Writing Exercises

By | August 7, 2011

So Nancy Kress gave us a set of writing exercises.

One: Write a scene using only dialog. It’s an argument between two people.

Two: Write an exposition about the room you’re in. Either you are negative about the room or positive. Only with description set the room as negative or positive. Bring in all five senses, if possible.

Three: Take the scene/dialog you wrote, and add the “scenery” to give more detail that explains the scene. Give it a twist with the scenery without otherwise changing the words. (And use the senses.)

ONE: DIALOG

“That sad little nose isn’t working any more. Take it off.”

“Happy Sam gave it to me. It’s my good luck charm. Ain’t gonna leave it off.”

“You looking for a new job then? ‘cause last time I looked it’s my name on the check.”

“Last time I looked my name’s on the poster. Kids’ been coming to your no-horse circus for thirty years to see me. Don’t got your elephant anymore, do ya now. It’s me. Me and my ‘sad nose’. That’s what they want.”

“Been meaning to talk to you. Now’s as good a time as tomorrow. We’re folding up. For good. After Des Moines.”

“Oh, a joke. You know, I’m the funny one. You don’t get the laughs. You’re the guy what stays in the background. Let’s not put you in a wig. You’d frighten the children.”

“But I’m not kidding. Boss woman says this is the last tour. Detroit’s not panning out, and we still haven’t got the carney wagon back since Cleveland.”

“So put out a flyer. ‘Looking for adventure? Run away to the circus.’ Worked for me. Worked for your daddy. And maybe boss woman might run off as well.”

“You saying my wife is gonna run off?”

“Seen her hanging around the wrangler. Got those eyes. Wouldn’t say it’s love. But it’s how a woman looks at a man, ya know. Haven’t seen her look at you that way in a long time.”

“You make me sick.”

“As long as you laugh. All I care about. And look, you got tears in your eyes. Not doing my job now, aina? Help me with the shoes – over there. Got the greasepaint all over my hands, see? Just bring ‘em here.”

“I’m telling ya, you gotta get a new nose. Not even red anymore.”

“It’s my signature. How else’ll people know it’s me? The wig, a lipstick smile, and this outfit? Nah. It’s the nose. That’s when they knows.”

“Just get the hell out there and get outta my sight. Make ‘em laugh.”

“Yeah, I’ll make ‘em laugh. And I’ll be laughing, too. At you.”

TWO: A DESCRIPTION

The air in the hall was stagnant and close, with the smell of forgotten banquets and receptions for marriages that ended in divorce, death, or just the slow, sad years of neglect and ruin. A carpet laid down sometime in the last century – worn in spots, stained in others – was smeared with scattered cabbages and roses ground into the brown and gray and black, the sticky remains of cold spilled drinks pulling and grasping at the unwary shoe. The weak yellow lights painted hollowness on the most artful and desperate make-up; the healthiest young thing a cadaver, and a simple migraine turned into a brain tumor. Chairs and tables were scattered around like soldiers from a lost battalion, scratched and torn, broken, useful maybe as a memory but offering no seating, no invitation, no protection. This was a place for the damned and the diseased, for slow writhing to funeral marches, for coughing and gasping and wheezing.

THREE: DIALOG AND DESCRIPTION

The circus tent lay heavy over the grass. The crowds had worn down the sod, going from one attraction to another. To the side of the midway was the changing trailer for the clowns and horsemen and dancing girls.

Jack strode into the trailer without knocking. He smelled greasepaint and peanuts, and looked at Joe, then pulled out a chair from the empty changing table. “That sad little nose isn’t working any more. Take it off.” He stared at the shriveled prune lying on the table.

Joe shrugged, then leaned closer to the mirror. “Happy Sam gave it to me. It’s my good luck charm. Ain’t gonna leave it off.” He spread the powder on his face and then coughed, three times.

Jack waved away the clouds and suppressed a cough, not wanting to give Joe the pleasure of knowing his discomfort. “You looking for a new job then? ‘cause last time I looked it’s my name on the check.” Jack bristled and turned to face Joe, and then pulled his shoulder to spin him around. Joe looked at Jack, alarmed, his eyebrows arching higher.

Then he relaxed, and snorted. “Last time I looked my name’s on the poster. Kids’ been coming to your no-horse circus for thirty years to see me. Don’t got your elephant anymore, do ya now. It’s me. Me and my ‘sad nose’. That’s what they want.”

Jack smiled. There were secrets in the circus, and he was about to reveal one. “Been meaning to talk to you. Now’s as good a time as tomorrow. We’re folding up. For good. After Des Moines.”

Joe pursed his lips at Jack in mock surprise. “Oh, a joke. You know, I’m the funny one. You don’t get the laughs. You’re the guy what stays in the background. Let’s not put you in a wig. You’d frighten the children.” He sat in his chair now, watching him as if Jack was just some snot-nosed kids who’d ask to feed the elephant.

“But I’m not kidding. Boss woman says this is the last tour. Detroit’s not panning out, and we still haven’t got the carney wagon back since Cleveland.” Jack shook his head. He felt light-headed.

Joe returned to his makeup job, ignoring Jack. After a few moments he spoke again. “So put out a flyer. ‘Looking for adventure? Run away to the circus.’ Worked for me. Worked for your daddy. And maybe boss woman might run off as well.” He was into his full routine now – the white greasepaint rubbed over his face, his eyebrows drawn three inches higher, his eyes surrounded with black rings.

Jack stood up, shoved the makeup kit aside, and pulled the white apron protecting Joe’s outfit. “You saying my wife is gonna run off?”

With a look of pity Joe said “Seen her hanging around the wrangler. Got those eyes. Wouldn’t say it’s love. But it’s how a woman looks at a man, ya know. Haven’t seen her look at you that way in a long time.”

Silence. They looked at each other with hate glittering in their eyes. Jack broke the silence “You make me sick.” And then he laughed, feeling a sense of relief. In a few hours he’d be a free man, and the circus, the headaches, the bills would all be Velma’s problem. And he could go back to Darlene

“As long as you laugh. All I care about. And look, you got tears in your eyes. Not doing my job now, aina? Help me with the shoes – over there. Got the greasepaint all over my hands, see? Just bring ‘em here.” He motioned with his head, then turned back to the mirror. He could not see Jack. Could not see the final look of triumph on his face.

“I’m telling ya, you gotta get a new nose. Not even red anymore.” Jack sighed, frustrated that Joe was just not done.

“It’s my signature. How else’ll people know it’s me? The wig, a lipstick smile, and this outfit? Nah. It’s the nose. That’s when they knows.” He pointed at his own nose, now covered by the old wrinkled ball.

Jack pointed to the curtain. “Just get the hell out there and get outta my sight. Make ‘em laugh.”

“Yeah, I’ll make ‘em laugh. And I’ll be laughing, too. At you.” He left, the music swelled, and he entered the ring with applause and laughter. And Jack, safe behind the curtain, laughed and laughed with his own private laughter. And then he thought again of Darlene.