Fiction Exercise #1

Sep 22

Instructions: One page. According to Henry James, a writer wrote a novel from a glimpse of a seminary students’ dinner party. Write a scene of a story from a glimpse you have had of a group of people – in a café, zoo, train or anywhere. Sketch the characters in their setting and let them interact. Do you find that you know too little? Can you make up enough- or import from other experiences – to fill the empty canvas?

Objective: To find out if you can make much out of little. If you can, great. If you can’t now, don’t worry, you might later, or you’ll have to get your stories from other materials.

What I came up with:

As I read an excerpt aloud, the hot, crowded bookstore pulses with energy both familiar and a little overwhelming. In the corner near the coffee table books filled with pictures of London bridges, my father stands with his new wife, and laughs nervously every time the passage makes reference to his divorce from my mother fifteen years ago. The new wife stands with champagne in hand, looking be-dazzled and be-decked, with high hair and even higher standards. I will never accept her.

Over by the maps, a spritely college student with eyes that bore through my existence is chattering excitedly, pretending to whisper but clearly trying to interrupt my reading. A tall blonde who had previously been handing out business cards for her travel blog glares at the sprite, and shifts her weight so that the sprite is now forced to stare directly at her shoulder blades. I am grateful.

Nikki, the bitchy yet simultaneously likeable store owner is trying to find a specific book on Rwanda for the one person in the bookstore that doesn’t know a reading is taking place. “I’ve been looking everywhere,” she says as she stumbles over my frail mother, seated in the front, looking terribly desperate and lapping up every word that comes out of my mouth. My poor cute mother.

I finish the excerpt and look up, waiting for applause or awkward silence, and receive the latter for three elongated seconds before the former reassures me that I’m not a complete fraud. The tall blonde has gotten her business cards out again and the sprite is on the verge of attack. Cheryl, the facilitator and part of the husband/wife team responsible for Marriage on the Run, a travel website dedicated to the art of never living anywhere with your significant other for longer than six months, fishes around the room for questions purposely avoiding the sprite. I start to wonder if the sprite makes regular appearances, or if Cheryl just knows the type.

After a series of obvious questions, as well as some thought-provoking ones and one completely unanswerable inquiry asked by the sprite (it was more of a statement about her trip to Tijuana last year), the crowd applauds once more and starts to spill out onto 3rd Street. A few people linger to buy my book, even the woman who referred to the title as a “pretty shameless marketing ploy… like a lesser Eat Pray Love.” I sign and make small conversation, gritting my teeth as the sprite tells me she’s written several books about her travel experiences but is unwilling to publish unless it’s on her own terms. Bullshit.

My mother and father nod at each other, pose for a family picture on opposite ends of the sidewalk, and I tell them I’ll see them for breakfast and lunch tomorrow, respectively. I gather up what’s left of my books and head to my car, thinking back to how I always longed to be an author who was asked to read aloud.

Check: Can you visualize these people further? Can you begin to hear at least one person speak? If not, go back and find a way of talking that might fit one of the people in the group, and carry on from there.

One comment

  1. Exercise #1…check! Very good baby.

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