Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Take the full name (including middle name) of someone you love. Write down as many words from this name as you can. You can repeat letters from the name as many times as you wish. Treat the letters of this name as the only letters in a new alphabet. You cannot use any words containing letters that do not exist in this name. Because this is so difficult, you'll probably only be able to come up with about 200 words for this exercise--that's okay. When you have built a sufficient list of words (maybe breaking the list down into nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.) write a fragment of fiction that has to do with a fictionalized situation this person, or someone like this person, would be involved in.
(from prompt #25 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
As an alternative to "Names," use the letters of the first names of four or five ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends as your only alphabet for a very short story. The effect of this change, (from "Names") when I tried just the list of words (not the exercise) myself, was electric. See if you can look back to earlier failed relationships with something like affection--or at least some balance.
(from prompt #26 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
Read my commentary on these prompts:
Look, I did do it, okay? Ask my roommates: I sat around with this list of words, obsessively organized into parts of speech (at the conjunction junction, I was incredibly grateful for my TWO highly functioning words: "if" and "and") and I wrote a silly little story involving barf, and running (although I couldn't use the word "running," just the form "ran"). I used my baby brother's name, which gave me this alphabet:
Please note the lack of any of the letters given to the finalist trying to make a phrase at the bonus end section of "Wheel of Fortune." No 's,' no 't,' no kind little 'm' or 'y.' No, I couldn't even make the word 'no.'
I also started to do the one with ex-boyfriends, which would actually have been way easier. That alphabet, in comparison, is awesome:
Until you remember that in normal life, you get all the letters. Unrestricted! Weird experience, to be sure. I had such gratitude for letters, for the use of words. Weird, but rewarding.
The reward is not necessarily what it produced in writing, however, and that put me in an awkward position. The writing that came out of this felt silly, gimmicky, and I wasn't sure how to post it. Kiteley, in The 3 AM Epiphany, said as much elsewhere in the prompt: "happy for the difficulty and the experience but...failed at a proper piece of fiction." His advice was to let it gestate, unmolested (so, very, very much like a child, I guess) and in a few YEARS look back at it. Great, but I'm posting every week, and I'm itching to start at #27 and #28. I was just gonna skip over them, but it was weird how much it felt like I was breaking my own rules. Coincidentally, this prompt was inspired by the Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians who meet in Paris to create almost impossible restraints; one description is "rats who build the maze from which they plan to escape." And here I am starting to feel like that with my own blog.
So, what you've just read was the solution to my self-created problem. I do recommend trying both prompts. I had to fight my self from dismissing these, as in, aw, this is just a game, not real writing, doesn't count. But, as I'm also choosing to look at each prompt as a lesson, it does count. (Plus slippery slope, if don't do one cause it doesn't appeal to me, how am I gonna stay disciplined to do any of them?) The lesson in this is really the heart of creativity: what do you do with what you have? Anyone can find a way to fill a blank canvas, but can anyone still find a way to create art without paint, or even a canvas? It was looking at the myriad meanings of common words, and at the power of rare ones, using each one carefully. A trite metaphor, but a lot like stringing beads together, looking at each word as a little bead, and evaluating its worth and where it belonged. So, yay for that. Meanwhile, do I post all the words I had (175 words) to use, do I post a story that is sort of adorable in its repetitive nothingness? (Sample sentence: "A barn, deer, fern: an errand in Eden.") Kiteley wrote that the voice used in this exercise is so forced, so unnatural, that it seems useless, but that, with patience, that becomes precisely the use: it teaches you to use something unnatural, a voice besides your own, which a good writer should be able to produce.
If anyone does try this and create something super cool, please please e-mail me at ehbarnard (at) hotmail (dot) com or leave a comment, and I will post that bad boy on up here.
Also, I recommend loving someone named like, Molly Bonnie Moorehousecricketski, or something.