Tag Archives: steering the craft


This exercise from Steering the Craft dealt with using a particular word or phrase. Conventional wisdom says “don’t use the same word twice,” which as a general rule of thumb is..okay, but can be constraining, especially when it can enhance your writing as a narrative tool for emphasis.

Part I: Verbal Repetition – Write a paragraph of narrative that includes at least three repetitions of a noun, verb or adjective (a noticeable word, not an invisible one like “was,” “said,” or “did”)

“You stink. I can smell you from over here, and not in a ‘it wafted near my nose for a moment and then the smell was gone’ kind of way, you smell so bad it is hanging in the air, it is assaulting my nose! That smell is going to literally incapacitate our entire unit! Do you hear me soldier?? Your mother must not have taught you to wash your a** because you smell like s**t, like a dead animal crawled up your rectum and died, that smell is repulsive son! You disgust me! Go take a shower, scrub until your skin is pink and then, scrub some more, I don’t want to so much as catch one whiff of your dirty, smelly, rank behind—DISMISSED!” The Sergeant nodded and turned his eyes to the rest of the company, “Any one else neglect to shower today??” he bellowed, “Sir, no Sir!” they replied in unison.

Part II: Syntactic Repetition – Write a paragraph to a page of narrative in which you deliberately repeat the syntactical construction, or the exact rhythm, of a phrase or sentence (or more than one) several times. 

This exercise was very difficult for me. I did not do it correctly. I still have to go back and reread the meaning of syntactic repetition to fully understand what it means, and how it is used. I think I have a better grasp of it now, than when I first completed this exercise. In fact, I will explain it (honestly more for myself, to reiterate what I think I know, than for you). Syntactic repetition is when you use a particular sentence structure or rhythm repetitively. Example using sentence construction: –e.g.; 

She could have cried, but she instead remained stoic. He wanted to see her emotional, so he increased the number of insults in his retort. 

 This was an easier concept to grasp once I reread the examples several times. The second form, rhythmic repetition, was more difficult to identify (for me at least). The example given:

“We always went to the mountain in summer. But I never knew what had happened to Bonny.” 

did not immediately strike me as rhythmic. I was thinking poetic rhyming, but this was not that. One of the women in my writing group, who has a Bachelors in Creative Writing, pointed out the rhythm to me (after I butchered the exercise): the syllables match, the number of words, match, a colored illustration makes this easier to identify:

We always went to the mountain in summer

But I never knew what had happened to Bonny.

 It is really great to write with people who can help make you better, who want to see you improve, and who point out your errors without condescending, but with the intention to bring out your best work. Writing with these women is a safe place. I never balk at their thoughtful criticism, I welcome it, because, I know it comes from a place of honesty.

Here was my first, terrible attempt at this exercise:

Cars of every shape and size drove swiftly down the congested street. Many people seemed not to pay attention to the world around them, opting to instead, browse their Facebook newsfeed. It would be easy. What if she just pushed him him into the street? Not an obvious shove, rather, a slight bump, just hard enough to knock him off balance and into the street. After all, he was always teasing her about tripping on cracks in the sidewalk, so who was to say she didn’t just stumble on one of those invisible cracks, reach for him to steady herself and, completely on accident, send him plunging into oncoming traffic. One of those distracted drivers would surely make quick work of him. The posted speed limit was 45, how likely was it that someone would survive a hit at that speed? She always noticed the crosses adorned with photos and remembrances on the side of residential streets, that meant someone died there, some unfortunate meeting between pedestrian and car had taken place; score: car 1, pedestrian 0. He reached out and grabbed her hand, swinging it in jest. She attempted to still the motion, “You know I hate it when you do that,” she muttered, snatching her hand, he feigned offense, “But you like it when I hold your hand,” he retorted. She kicked a rock into the street, just one little trip, one little bump, that would be enough. She narrowed her eyes. “Hey, what are you thinking?” he asked, the playfulness leaving his voice, “Where did you go?” — she watched the cars fly by, “I think we should break up,” she said abruptly. 

Now, you tell me — WHERE is the repetition in that?? You can’t see me, so I will tell you, I am laughing. I think I just wrote, hoping that I would magically fall into repetition on accident, and no one would notice that I had no idea what the exercise was asking me to do. Bad idea. Here is this exercise, rewritten (and highlighted) for repetition. Bright yellow highlights are structural repetitions, multi-colored highlights are used to identify the rhythmic repetition, at least in the beginning, then, you’ll just have to trust me :-).

Busy cars drove swiftly down the congested street. People did not notice the world surrounding them. It would be easy, she could just push him. Not an obvious shove, just a slight bump.  After all, he was always teasing her for tripping on cracks in the sidewalk. Maybe then, she would stumble over one of many small cracks, and reach for him. Then, completely on accident, she would send him plunging into oncoming traffic. Surely someone, one of those distracted drivers, would make quick work of him. The posted speed limit was 45. How likely was it that someone would survive? She always noticed adorned crosses by the busy streets. They marked someone’s tragic meeting with a vehicle. Score: car 1, pedestrian 0. He grabbed her hand, swinging it in jest. She recoiled, attempting to still the motion. “You know I hate it when you do that,” she muttered, snatching her hand. He feigned offense, “But you like it when I hold your hand,” he retorted. She kicked a rock into the street. One little trip. One tiny bump. That would be enough. She narrowed her eyes. “Hey, what are you thinking?” he asked, the playfulness leaving his voice. “She watched the cars fly by, “I think we should break up,” she said abruptly. 

And there you have it. My corrected exercise. I had to use my white board to construct some sentences. When I was having difficulty, I lined up the words and matched the syllables:

 You’ll note that ve-hi-cle, I paired with bu-sy streets. Is that cheating? Hmm…I don’t think so, it is in the spirit of the exercise, so I gave myself a pass.

Happy writing!

Short and Long

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.  

I am Garcia Marquez

My writing group and I have been meeting, I just haven’t been posting (naughty me). So this was exercise two from Steering the Craft: “I am Garcia Marquez.” The exercises are accompanied by a small lesson and examples. I don’t include them here, only the writing prompt.

Write a paragraph to a page (150-350 words) of narrative with no punctuation (and no paragraphs or other breaking devices).

Here is my completed exercise:

They arose bleary eyed from the pavement having traveled from near and far the line extending beyond visibility one by one they steeled themselves to rush the doors clutching whistles organized in teams of only their most trusted compatriots who were prepared to take down anyone that happened to get in the way of the perfect find with elbows and fist fight resulting in black eyes no this was not for the faint of heart the weak of spirit not the feeble of mind or body this was war and sneakered feet rustled in anticipation with cards at the ready for swiping and hands at the ready for grabbing because there would be no prisoners as the grappling brides wrestled over the dress of their dreams at the annual Filene’s basement sale.

I had trouble with this exercise. It was very difficult for me to think of ways to write a continuous, non-breaking sentence that seemed natural. I have read Garcia Marquez (100 Years of Solitude) and found that I often had to re-read passages due to his writing style. I can’t say that this a device I will employ often, if ever, but I suppose it was a good thought exercise.

Being Gorgeous (With Words)

My writing group is working its way through Steering the Craft, we just started. I am going to share my exercises here for additional feedback, should you choose to leave any, that is.

Exercise One: Being Gorgeous
Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative that’s meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect –any kind of sound-effect you like –but NOT rhyme or meter.

Here is my completed exercise:

BOOM! Goes the dynamite. Explosions are the best. Light and sound and crackling pops of color, sending debris flying in every which direction. Up and down and inside of things…Like buildings, and people and colors become just one: red. And sounds become just one: screams. And crackling pops burst ear drums, and Boom! topples buildings built over centuries. Maybe, explosions are not the best. But colors and sounds and light illuminate countries, and simple acts like running through fields of daises; pretty pops of yellow and white filled with butterflies and the backdrop of blue skies are threats of: BOOM! Wrong step, buried beneath daisies, dynamite, goes BOOM. Choose a different route to school, where colors are gray and buildings, already toppled, are more safe, because the threat of BOOM is buried beneath their rubble.

I find it interesting where our minds can take us. I started writing with the first sentence that popped into my head, which was the line “BOOM! Goes the dynamite,” a funny phrase popularized in this YouTube video:

I initially thought I was going to write a funny piece, and I ended up somewhere totally different…such is the process I suppose.