Prompt: Describe the same simple event (a man gets off a bus, trips, looks around in embarrassment, and sees a woman smiling) using the same characters and elements of setting, in five completely different ways (changes of style, tone, sentence, structure, voice, psychic distance, etc.). Make sure the styles are radically different.
Bob took small steps down the aisle. As he moved toward the front of the bus, he held on to the leather straps that hung down from the ceiling, trying to maintain his balance against the bus’s fluid momentum. He was always apprehensive about touching other passengers…
Prompt: “Write the paragraph that would appear in a piece of fiction just before the discovery of a body. You might perhaps describe the character’s approach to the body he will find, or the location, or both. The purpose of the exercise is to develop the technique of at once attracting the reader toward the paragraph to follow, making him want to skip ahead, and holding him on this paragraph by virtue of its interest. Without the ability to write such foreplay paragraphs, one can never achieve real suspense.”
The roadside was steep: a sheer rock face, barren of the…
Eddie and I were itching for a fight. For weeks we’d been psyching ourselves up, waxing poetic on blood and guts and glory. But no amount of talk was enough. Talking was like scratching, it only deepened the itch. It only spread the rash until it covered your entire body, until soars opened up and began to bleed.
It had been too long, Eddie and I agreed, since we’d bled. Somehow we’d latched on to the idea that if you went too long in between experiencing real pain, you might forget how to do it, or forget that you could…
It happens in front of the pizza shop. The pizza shop where you met your ex-wife back when you were freshmen in highschool. Back when, over sixth-period lunch, she’d read aloud to you passages from Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters — mostly the parts that talked about masturbating, what she and Judy called, the power. This, well before you’d ever felt the inside of a woman.
That was sixteen years ago. A whole lifetime if you consider that you were only fourteen then. And yet you can still replay, beat by beat, the first time you spied her cool approach: her…
On the night we split up
we had takeout from the #1 house china buffet.
We waited inside the narrow corridor,
under the sick pale of those cheap, fluorescent lights,
neither one of us speaking
for ten minutes,
When the woman’s voice came barking through the intercom
all agitated and tinny,
we both flinched.
We both jumped to our feet,
as if we were students again and
had been caught sleeping.
General Tso with eggroll was you.
Szechuan beef was me.
Duck sauce and hot mustard and
It was my turn to pay.
I’m too old to be a student. That’s how I feel, anyway. But I think that what I really mean when I say I’m too old to be a student, is that I’m too old to go to school. Too old, and too poor. I own a house (somehow) and I have kids and a dog and a car and all types of insurances, and every month I have to shell out the bulk of what I earn (which isn’t much to begin with) to pay for all those things — to keep the domestic wheels turning. Going back to…
“Cries in pain!” Lily exclaimed. “Cries in pain!”
Lily had been doing that lately — narrating her own existence — as if inside her there were two distinct entities: one that felt, and one that expressed.
“What’s wrong?” Mark asked.
Mark felt obligated to inquire, though he was more annoyed than concerned. History had demonstrated that the louder Lily’s outburst, the less serious things were likely to be. More likely it was a put-on, a spoonful of hyperbole sprinkled over a bowl full of attention-seeking behavior. When Lily was really injured, she got quiet. When she was really injured, she’d…
John folded the letter into thirds, covering up the words he did not want to believe: deepest sympathies…regret to inform…tragic loss of your…Each time his fingers creased the page, he took notice of the paper’s textured surface, its subtle topography, the small sanguine fibers embedded into its pulp. The paper was of quality stock, thick and opaque, the same pale-gray color of untreated lumber left outdoors and bleached by the sun. That paper, John realized, had been a conscious choice, an effort to have the physical material reflect the gravity of its message. …
In real life
the people are uglier.
And less talented.
In real life
when someone sits down at the piano,
they don’t play Bach or Beethoven.
They play chopsticks.
They play Mary Had a Little Lamb.
They hunt and peck for individual notes,
and scorn the complexity of chords.
In real life
people are lazy.
They don’t want to work.
They’d rather stand at the counter,
at the gas station,
pointing toward the scratch-offs saying:
“one of those,
and two of these.”
In real life those same people
They have nothing to show for it
Writer, Reader, Thinker — based in the Hudson Valley.