Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fiction or nonfiction?

Yesterday I had two conversations with people who wanted to write about their lives and were deliberating over treating the material as fiction or nonfiction.

Then this morning, what showed up in my Inbox but a link to a writer who's struggled with the same thing? Complete with handy writing exercises! So go check out Abigail Thomas's site.

Here's a particularly good exercise from it:

"Here is an assignment I’ve given my students for years. Take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long. I’m strict about this—not four words, not two. Three words long. These can be sentence fragments, but you can’t do stuff like 'I went out/to the store.'

"It’s a terrific assignment, if I do say so myself. Among other things, it forces you to choose. It forces you to leave things out. Learning what to leave out is not the same thing as putting in only what’s important. Sometimes it’s what you’re not saying that gives a piece its shape. And it’s surprising what people include. Marriage, divorce, love, sex, all that can fall away and what you take up precious space with is sleeping on grass, or an ancient memory of blue Popsicle juice running down your sticky chin."

And here are several more, thanks to JPG, who sent them along to the writer's group I'm in:

  • Write two pages in which someone obsesses over something meaningless
  • Write two pages that contain three platters of cheese
  • Write two pages of boring dialogue (you'll be surprised how hard it is to be boring on purpose)Two pages that contain a kitchen table, a slammed door, a dead cat.
  • Two pages that take place in water
  • Two pages of apologies

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