I’ve decided to reshape my writing time. Right now any kind of writing schedule is out, and the inconsistency is frustrating. Instead I’ve decided to pull some writing exercises from the various writing books lining my desk, and tackle one each month (month-ish). Often, but not always, those will be my “fragments” for these posts.
This one is a writing challenge that I first found in The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson, but it was attributed to The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. I modified the original challenge, and still bombed it beautifully. Still, these types of exercises help me focus on the craft of writing, and I find that more stimulating that random writing prompts on absurd topics or situations.
To get started I found two sites that were particularly helpful. The first, How To Write a Brilliant Long Sentence at The CopyBot was an article on writing long sentences for online content – not exactly the same, but a great starting point. The second, 65 Long Sentences in Literature at Bookfox was a compilation of long sentences in literature that I referenced to look at punctuation ideas and sentence structure.
ORIGINAL EXERCISE, as written in The Art of Fiction by John Gardner:
Write three effective long sentences: each at least one full typed page (250 words), each involving a different emotion (for example, anger, pensiveness, sorrow, joy). Purpose: control of tone in a complex sentence.
INITIAL MODIFIED EXERCISE: Write three effective long sentences: each at least one full typed page (250 words), each involving a different emotion.
FINAL EXERCISE: Figure out how to write two, 250-word sentences each with a different tone.
Sentence #1: Exasperation (253 words)
Sandra scooted the office chair towards her desk, sat up straight, and pushed the power button; her fingers hovered above the illuminated keys; her right foot bounced her bent leg up and down; her mind sparked with literary developments to add to her work-in-progress – a childhood fire to develop the weakness in her protagonist, a word that possibly approached le mot juste for the wreckage of family that the antagonist had left behind, and some strategic symbol placements that might point readers in the direction of desperation that all her characters were heading into even though at the moment it sounded like all those characters were shouting and clamoring in her mind with their own thoughts about what to do and how to do it and if only she could put something down on paper she would then be able to get her head back to quiet – the computer screen flickered, a small circle swirled, Sandra clicked the blue box with the white “W” for a New Document and leaned forward to type at the same moment as the excitement in her head reached a crescendo so that all the glorious thoughts and concepts came forth as a mangled scream and then retreated to smothered silence: the blank page: she stared for five seconds before dropping her head into her hands, fingers clawing for the elusive tangle of ideas that had just seconds ago filled her creative spirit but that could not now be summoned until, she knew, the white space disappeared.
Sentence #2: Apathy (290 words)
James moved his phone away from catching a shot of the small boy standing next to the brick corner of the building and over to catch the escalating action in the side street; he considered what content he would edit later (any mentions of the guys’ names for one, visuals of other cell phones recording the fight, for another); he listened for sounds to isolate: shoes scraping on loose gravel, heavy breathing, fist on nose cartilage, knee on gut, and – ugh – head on pole; he scanned for details that might insinuate guesses to rumors to lies for water cooler conversation – as if the fighters’ white-collar-professional uniform of gray pants and white button-down shirts was not unusual enough for the scene – bingo – wedding ring on one guy’s finger and possibly, if he could get the right angle, a lanyard dangling from the other guy’s pants pocket with a corporate logo; he sensed the crowd clench in anticipation just before it quieted…someone shout-whispered Cop! – it was over in less than twenty seconds – the guy with the lanyard hit the ground face-forward in a moan of blood and spit, the married guy sagged backwards through the path made by the opening in the crowd of people holding their phones in his face with one hand and raising their other hands in the air so as not to touch him, the little boy ran to the man on the asphalt; and, James cursed his luck for being on the wrong side of the crowd for a close-up, took a final shot of the sobbing child, pocketed his phone, and jogged across the street to grab a cup of coffee at the café before returning to his room to edit and post his footage.
Whew! Made it – or something close enough for now. Onward to the next!
Have you written any long sentences in your work-in-progress? In what ways do you hone your writing skills?