentences won an autographed book by the speaker. I don’t remember who won or what the sentences were. I do remember that I showed you one of my sentences and you showed me the beginning of a poem you’d decided to write instead.

The writing seminar allowed ten-word sentences. The radio program I listened to asked callers to come up with five-word messages that could become mottos or bumper stickers. One of the callers offered “Tell The Truth, You Liar” and “Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken.” Those are the ones I remember (I was driving, after all).

That afternoon while you napped in the recliner, I took out a notebook and decided to record as many three-word messages and mottos I remembered  hearing as I grew up. Here’s what I came up with:

~ from sports: “Cover your bases” and “Play to win”

~ from Dad: “Do your best,” “Figure it Out,” “You did what?” and “For Pete’s sake”

~ in general from TV or at school or with friends: “Do your homework,” “Make your point,” “Clean it up,” “Don’t you dare,”  “You wanna bet?” and “Not so fast”

~ and from you, Mom: “Say your prayers,” “Don’t give up,” “Are you sure?” and “Say you’re sorry.”

My favorite three-word message is the one that you say at the end of our telephone conversations, when, at least for awhile, you knew me and what we were talking about: “Love you, darlin’.”

Love you, Mom.

Marylin

BLOG FRIENDS:  Share your  THREE-WORD mottos or messages.

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, driving laws, memories for great-grandchildren, writing, writing exercises

WRITING ON A DIME

Dear Mom,

Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught.  I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.

Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket.  He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better.  Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.

It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.

I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.

During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!”  The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.

As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.

I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers.  And doodling; doodles are good, too.

Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.

You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.

Good job, Mom!

Love, Marylin

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Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, teaching, writing, writing exercises