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

C.M. Mayo < For Writers <


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July 1 "Noises"
One minute each. Make lists of noises that:
(1) remind you of summer
(2) remind you on being n church (or temple or mosque or whatever suits)
(3) beautiful noises
(4) kitchen noises
(5) shopping mall noises

July 2 "The Most Beautiful Thing in This Room"
Look around you. What is the most beautiful thing you see? Describe it in detail. Write down everything you can think to say about it.

July 3 "She Was Telling the Truth"
She was telling the truth, but they didn't believe her. Write the scene using dialogue.

July 4 "On the Verge"
Describe an elegant hotel room from the point of view of a character who is on the verge (about a day or so away from) of a psychotic breakdown.

July 5 "Secret Yearning"
What is your (or your character's) secret yearning? And how did you (or he or she) come to have that yearning?

July 6 "Off the Cliff"
Describe an elegant hotel room from the point of view of a character who is having a psychotic breakdown.

July 7 "Ten Years Younger Than Yourself"
What do you think people born ten years after yourself are not generally aware of, but should be? Be specific.

July 8 "Up and Down"
Describe the ceiling and describe the floor in:
~the room where you are right now
~the last library you were in
~your childhood bedroom
~your last elementary school classroom
~a magnificent palace
~ a wigwam
~a very peculiar wigwam constructed by a New York City-based artist

July 9 "Into the Forest"
They were told that the only way to make it safely through the forest to the city was to stay off the path. So they entered the forest where it thickest... Keep writing.

July 10 "Turquoise Things"
What things are turquoise? Make a list.

July 11 "Wolf, Forest, Sky"
Describe a wolf. Describe a forest. Describe a sky.

July 12 "Architectural Adjectives"
Focusing on exclusively on the architecture, jot down five adjectives for the following structures:
~your residence
~the last religeous building you visited
~your elementary school
~your bank
~the most beautiful building you have been inside in the past year
~the most recent restaurant you have eaten in
~the ugliest building you have been inside in the past week
~a sports stadium
~the hut of a gnome

July 13 "And the Perfect Afternoon"
Another emulation exercise. Here is a sentence from Katherine Mansfield's short story, "The Garden Party":
And the perfect afternoon slowly ripened, slowly faded, slowly its petals closed.
The idea is to keep the syntax but vary the adjectives/ nouns / imagery. For example:
And the awful afternoon slowly shriveled, slowly chilled, slowly turned black.
And the perfect tea party slowly ground down, slowly began to become a tedious bore, slowly everyone left or else fell asleep.
Do as many as you can in five minutes.

July 14 "Vive la France"
Write a little something that includes the following:
~the smell of fresh-baked baguettes
~hot peaches
~a man in a beret
~the words "souvenir" ; "clink"; and "lurk"

July 15 "Saying No and Not Saying No: Part I"
This is Part I of a dialogue/ character exercise. Imagine a very pushy mother who is telephoning other parents with children at her child's school to get them to help with a special project that she has decided it is of utmost importance. No one else thinks so; however, some are better at saying no than others. In today's exercise, write the dialogue for the telephone conversation between Pushy Mother and a parent who may or may not be convinced to help out (you decide).
Tip: try to give each a unique voice.

July 16 "Saying No and Not Saying No: Part II"
This is Part II of a dialogue/ character exercise (if you haven't done Part I, not to worry.)
Imagine a very pushy mother who is telephoning other parents with children at her child's school to get them to help with a special project that she alone has decided is of utmost importance. Some are better at saying no than others. In today's exercise, write the dialogue for the telephone conversation between Pushy Mother and a parent who not only refuses to help out, but by sheer force of will and charisma manages to talk the pushy mother into doing something no one else could possibly convince her to do.

July 17 "Strawberries"
Use this for an opening line:
Grandma used to say, If you want strawberries, don't sow radishes.

July 18 "Shadows"
Right now, from right where you are, very precisely describe all the shadows you see.

July 19 "Dialogue with Body Language: 3 Scenes"
Precise body language can often enliven dialogue. For example, a character might say, "No, I cannot do that." If she says that while "hunched over and cupping a hand over the receiver" the effect is dramatically differrent from, say, "glaring down from the top of the steps, with arms akimbo." In three different scenes, take the same dialogue and add tags* and body language--- but, as these tend to be overused, try to avoid "shrugging," "nodding" or "sipping."
(1) In a cafe:
(2) In an office:
(3) On a hiking trail:
"It's impossible, you don't want that"
"Why not?"
"Can't you see?"
"Why should I be quiet?
*For example, "he said" or "she asked".

July 20 "D Verbs"
Dash, dart, deck, delight, duck
How many verbs that begin with the letter "d" can you think of? Spend the whole five minutes on this one list if you can. If you have to, go on to the letter "e".

July 21 "P Words"
Pepperoni, PeptoBismol, pablum, petunia, pickle
how many words that begin with the letter "p" can you think of?

July 22 "Bizarre Thing in a Shopping Mall"
What is the most bizarre thing you ever saw in a shopping mall? Where exactly were you? How did you react? Try to get down as much detail as you can.

July 23 "Zoo Animals"
Take three characters you are working with in your writing. Imagine that they all visit the zoo. Which animals will which characters want to see? Not care about? Watch intently? What will they say about their favorite and least favorite animals? How will they behave while visiting their cage/ enclosure? Be specific.

July 24 "Pencils"
How a character handles a given object can be immensely revealing. Briefly describe, as specifically as you can, how the following characters would handle a pencil:
~ a harried middle aged librarian named Greta Hurleyburton
~ an elderly lawyer named Gregory Wooster IV
~ a ten year old boy named Bruce
~ a purple-haired installation artist who signs her work "Ahn R Keyy"

July 25 "Box"
Very briefly, describe an attic. High up in the rafters in this attic is a trunk. Describe that trunk and how it gets opened. Inside that trunk is a suitcase. You open the suitcase and inside is a shoebox. Inside the shoebox is a another box. Describe that box. Then: describe what's inside.

July 26 "Body Language"
Your character's eyes, eyebrows, forehead, lips, neck, hands, torso, feet
in short, the whole body how would it react in the following situations?
~a three year old girl, on seeing a neighbor's very small and gentle dog.
~same girl, when that dog wags its tail and comes up and gives her a kiss.
~a senior vice president of a major investment bank who has just heard that his long-time rival's fourth wife has left him for the owner of a miniature golf course by the freeway.
~a ninety-year old woman surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, when presented with her birthday cake.

July 27 "Echoing in Dialogue"
From Henry James's novel The Portrait of a Lady, here's an example of "echoing" in dialogue:
"She has offered to take her--- she's dying to have Isabel go. But what I want her to do when she gets her there is give her all the advantages. I'm sure all we've got to do," said Mrs. Ludlow, "is to give her
a chance."
A chance for what?"
A chance to develop."
"Oh Moses!" Edmund Ludlow exclaimed. "I hope she isn't going
to develop any more!"
In this example, echoing works well to show the two characters's easy going affection for one another. So, try writing a similar scene with echoing in the dialogue. If you need a prompt: a boss and his/ her ingratiating subordinate planning the new furniture arrangements for the office.

July 28 "What's Underneath?"
In the room where you are right now, what are some surfaces you normally do not see? For example, the underside of the table, or underside of the chair. Perhaps there is something you can only see if you stand on top of the chair. Perhaps you would notice them if you were a dog lying on the rug, or a fly buzzing around the ceiling . List and precisely describe these surfaces.

July 29 "Mid-Life Crisis"
By use of specific detail, show that your character is experiencing a mid-life crisis.

July 30 "One Eye"
Your character has lost an eye. This creates all sorts of unexpected challenges for him or her. What are they? Be specific. Sketch out a couple of mini-scenes.

July 31 "Lifeguard Axes Oak Tree"
Describe the lifeguard. Why did he (or she) take an axe to the oak tree?

June |<> August

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