Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

C.M. Mayo < For Writers <


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February 1 "Giant Golden Buddha"
In San Francisco there was a townhouse with second story picture window
the living room, apparentlycompletely filled by a giant golden Buddha. This seated Buddha, which must have been at least six feet high, faced out, serenely overlooking the marina. The exercise is this: Robert has been invited for cocktails. He enters this living room from the hallway. From Robert's point of view, this large statue blocks what must be a magnificent view. What does he think about that? Write the scene, and include some dialogue with the host and Robert's unspoken thoughts.

February 2 "OCD"
Your character is an obsessive compulsive. Describe his or her morning. Do not use the words "obsessive compulsive." (Show don't tell.)

February 3 "Your Mom at Five"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Leslie Pietrzyk, a novelist and short short story writer who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Imagine you are your mother. You're five years old. What are you seeing / thinking / doing?

February 4 "Falling Mattresses"
"They had been waiting, umbrellas up, for the falling mattresses." Take this as the first line of your story and start writing.

February 5 "Name, Jewelry, Adjective"
List 15 names (e.g., Lisa, Jane, Humbert, etc.)
For each name, assign one piece of jewlery (e.g., pearls, wedding ring, etc)
Then for each assign an adjective (e.g., enthusiastic)
You will then have 15 sets, e.g.,
Jane, wedding ring, enthusiastic
John, class ring, doubtful
After you do 15 sets, circle the one you find least interesting. Then circle the one you find most amusing.

February 6 "Gob!bledyghuk"
This is an exercise to explore the pure sound and rhythm of language. Ideally, the music of language reenforces its meaning. You are a translator
of Gob!bledyghuk, which you speak perfectly. Your task is to translate the following lines.

"Philadelphia, I was told in New York, was so slow that it was safe for people to fall out windows they just wafted down like gossamer..."*

"There he is, in all his glory, Brad Pitt, that beautiful, chisled chunk of celebrity manhood."**

"Mrs Tittlemouse was a most terrible tidy particular little mouse, always sweeping and dusting the soft sandy floors. Sometimes a beetle lost its way in the passages. "Shuh! Shuh! Little dirty feet!" said Mrs Tittlemouse, clattering her dust-pan.***

* P. Gibbs, People of Destiny
**Desson Howe, The Washington Post 10/1999
*** Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse

February 7 "Repair/ Service"
Make a quick list of the major items in a typical house that might need professional repair or service
everything from the piano to the dishwasher. (Take no more than 2 minutes)
Then, next to each item, jot down one or two things that could go wrong / get broken etc. (e.g., loud clanging noise; dishes come out dirty)
Then using no more than 5 words (that's right, only five words), describe each repair or service person who would come to the house.

February 8 "Significant Someone"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Sheila Bender, a poet and writer and on-line writing magazine editor.
Write about a time you met someone now significant in your life.

February 9 "Lulu & Sandra Make Salad"
Lulu and Sandra are sisters. Lulu is jealous of Sandra. Sandra thinks Lulu is bossy. They are in Lulu's kitchen preparing a salad. Write the scene with dialogue.

February 10 "Larry & Saul Bake a Cake"
Larry and Saul are elderly brothers. Larry is jealous of Saul. Saul thinks Larry is full of himself. They are in Larry's kitchen making a cake. Write the scene with dialogue.

February 11 "Grandpa Is Backing Out..."
Grandpa should not be driving. But no one dares to hide the car keys. What happens this time? Write the scene.

February 12 "Popol Vuh: Seven Random Bits"
I just pulled the Popol Vuh off the shelf and found these seven random bits:
~sweet drink!
~you tricksters!
~And they remembered what had been said about the East.
~corn with fish
What can you write in five minutes that incorporates all of these?

February 13 "Message for a Stranger on February 14"
Today's exercise was inspired by an essay published yesterday in the Washington Post, by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood. She wrote, "writing, like sewing, was always for someone, even if that someone was yourself in the future. Writing was a way of sending your voice to someone you might never meet." Imagine that tomorrow a stranger will pick up the scrap of paper on which you have written the following words:
(Note: this exercise is especially fun if you really do leave the scrap of paper somewhere for someone to find it
perhaps on a park bench or in an elevator.)

February 14 "St Valentine's Day Massacre"
This is a plot-generating exercise.
(1) List 5 small gestures Bob makes that show he loves his wife, Betty. (For example, he might do the dishes; he might buy her jewley, etc.)
(2) List 5 actions by which Betty reveals that she no longer loves Bob (For example, she might not pick up the phone when she's sees the caller ID that shows it's him; she might travel on business when she doesn't need to, etc.)
(3) List 3 ways Betty could kill Bob.
(4) In three words
no more describe Betty's secret boyfriend, Jeb.
(5) Where did Betty meet Jeb?
(6) Finally, in what way is Jeb a suprising character? Answer in only 2 adjectives.

February 15 "Shelly's Scene Objective"
The Power of the Actor, Ivana Chubbuck shows actors how to use their emotions to empower a goal. Actors identify their characters' overall objective, as well as their scene objective. Applying this to writing, assume your character is "Shelly"; her overall objective is to get married; her scene objective is to get "Kyle" whom she has just met, say, in a coffee shop, to ask her on a date. Write the scene from Shelly's point of view.

February 16 "Falling Snow"
With specific detail that appeals to all the senses
sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell describe falling snow.

February 17 "Windy Weather in the City"
With specific detail that appeals to all the senses
sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell describe windy weather on a city street.

February 18
"Your Best Friend is a Mirror"
Make this old saying your first line
and start writing.

February 19 "The Unwanted Gift"
Make a list of 10 unwanted gifts. Then circle the one you find most intriguing. Describe it. Start writing.

February 20 "Zizi and Zulie"
This is an exercise in plotting. Assume you are writing a children's story. Zizi and Zulie are miniature dachshunds. One day they dig their way under the fence and escape into the next door neighbor's garden. The neighbor is a very lonely old lady. She takes Zizi and Zulie into her kitchen and feeds them and pets them. All afternoon they watch TV together. But then, when Zizi and Zulie's owners return home from work, the neighbor cannot bring herself to return the dogs. What happens? In outline form, plot the rest of the story.

February 21 "Extremely Famous"
You (or your fictional character) are suddenly extremely famous. In what ways does your (or your character's) life change?

February 22 "Airplane"
This is an exercise about generating specific sensory detail. On a typical flight, what are:
5 things you might see; 5 things you might smell; 5 things you might touch;
5 things you might hear; and 5 things you might taste?

February 23 "Hank and Helen: The Beachfront Condo"
This is a dialogue exercise. Hank and Helen are married. Hank is a pessimist. Helen is an optimist. They discuss whether or not to buy a beachfront condo.

February 24 "Jamilla, Joyce, and Larry"
In no more 10 words for each, sketch the characters named Jamilla, Joyce and Larry. Once you've done that, answer these question quickly (without thinking): where are they? And what do they want from one another?

February 25 "The Ironic Fortune Cookie"
The fortune in the fortune cookie read: "Elegant surroundings will soon be yours." This turned out to be ironic. How so?

February 26 "Wondrous Winter"
Your character is an adult who has never before seen or experienced winter. He (or she) arrives in a large midwestern city today. Describe his or her journey into the city.

February 27 "Down into the Cellar"
The ancient door creaked open and from the darkness she caught of a whiff of something like old apples. She pulled the string to the lightbulb; the stairwell remained dark. "Bulb's dead," he said.
Write on!

February 28 "So Terrible. So Awful."
I was in the women's locker room at my health club when I overheard this scrap of dialogue:

A: "Therapists, what they charge
B: "Horrible, that's why I quit."
A: "So terrible."
B: "So awful."

I love the shape of this, the way the women echo the sounds and rhythms of each other's words. Notice the rhyme of "horrible" and then "terrible"; the repetition of "So" ("So terrible; "So awful.") Another interesting aspect is B's interruption of A.

Here's the exercise: take this dialogue; add some names, descriptions, gestures, etc., and flesh out the scene. You might change "therapists" to "dentists" or, say, "contractors" or "piano teachers"
what have you.

February 29 "Born on February 29th"
Use this as your opening line:
I was born on February 29th.

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