This is exercise three in Steering the Craft. This exercise was broken into 2 parts, short and long. This set of exercises was one of my favorite to date. I did not particularly care for it the first time I tried, but the second time around, I had a better feel for how to approach this style of narrative.
Part one: Write a paragraph of narrative, 100-150 words, in sentences of seven or fewer words. No sentence fragments! Each must have a subject and a verb.
The glass fell, shattering on impact. She sat motionless, unfeeling. Her mother gave her that glass. The fragments gleamed in the sunlight. They reminded her of life’s fragility. Broken glass was now all that remained. She wept while sweeping up the pieces. She counted the shards as they dropped. She spoke aloud: “one, two…forty-nine.” They numbered the years, exactly. She died so young, her mother. Life had a way of sucker punching. “Goodbye,” she whispered, closing the lid.
The challenge for me initially in the exercise above was realizing that short sentences did not mean short words. All I could think of was “see spot run.” I hope this was a little more compelling than spot 🙂
Part two: Write a half-page to a page of narrative, up to 350 words, which is all one sentence.
Raucous laughter rang through the halls as he ran, short legs pumping, trying to carry him as fast as they could; away from the eyes, the teeth, the gestures–the ridicule of the taunting children who cruelly threw their leftover lunches at his feet, compelling him with the smell, to eat, but pride would not let him bend down to pick up the bitten sandwiches, half cookies; he was used to being hungry, he was used to disappearing through sheer force of will into a quiet space inhabited by only his thoughts of a better life where hunger pangs were not his constant companion and, just once, shoes and clothes and underwear were not leftovers, so no, he would not pick up the lunches, his stomach told him otherwise, so he did the only thing he could do; he ran, as fast as his legs could carry him away from the temptation of a second hand lunch to further humiliate him and his second hand life, his discarded dreams, like their discarded sandwiches lay at his feet as he tried to outrun their taunting — you’ll never fly around the world, you’ll never see a whale, you’ll never be more than a second class dreamer of broken and discarded dreams, he ran, his legs burning, but he wouldn’t stop, not this time, not ever, he would outrun them, he would, he would — “I will!” he screamed as he tore through the gates of the school, ignoring the calls of the security guards, ignoring the pain in his toes as the too small shoes supplemented with cardboard, to fill the places where holes had been worn, threatened to burst from his feet, leaving him to run barefoot on the blistering pavement; but he wouldn’t stop, not now, not ever– no more broken dreams, no more discarded wishes; he would run, he would run or he would die, he would run because that’s all there was, all he could do to escape the place where life was cruel, and to a place where dreams would flourish.
The first time I attempted this exercise (long) I ended up with a blank page. I could not think of a single thing to write. I tried. I think that it was because I was typing on a computer, and so, I continued to erase what I had written and by the end of the time we allotted, I’d erased everything. This time, I resorted to good old fashioned pen and paper. It helped. I think this exercise helped me understand how better to write urgency, to convey a feeling of tension. I may revisit this exercise just to continue practicing this technique.