Monthly Archives: October 2015
Writing Prompt based on Black Box by Jennifer Egan:
Write a story in Tweets.
Write a story in 140-character-or-less segments.
It will be jerky.
It will be minimalist.
It will challenge your way with words.
And, hopefully, it will be fun!
Jennifer Egan’s short story, Black Box, was originally published on the New Yorker’s Twitter account. Therefore, each segment was required to be 140 characters or less. It is best understood, and appreciated, by reading the story itself, so please do so.
Creative nonfiction, even more than fiction, is forced to speak the truth about human nature. There are no futuristic apocalypses, zombie attacks, superpowers, or otherworldly beings to distract us. Rarely is there constant-page-turning suspense or a mansion with secret rooms behind the bookshelf.
This is why I admire authors of nonfiction that capture my complete interest with their unnatural insight of the real world and twist it into beautiful prose.
This is why I admire Augusten Burroughs.
“I have four hours to kill before dinner. In the past, this would have been just barely enough time to obtain a comfortable buzz and establish my relationship with the bartender. Now it seems like more than enough time to perhaps write a screenplay. Alcohol time is very different from sober time. Alcohol time is slippery whereas sober time is like cat hair. You just can’t get rid of it.”
Dry is a memoir of Augusten Burroughs’ struggle with alcoholism. It follows Burroughs though his early 20’s when he works in advertising during the day and drinks all night, every night. When his coworkers pressure him into rehab, he begins to see what he has been blind to for years.
Its a beautiful, heart-felt struggle filled with lots of laughs! Burroughs has the uncanny knack to make the reader laugh out loud even when the material is dark and heartbreaking. His over-the-top dramatic comparisons and downright hilarious.
“The problem is, I’m a slob to begin with. So when you combine alcohol with a slob, you just end up with something that would appall any self-respecting heroin-addicted vagrant.”
“Augustin Burroughs is a wickedly good writer…” -Chicago Sun-Times
His balance of description, action, insight, and humor kept me interested until the very end.
My test for a great writer? They leave me wanting more. The following quote ends a chapter, and left me wanting to go on and on and on.
“Tonight the speaker is talking about how people in recovery are always looking for these big, dramatic miracles. How we want the glass of water to magically rise up off the table. How we overlook the miracle that there is a glass at all in the first place. And given the universe, isn’t the real miracle that the glass doesn’t just float up and away?”
After reading Dry, every existing Burroughs book has been added to my reading list. There are endless lessons I could learn from his writing and it doesn’t hurt to be entertained along the way!
It doesn’t happen often, but I enjoyed the TV show Wayward Pines more than I enjoyed the book it was based on. I fell in love with the show instantly! The creepy mystery surrounding this seemingly perfect little town didn’t make any sense and I needed to know why.
This M. Night Shyamalan-directed show on FOX captured the creepiness of the town to perfection. During the day Wayward Pines, Idaho is a peaceful law-abiding town where everyone knows there place. But why is no one allowed to talk about their past? Why can’t Ethan connect with anyone outside this town? And why is there a rotting corpse in a house just outside of town that doesn’t seem to worry the sherriff?
One thing the TV show left out is Ethan’s flashbacks to a time he was tortured during the war. I think this was an excellent choice by the TV writers. The flashbacks don’t have any effect on the present story. And the scene itself is not as enticing as the main plot. Every time the flashbacks came up, I just wanted to get past them and back to the main story.
The book was at a disadvantage because I already knew what mysteries lie in the page ahead but the main reason I didn’t enjoy the book was because the writing was weak and wordy. Although there was some good dialogue in the book, it also seemed forced at times.
The paragraphs were the shortest I’ve ever seen throughout an entire book. Paragraphs were often only one or two sentences long, and sentence fragments were common throughout. Most writers know how to use this style to create a quick-reading, high-suspense feel but because Crouch wrote the entire novel this way, it didn’t have that effect.
I did love the first chapter. Because our main character wakes up in Wayward Pines not knowing where he is or what has happened to him, it places the focus on the town and small details about our character. It was an effective way to focus the reader on the strange aspects of the town.
Although I don’t plan to ready the other books in the trilogy, I loved the TV show and will be thrilled if they come out with a second season.
What TV shows/movies do you like better than the books they were based on? Or does that sentence seem like total blasphemy to you? 🙂
Here are two EXCEPTIONAL novel intros that immediately hooked me. Please let me know what you think in the comments. What are your favorite first chapters?
Log Entry: Sol 6
I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Six days in to what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned in to a nightmare.
I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”
And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.
This intro does so many great things:
Bold use of “fuck” in the first sentence. A sure way to gain the attention of your reader.
It quickly explains the situation. Our main character is alone on Mars after some kind of accident.
It sets the mood. Dangerous. Life-threatening. Unhopeful.
It develops character. An astronaut. A survivor.
It sets the tone of casual, journal entry format. Fragment sentences and the use of “cause” instead of “because.”
Its develops setting. On Mars, obviously. And the Wikipedia reference sets us in recent time.
If this genre in any way interests you, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to pick up this book!
I woke up shaking.
I panicked at first, thinking I was having a stroke or something. Then I opened my eyes, relieved, as I remembered it wasn’t me that was shaking, it was my apartment.
Outside the wall of dusty, industrial-style windows beside my bed came what sounded like a regiment of giants rhythmically striking concrete with their rifle butts in a parade drill. But it wasn’t the jolly green marines. I knew it was the elevated number 1 Broadway local, rattling to shake the dead back to life next to my new fifth floor Harlem loft apartment. Hadn’t gotten use to that train yet.
I winced, covered my head with my pillow. Useless. Only in New York did one have to actually pay for the privilege of sleeping beside an overpass.
But I was so broke I couldn’t even afford to complain. I sat up. I couldn’t even really afford to sleep. I couldn’t even afford to think about money. I’d spent it all and then some; my credit was in the sewer. By that point, I was in tunnel-vision mode, focusing my entire life on one desperate need: to figure things out before it was too late.
(False) shock to hook the reader. The world is shaking!
Character- building. A broke New Yorker with something to prove.
What is the first thing you think of when you wake up? Whatever it is, it will tell us a lot about your current life situation. The same is true for fictional characters, and Patterson gives us that before we even know our character’s name.
Sets the tone. An honest first-person narrator open to telling us his struggles.
Develops setting. A dingy New York apartment next to the train tracks.
Think of a character. Now write a paragraph describing them BUT… here’s the kicker…do not describe their looks, what they are wearing, or what they are thinking. Write in third person and use the description of their surroundings to tell us something about the character.
Here is an example from Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”. Notice how the items she surrounds herself with tell us something about her character.
Aged and frail, Granny is three-quarters succumbed to the mortality the ache in her bones promises her and almost ready to give in entirely. A boy came out from the village to build up her hearth for the night an hour ago and the kitchen crackles with busy firelight. She has her Bible for company, she is a pious old woman. She is propped up on several pillows in the bed set into the wall peasant-fashion, wrapped up in the patchwork quilt she made before she was married, more years ago than she cares to remember. Two china spaniels with liver-colored blotches on their coats and black moses set on either side of the fireplace. There is a bright rug of woven rags on the pantiles. The grandfather clock ticks away her eroding time.