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

C.M. Mayo < For Writers <


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September 1 "##&%#@*!!!"
One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you can assume the voice of characters who would do and say all sorts of naughty, slobby things. Here's the exercise: two characters (give them names and a little description) are sitting on a back porch drinking beer. They are arguing over which is the better sports team, and a good portion of their vocabulary consists of swear words. Write the scene with dialogue.

September 2 "Obsessed by Peaches"
Describe the living and dining rooms of the man who is obsessed by peaches.

September 3 "The Story of the Aztec Headdress"
To impress his friends at school, Greg told a made-up story about an Aztec headdress. What was the story? And what were the consequences for Greg?

September 4 "Labor"
Apropos of the holiday (Labor Day in the US and Canada), this exercise is about generating vivid imagery having to do with physical work. For five minutes, mine your sensory memories for vivid sounds, smells, textures, tastes, feelings and objects; for example, a stiff leather glove, the smell of sweat, muscled arms, a shovel, a wheelbarrow with a squeaky wheel... and so on...When you've finished, circle the one item that, to your surprise, evokes the most powerful associations for you.

September 5 "Man with an Unusual Mustache"
Write something that includes:
"Zap!"; Farming; the smell of a freshly-cut orange; a man with an unusual mustache; a lampshade; a nailfile; the shadow of a bird

September 6 "Your Front Door"
In precise detail, describe your front door.

September 7 "Laundry"
For this exercise, if you don't know, just guess.
In one minute each, describe the way the following people typically do their laundry:
your best friend;
your mother;
Pol Pot;
Santa Claus.

September 8 "Always, Never, Always"
Quick, with the absolute first thing that pops into your head, fill in the blank:
She's always losing her ___.
She's never ____.
It's always ____.
Then, continue writing.

September 9 "Places to Write"
Make a list of all the places nearby your home, your work or school, or commute, where you could go to write. Try to think of some really off-beat ones.

September 10 "Close Your Eyes and Expand"
Take one minute to simply follow your breath in and out. This is an important part of the exercise; be sure to do this first.

Then, for the next minute, close your eyes and imagine you are expanding. You expand 30 feet out. What do you find there? Open your eyes and jot it down.

Then, close your eyes again and for another one minute, continue expanding, but this time, look beneath you. You may need to go through bricks, or a carpet, or, if you live in an apartment building, perhaps another floor or two. What do you find? Open your eyes and jot it down.

In the remaining minute, follow your breath in and out, and resume the sense of your normal size.

September 11 "Man on the Moon"
For this exercise, if you recall the day the first man walked on the moon, use your own memories. If not, do this exercise for a fictional character named Fenwick. What do you remember about that day? What made it, specifically, your day?

September 12 "Wedding Dress Dialogue"
Mother and daughter are in a changing room, before a floor-length mirror, arguing over one more wedding dress. The mother is thrilled about this wedding; the daughter is tempted to call the wedding off--- but show don't tell. That is, do not have the characters state their feelings, but show them through tone, gesture and indirect comments.Write the scene with dialogue.

September 13 "I'm Sorry"
Cindy, a highly educated, experienced, and competent professional, peppers her conversation with "I'm sorry" (and then she wonders why she's not been promoted). Sketch a few scenes for Cindy with dialogue.

September 14 "What Happened to the Homework"
According to Allan and Barbara Pease's
The Definitive Book of Body Language, some of the most common gestures that reveal deceit are the mouth cover; the nose touch; the eye rub; the ear grab; the neck scratch; and the collar pull. Choose one or more of these for a scene in which a little boy is lying to his mother about what happened to his homework. What is his mother's body language?

September 15 "Chez Zag"
Besty writes restaurant reviews for a local glossy magazine. Her identical twin, Belinda, reviews the same restaurant, but for a different local glossy magazine. The restaurant is Chez Zag, and, it so happens, both order the onion and date tart. Besty is having a great day. Belinda, however, suspects that her husband is having an affair. Write the first three lines of Besty's review, and the first three lines of Belinda's review.

September 16 "Herbert's Credit Card Tragedy"
Ah, debt. Ever a topic for tragedy. Make a list
that's all this exercise is, a list--- of the events, temptations, and actions that sent Herbert, a prosperous middle-aged orthodontist, into spiraling credit card debt.

September 17 "They Had Been Waiting Since Sunrise"
Use this as your first line:
They had been waiting since sunrise.

September 18 "Playing Dominoes"
As specifically and vividly as you can, describe the body language of two people playing dominoes. (If this helps: one is losing, the other winning.)

September 19 "Hot & Cold Combination"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Kim Roberts, a poet who lives in Washington DC.
Write about a time you were either very very hot or extremely cold
and try to include something visual in every single sentence (a
color, a description of an object, a metaphor). The idea behind this
exercise is to combine two senses at the same time
the visual and
the tactile.

September 20 "Baking chicken"
Baking chicken. What does this remind you of? Just start writing.

September 21 "Tools"
Hammer, wrench, nails... Describe your or your character's toolbox and its contents. Once you've done 5 minutes' worth, go back and circle the three most interesting; the three most expensive; and the three most utilized.

September 22 "What You're Wearing Right Now"
Describe what you are wearing right now in specific detail
down the textures, the patterns, clasps, hooks, zippers, buttons... Once you have finished the whole five minutes, go back and circle the three details that would provide the best, most vivid description of your outfit.

September 23 "Taj Mahal, Etc."
Write something that includes the following:
Taj Mahal; flock of birds; shadows; the smell of cooking lentils; fourteen;

September 24 "Dream Before a Decision"
Your character is considering taking a decision... he or she has a dream... Describe the dream.

September 25 "Cat, Kitchen, Window"
In two sentences, describe a cat. In two sentences, describe a kitchen. In two sentences, describe the view out the window.

September 26 "Gerbil in the Attic"
In two sentences, describe a gerbil. In two sentences, describe an attic. Then, what does the gerbil do in the attic?

September 27 "The Italian Restaurant"
One character, Louie (feel free to rename him or her), wants to go to an Italian restaurant; the other, Charlie, who is more powerful in the relationship, has another idea. Louie is very manipulative. Write the scene with dialogue.

September 28 "Light + Verb"
Sunlight splinters (through the desert). Moonlight pools (in the parking lot). Daylight filters (through the slats of the shutters)... and so on. In this exercise, take various types of light, for example
sunlight, moonlight, daylight and jot down as many verbs for each as you can. Some might be really wierd that's good. Once you've done four minutes, go back and circle the three combinations you find most vivid and surprising. In the remaining one minute, take your favorite one and write the rest of a sentence.

September 29 "That Hat"
Write about a hat that you (or a fictionalcharacter) once wore. What did it look like? How it it feel, and smell? Describe it in as much detail as you can. On what occasions did you wear it? How did it come into your possession? Go on about that hat.

September 30 "Telling Gesture"
In her book,
Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose says, "my definition of gesture includes small phyical actions, often unconscious or semi-reflexive, including what is called body language..." This exercise is to generate a list of gestures. Come up with one, two or three, for each of the following:
~a little girl at the dinner table while her parents are arguing
~a woman in a lingerie department, debating whether or not to put a purchase she can't afford onto her credit card
~a man coming out of church with his family. He has lost his faith but will never admit it.
~a woman who, from a distance, sees her husband speaking with his brother, and realizes that, though no one else would notice, there is something the matter between them
~at a dinner at his house, man realizes that his boss thinks his wife is a cretin
~"I love cats," she says
but her gesture reveals that, in fact, she can't stand them
~A very aggressive negotiator is having coffee with his partner.
August <| > October

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