We are now two lessons into the Dirty Little [Writing] Secrets curriculum, and like any good student, you may have neglected to show up to the first two classes. If that’s the case, never fear; you can catch up here.
Having caught up, you now know that there is a big difference in critique based around content (i.e., I liked this character or I didn’t like this character), and critique of a writer’s craft (i.e., I thought you showed the heroes bravery on page 3). You also know just how important the ability to provide useful critique is to your own development as a writer. And finally you’ve learned the five basic rules for providing said useful critique.
So, after all that yummy learning, we can’t just laze about on the side of the pool, waiting for our sandwich of literary awesomeness to digest. No! Finger cramps be damned! Now is the time to leap in.
Today I present your very first Dirty Little [Writing] Homework!
It’s called The Elastic Sentence
The Assignment: The Elastic Sentence
This homework is actually really quick and easy! Here it is:
1) Write a simple sentence, meaning two words. Jim ran.
2) Write a second sentence using the same two word sentence but adding a few more words. Jim ran quickly.
3) Continue to write new sentences, adding just a word or two (or three) at a time until you have written a sentence which is 35 words long. Jim ran quickly, his heart pounding in his chest, as he vaulted the hedge, tripped down the steps, and burst onto the street, startling a flock of innocent pigeons and drawing a maidenly scream from old Mrs. Babcock. (I made it to 38).
4) Once you have your behemoth sentence, begin the process in reverse, slowly removing words until you reach a two word sentence again. Here’s the catch: It has to be a different noun and a different verb than you began with. Pigeons scream.
*BONUS* As you add and remove words, try to make your sentences, when read from start to finish, tell a cohesive story.
When you’re finished, leave your homework in the comments below. Next Friday, I’ll post the best five for your reading pleasure, along with my thoughts of what makes them effective.
That’s it! Easy as pie!
The astute reader may be wondering why, at this stage in the game, I have made a long argument for why CRITIQUE is a vitally important skill to develop for your writing, and then turned around and assigned you a writing exercise. The answer is very simple: in order to develop critique skills, you have to first learn about crafting writing. It is a paradox: a spinning wheel. You must critique to write. You must write to critique. This exercise, in particular, helped to teach me the value of each individual word, and to demonstrate to me the ways I could use craft to tell a story. That is my reasoning, in a nutshell, for this first homework.
Happy Writing! And don’t hesitate to send me any questions you may have. I’m looking forward to your input!
PS: Many thanks again go out to Joshua Furst who is the writing teacher/mentor who first taught me, and who has graciously given me permission to loot his brain trust for these lovely exercises and techniques. Please check out his latest novel here.