Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Show Don't Tell" Writing Class Homework

Last Monday, I went to the first session of a "Show Don't Tell," writing class, offered by the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.  After taking an initial course last October ("Writing 101") through this same non-profit, and receiving a gift certificate for a second class for Christmas, I was excited to try another course.  I chose this class because it seemed like a natural next step - 4 weeks (vs. the 8 week intensive genre-workshops they offer) with a broad enough topic that the exercises and instruction could apply to any writing endeavor.

Monday night was simultaneously humbling and inspiring.  These people (15 total in the class) are writers...real, flesh-and-blood, published writers.  In fact, I sat two seats away from Eleanor Brown, whose debut novel The Weird Sisters is getting its fair share of attention.  (Needless to say after Monday night I purchased the book and just began reading it - review will be forthcoming, but the opening chapters are lovely).  So it was with a mix of excitement and sheer terror that I left on Monday night, thinking about the 3 weeks remaining in this class where I am trying to do my best to blend in and soak it up in an environment that is, without a doubt, way beyond my league.  

In fact, I thought about skipping class tomorrow night, because our instructor assigned homework alphabetically, meaning I will be one of 5 students presenting a 150-200 word writing exercise to the group for close reading and critique.  Oh, the joy of having a last name that begins with "C" - and, of course, what comes before "C"?  Yep, "B" as in Brown...I have to read my attempt at a "show don't tell" exercise in the company of real writers, including the recently published Brown...gulp.

So, here it is...the exercise...all 183 words that will go up for public scrutiny tomorrow night.

Setting the Scene: (The Establishing Shot)
Exercise: Write a few sentences that set up a specific idea about a place.  Then start a second paragraph in which we see some characters and understand how they fit (or don’t fit) into the place.

A routine burning of incense and candles cloaked the parishioners in warmth.  The organ hummed steadily, smothering the lively chatter initiated in the night as the murmurings floated into the narthex.  Rows of bent heads and kneeling bodies demanded an obedience and uniformity from those entering its space.  Faces creased with age gripped rosaries, mouths moving rhythmically in silent prayer.  Smooth-skinned infants, confined to weary laps, grasped for the glossy beads, marveling wide-eyed at the beauty just beyond their reach.  The congregation, engulfed in a gentle rustling of hymnals, subtle fidgeting, and muting of coughs, anticipated the beginning of the weekly ritual.
In the last seat of the last row, burdened by layers of clothing, arms folded tightly across her chest, she sat.  Measured trembling shook her body, while solitary tears lined her face and slipped off her chin.  Dark misshapen blobs marred the coarse twill of her sleeves.  Her sharp gasp disrupted his thoughts.  Opening his eyes with a furtive, sidelong glance he wished more than anything that he had thought to pocket a handkerchief.  

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