Do you ever get words stuck in your head? I’ve heard it’s a symptom of OCD (though if you look up a full list of OCD symptoms you’ll probably un-diagnose yourself). There was a time in my life when these words plagued me. I’d read the name of a chemical on a shampoo bottle in the morning and it would play over and over and over and over, whenever my mind was quiet.
This morning, for no reason at all, I thought of the word “flamingo.” Flamingo, flamingo, flamingo. And just as it was starting to get annoying I though, “Maybe I could use this.”
So the challenge this week is to write something using a repetitive word. I know it can work when wielded by the right writer–just read something by Robert Lopez and you’ll see what I mean. (Seriously, though, read Robert Lopez anyway. He’s amazing.)
This is an exercise for those of you who are currently working on a project and might be stuck on plot or character development. I want you to take a character you’ve been with for a while and have them stop, mid-scene, and look at the horizon. It might sound cheesy, and it probably won’t end up staying in your finished work, but what does the horizon evoke for them? Where are they going?
Fiction is about empathy. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes helps us to understand the world on a different level, and to relate to our fellow humans in a deeper, more complicated way.
A lot of writers strive to make their main characters likeable, especially if the POV is written from a close perspective. To that end, I think there’s a tendency to write characters we like personally, so we can make other people like them, too. (I’m all for unlikeable characters, BTW, but that’s another blog post.)
But what if we tried to write from the POV of someone we didn’t like?
Have you ever written in the second person? (By which I mean the narrative addresses some sort of “you.”) It’s not a particularly popular style but there are some good examples of it out there. Cherry by Mary Karr is an entire memoir written in the second person. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore uses the second person in short stories. And then there’s What Would Your Mother Say by Laura Ender–
Wait, you haven’t heard of that one? Oh, right. Not published. (Yet. Adding the word “yet” will make me feel better.) That’s my novel, which is sort of on hold at the moment after a long period of submissions (Thank you, Kate! I love you! I mean, I’ve never met you in person and I don’t know your favorite color or if you have a dog or anything but you took a chance on my novel so I love you.) because I’ve had some creative epiphany/realized it just isn’t good enough.
Anyhow, my novel is written entirely in the second person. A risky choice, I know, and certainly something that has made certain editors hesitate, but it’s right for the book and I will stand by it. But I’ve been away from my second person novel for a long time, writing in the first and third like a normal person. So I need to get back into it. So this exercise is completely self-serving but maybe you’ll enjoy it, too.
So that’s the brief: write in the second person. Take it wherever you want to. Five minutes. Go.
Do you know anyone named Rose? First name or last name. A dog, a cat–anyone? What about famous people–Charlie Rose, for example. Or Rosemary Clooney. Or someone who just reminds you of roses.
Well, I had a first grade teacher named Mrs. Rose. Come to think of it, I have no idea what her first name was. That makes me sad. But I do remember her quite vividly, and I’ve decided that she’s the inspiration for this week’s writing exercise. I’m going to write about her; you write about your Rose (real or imaginary).
Once, in grad school, a friend and I had planned to go out for a beer (or, in his case, a Diet Coke–he didn’t drink). He met me at my apartment and we went to the bar across the street, but first I had to finish a paragraph in a story I was writing. When I told him this, he was taken aback: “You can write at night?” he said. “I can write any time. Especially if I’m inspired.” “I can only write in the morning,” he said. “And even then it’s a struggle.”
So I finished the paragraph and we got our drinks and we talked some more about our writing processes. He was a very structured writer who like to research his work extensively and used very specific ideas and themes to jump start his stories. He took joy in having finished writing, but not necessarily the writing itself–a position that all writers find themselves in at least some of the time. But I found it interesting that he had such strong ideas about when he could and couldn’t write. At the time, I found myself writing whenever I had a free moment; grad school provided masses of inspiration and time frames in which to complete stories.