My Experiment With Melissa Donovan’s New Book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises (Adventures in Writing)
If you’ve been searching for a goldmine concerning all-things-writing you need look no further than Melissa Donovan’s, 101 Creative Writing Exercises (Adventures in Writing)
First came the perusal
First came the perusal, then came the decision. You know what I mean about the perusal, we all do it when we pick up a book filled with treasure. The urge is to stick your face into the book as if you were in a pie eating contest and just dig in. Of course the problem with that tactic is you may come up with cherry sauce all over your face. OK, so I do have a bit of red cherry goo stretched from ear to ear and nose to chin, but cleaning it up tastes so doggone GOOD.
I’ll start by saying that I was enthralled with one of Melissa’s opening sentiments, “Writing is a way to communicate, but it is so much more than that. Through writing, we develop and share ideas and information. We express ourselves and make art.” Yes, yes, yes, I wanted to shout, writing is all about communication, ideas, information, self-expression and art. So, I spent some time looking through the various ideas and the exercises presented. The pie eating contest was calling me, but I decided I needed to put the information in this book to use in a more pragmatic way.
Then came the decision
Melissa says, “The exercises in this book are designed to give you practical experience in writing across a range of forms and genres.” She suggests that the reader can strengthen his writing skills in areas he already uses and she says, “You are encouraged, however, to step outside of your comfort zone.”
All right then, I decided, I’ll try a little of each. Here are the two areas I decided to explore in my use of this book. Something I already do on a regular basis is write in my journal and on this blog about people. So I decided to explore Chapter Three: People and Characters and to then choose one of the exercises from that chapter for my writing experiment.
Then came the hard part. I had to choose something that was out of my comfort zone. After much wheezing and snorting, after calming myself to only a super hyper-tension level, I chose Chapter Five: Fiction.
So here are the two exercises I completed
After reading Chapter Three: People and Characters, and choosing the exercise with these instructions, “Choose a real person and write a short story from that person’s life,” I further chose a prompt from a list of 6. The one I picked was, “Write about a relationship that is healthy and joyous. It can be a romantic relationship, a partnership, or a friendship.” Then I wrote:
“Well, Bonnie, I think you should go out with him anyway. He seems like a nice guy,” were the words my grandmother quietly spoke to my mom on that summer evening well over 50 years ago. Momma, I’ve been told, was none to happy with the trick that had been played on her and was ready to usher the guests out of her house when Grannie pulled her aside and uttered those two short sentences. As Mom explained the story to me, she mentioned she was “bristled up” (her words) about how the date had been set up.
Here is how she told the story. “I had been dating this really cute red headed guy named Kirk for a few months. He called me one day and asked if I would like to go out with Red to dinner and some roller skating. That sounded like fun to me so I agreed and we set up a time for him to come to the house. I spent the afternoon fussing over what to wear and how to get my hair to look good and just being excited to be going somewhere with Kirk. Then, I couldn’t believe it when Kirk showed up at the door with some other girl hanging on to him and this other red haired guy with them. I was mad, real mad.” It seems my mom was going to have none of this trickster’s bunk. How dare he?
Yet, Mom took Grannies advice and went with Kirk, the unnamed girl and the extra red haired boy on the date. There was never a spoken ending to Mom’s story beyond, “I went with them.” I, after all, knew the end to the story. Bonnie and Red began dating on that night. Neither of them ever dated anyone else after that. They discovered they both had a joy for roller skating and for being together. They married less than a year later. I was born 2 years after the wedding and my brother 3 years after me.
Who knows what my Grannie, in such a short time, saw in the freckled faced, red haired boy who would later marry Mom and sire both my brother and me. Grannie, you see, never did any explaining about this story. She just smiled at the telling and retelling of the “how did you meet?” story.
The roller skates, one pair black and one pair white, which I now own and treasure even more since the deaths of my parents, are testament to the inadvertent gift Kirk gave to Mom and Dad on that unremarkable day so long ago. Unremarkable that is, if you don’t contribute your very existence to one red headed guy tricked a girl into going out with a different red headed guy.
Because the chapter about fiction writing is broken into sections which build on one another, much like stair steps used to reach a pinnacle, (the finished story) I wrote using section 5.1 as my guide. In this section the opening instruction reads: “Create a world from scratch and write a one-page description for a speculative fiction story setting.”
Here is much of what I wrote:
This story takes place in the present, on a clear spring day. I’ll invent people who don’t exist in the real world to populate the story. The story takes place in the spring in a rural mountain setting. The mountain is bounded on all sides by low and high deserts.
Pine trees, scrub oak and wild grasses are joined by occasional prickly pear cactus. During the spring, small waterfalls and tiny streams are in evidence because of snow runoff.
There is one major road rising from the bottom of the mountain, on the northwest side, to a place near the top where it meets a dead end. Where the road dead ends there is a camping lodge, a gas station, a gift shop, a restaurant and few houses for the employees of these businesses. A few dirt roads stream out from the main road providing access to both full time and part time residences. Several walking trails web out from residences as well as picnic and camping areas. The camping areas are dry-dock only with no utilities provided. There are iron grills for cooking (with charcoal – not provided) at some of the picnic areas and in the camping areas. The recreation area has a few ramada-type covered gathering spaces (with 4 tables in some and 6 tables in others) distributed within a several square mile area. There are numerous isolated concrete tables and benches placed near trees and out in the open. All of the county provided facilities (tables, waste bins, cooking grills, ramadas and outhouses) are old and show signs of use and wear yet are always clean and serviceable.
The climate is moderate with spring weather being warm during the day and cool at night.
The culture of the mountain:
Forest and county workers come to the forest station which is half way up the mountain on a daily basis to maintain and care for the facilities.
Full time residents:
- Tend to be families who are middle class blue collar workers who brave the daily drive in order to remove themselves from the desert where they work or are retired blue collar couples and singles
- Stay away from the (mostly) weekend day trippers and the RV campers
- Socialize with one another as well as uneasily with the more affluent owners of summer homes
Owners of summer homes:
- Use their part time homes only a few times a year
- Hire locals to tend to their houses while they are not in residence
- Socialize with one another and house guests they bring with them
- Are only upper middle class but take on the aura of wealthy to their middle middle class neighbors.
Day trippers come alone, in pairs, in family groups and in larger club and interest groups.
I can DO this
This exercise went from being daunting to being exhilarating. About halfway through the writing (following the instructions and tips) I began to see that I could actually write a fictional story based on what I was thinking, imagining and in the first stage of creating.
More about Melissa Donovan
Way back in August of 2011 I interviewed Melissa Donovan about her journal writing experiences. You can go to the Who Journals? Melissa Donovan Does post and learn more about this remarkable author. Since discovering her website, Writing Forward I’ve liked Melissa’s work and appreciated her skill. With the addition of her book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises (Adventures in Writing) Melissa has caused my regard for her to grow.