Today's Writing Tip comes from Alexandra Marshall, from the book titled What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.
I'd like to know what you thought of it, so please leave a comment at the end.
Sometimes less is more, and sometimes it is just less. But no matter what, writing with a strict economy of purpose can force useful answers to fundamental questions. Even from one sentence you can learn both who the character is and what the story is about. To provide focus, it is helpful to begin by writing sentences in arbitrary pairs with established parameters.
Write the first sentence of a story about a birth. Now write the first sentence about a death. Try other paris, such as falling in love an filing for divorce. Try pairs that are not in opposition, such as spring and summer. Then invent your own pairs.
This is a way to sharpen skill by working for a specific kind of clarity. It is about naming essences.
A birth and a death
1. I won't be doing any bonding with either one of them for quite awhile; I know I shouldn't have gone into the delivery room.
2. "He doesn't look peaceful or tortured or saintly, and no he doesn't look 'just like himself''; he looks like some dead thing that I never knew, and I don't know why I'm here."
Falling in love and filing for divorce
1. It could have happened to him a dozen times before and with women prettier, smarter, richer, funnier, sexier, even nicer, but it didn't, did it?
2. I don't want to throw her out the window or cheat her out of the money or tell her what a shit she is; I want to thank her for every damn day of it.
Spring and summer
1. All spring means to me is that things change, and if they didn't, I'd never die--but I'd want to.
2. The end of summer stopped having any tangible meaning in his life long ago, but with each year he is still slower to recover from it.
Can you think of other examples? Choose subjects and write beginning sentences. I'd like you to come up with pairs of sentences that help you bring together a specific kind of clarity; the naming of essences. If all you can come up with is opposition, that's great too. Just start writing.
Let me know what you think of this tip and exercise.