f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Exercise in the New Year

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Exercise in the New Year

In previous posts I’ve talked about the need to “exercise” our writing skills. A while back a group of you took this to heart and formed the Writers Workout Group. This group reads and critiques short stories and had a hand in the refining of many of the Christmas stories, I think. You can find more about it on the discussion board but it’s a worthy group to join and participate in.

Writing any piece is exercise in itself—tackling a theme like Christmas allows you to focus your thinking and hone your writing in a particular direction. However, it’s possible for the piece to exercise specific areas of the writing tool-box.

In my story, “Good Neighbors,” I tried two things. The first was restraint. I specifically wanted to write a story that held its hand close to the vest. From your comments, I may have held them a bit too close. The second tool was a form of dialogue (unattributed, unmarked) I’ve long admired but never used before. Granted, the idea was stolen directly from Louis Bayard’s Mr. Timothy, which I’d been reading. My story is short but I think even in those few words I got a feel for how to use this kind of dialogue. At least to some extent.

You can pick which tools you'd like to practice with.

POV is a great tool to exercise in short pieces. Try a piece in a fully omniscient authorial third person voice. Or go documentary style with an objective narrative POV.

Narrative structure is fun to play around with as well. Toggle between multiple perspectives of a single incident. Tell a story backwards.

The point of this is that while you are investing your time in very practical skill building, you’re not threatening your key project with attempts to work out the kinks. It’s like a baseball pitcher who practices a new pitch on his off-days and not during the game.

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Anyway, my dallying with dialogue means that it’s the topic we’re going to cover next. Perhaps starting tomorrow. Most published writers have very specific ideas about how dialogue should work and look and we’ll examine them and talk about the major pitfalls lots of folks fall into with dialogue. See you then.