Playing With Words: Sentence Experiments – Writing Exercise

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa MMBA on loan from Georges Marciano

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa
MMBA on loan from Georges Marciano

Nothing perks up a piece of prose – and a writer – more than playing around with sentence structures.

A fun exercise I especially enjoy is to take a sentence that feels totally alien and try to write my own sentence in exactly that same style. Why? To surprise myself. To kick myself out of my same old same old ho-hum sentence habits. To discover new rhythms.

“I’m playing with words” Virginia Woolf

The Exercise Continue reading

One Core Essential Of Narrative Energy, And A Writing Exercise

man dancing with feathersYesterday, at the National Arts Gallery in Ottawa, we were walking up the ramp along the glass wall to the galleries behind two young boys with their mother.

An elderly, very smartly dressed couple started down the ramp. The man stopped as he and his wife were about to pass the boys. He leaned towards them. Pursing his lips, he started to Continue reading

Narrative Energy Tip #1: Chameleon Sentence


A chameleon sentence begins with one energy and ends with another.

Usually it starts off positive with maybe even suggestions of light-heartedness, but then turns into something more ominous. But there’s no reason why one shouldn’t try the reverse.

While chameleon sentences make for terrific beginning sentences, they can shift the narrative, and surprise and engage writer and reader at any time.

Two Examples

  • “It was a summer’s night and they were talking, in the big room with the windows open to the garden, about the cesspool.” (opening sentence of Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf) A pleasant gathering on a summer’s evening …changes to… something dirty and stinky and underground
  • “Edna and I had started down from Kalispell headed for Tampa-St. Pete where I still had some friends from the old glory days who wouldn’t turn me in to the police.” (Rock Springs, Richard Ford) A trip down south to old friends …changes to… on the run?

The Exercise

Write 6 chameleon sentences – each one beginning a new story. Surprise the sentence. Surprise yourself.

What chameleon sentences have you come across in your readings or writings? Please share them in the Comments Box.

Write in the Moment – A Writing Prompt

fireworks, Montreal Nuit BlancheGot half-an-hour to treat yourself to a fun writing pick-me-up?

Try this writing prompt that Stephanie Ein* gave to my writing group this week. It’s very energizing – has roughly the same effect as a couple of very strong cups of coffee. No choice but to write in the moment.

  • Write for 30 minutes using the following structure: The first sentence begins with A, the second with B, the third with C… and so on through the alphabet. When you get to Z, start all over again with A. Write fast. No pauses. Do not break the sequence.

Let me know how it goes.

*Stephanie Ein is a teacher, writer and part-time comedian who has performed at numerous comedy clubs around Montreal and beyond. In November 2011, she founded “Love 2 Laugh Montreal,” a group of volunteer stand-up comedians.

A “Real” Writing Prompt

Flipping though some of my old journals the other day, looking for inspiration, a paper napkin fell out. The words scribbled on it were in the handwriting and distinctive blue ink of my Advisor in the Lesley University MFA in Creative Writing, Brian Bouldrey (The Sorrow of the Elves, The Honorable Bandit). I can’t actually remember what we were talking about when he wrote those words down, but three or four years later, I found them a fun writing prompt and thought you might enjoy them too.

Once you start, don’t stop for twenty-five minutes, using the following however you like:

  • real eyes
  • realize
  • real lies

Let me know how it goes!

It’s All In The Metaphor

rose as metaphor

Love is…

I found Jane Hirshfield’s delicious lesson on The Art of the Metaphor, together with the animation by Ben Pearce, really brought home the immediacy and physicality a metaphor can have. Very inspiring. The door image at the end is fantastic and so evocative that I started writing on the spot. No brilliant metaphors at my fingertips, sadly. But I did find some great metaphors by famous authors here.

Do you think one has to work at creating a terrific metaphor? Or does it arrive on a thunderbolt of inspiration?

Have you tried using a metaphor – for example, one from the link above –  as a prompt for a writing exercise? How about Bob Dylan’s “Chaos is a friend of mine”? Imagine yourself arm in arm or drinking beer or on a road trip with your friend Chaos, I mean Charles, or setting him up with a date, or waiting for him to turn up at your wedding as best man…

Breathing to Write 2 – Writing Prompt

Here is the second in my series of movement/breathing/writing exercises.

First the breathing exercise:

  • sitting with your spine tall and away from the back of your chair, and your feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Put your right hand on the right side of your ribcage, left hand on left side. When you breathe in, you should feel your palms move away from each other, and when you breathe out, they come towards each other. Breathe quietly, focusing on this movement. After a while, try breathing only into your right side….only into your left side.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or dizzy when holding your breath in this second exercise, stop and breathe normally. If 4 counts feels too much, try 3. Breathe in for 4 counts (in, 2, 3, 4); Hold for 4 counts (hold, 2, 3, 4); Breathe out for 4 counts (out, 2, 3, 4); Hold for 4 counts (hold, 2, 3, 4). Repeat for a couple of cycles, then breathe normally.

Now the writing:

  • Select one of the following:

in the same breath

with bated breath

breathing down his neck

catching her breath

taking a deep breath

out of breath

holding her breath

under his breath

  • Writing from the prompt you’ve chosen, describe in detail where your character is, what is around him or her. What is the light like? Is it hot or cold? What can the character hear? Who are they with, or are they alone? Is anyone else there that they are not aware of? If so, where is that person in relationship to your character? Let the story emerge gradually.

How did this work for you? I’d love to know. Please let me know in the Comments box below.