August 22nd, 2010

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Writing Exercise: Two-Faced Settings

Today's writing exercise deals with setting.  The location of a story influences not only the action but also the mood.  We're going to experiment with manipulating the mood.

1) Choose a setting.  You might like to browse some photos of architecture or landscapes for inspiration.

2) Imagine what it would be like to visit that place.  What might you experience there?  How would each of your senses respond?  Jot down a few ideas in neutral, objective tones.  For example, a beach scene might include notes like "low tide, sunny, dead fish, seashells, light brown sand."

3) Write a detailed paragraph describing the place in negative  terms.  Include at least five specific details.  Use sensory input and word choice to make the setting seem unpleasant.  Try to influence the reader to feel sad, wary, angry, or other dark emotions.  The beach scene might now begin: "Hot sun baked the beach to crumbly grit.  The receding waves left a single dessicated mackerel reeking near the high-tide line."

4) Revisit the same setting, but this time describe it in positive  terms.  At least three of the details should be ones from Step #3 above, rendered in a fresh light; the other two may be different ones.  Tune the sense imagery and vocabulary to help readers experience happiness, anticipation, excitement, or other bright emotions.  The new beach scene might start like: "Sunlight warmed the beach as the tide went out, relaxed waves lolling against the sand.  Two fiddler crabs waved to each other as they shared a plump mackerel that had washed ashore."

5) Add a character to the scene described in Step #3 above.  Spend a paragraph or two explaining what this person is doing there and what they experience.  Repeat this step with the scene from Step #4.

6) You can stop here if you wish, but if you're getting good results from one or the other example, by all means continue.  For extra credit, have the two characters meet each other, and try to figure out how to juxtapose their opposed experiences!
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Poem: "Bull-Dancers"

This poem came out of the June 13, 2008 Poetry Fishbowl.  (I'm reposting it because the original page seems to have crashed.)  It was inspired and prompted by browngirl.  This is one of several Minoan poems I've posted.  You might also enjoy "The Goddess and the Bull" and "The Snake Goddess."


Bull-Dancers
-- classical hendecasyllable


He comes.  Distantly, bellows echo.  Bull.  God.
We wait, trembling, awed and silent.  Youths.  Maids.

Bull-God, galloping ringward, rumbles.  What horns!
Palms.  Chalk.  Sweaty still.  Grab the horns and – Heave!  Leap!

Land well.  Scattering, dodging charges, we flee.
Safe, safe!  Holiness touches dancers.  We kneel.

Each year, sacrifice blesses those who dare dance.
Flesh.  Grace.  Touching His power briefly, we fly.