Writing Exercise – Asahel Curtis

Part 1 — We came to the end of the gravel. It wasn’t really gravel anymore. It had long since given out to small rocks, ruts filled with black muck. Clear water rushing over the muck. A cool fog lay on our faces brushing away the smell of sweat. I always smelled like sweat and wet sock after moving along like for as long as this. I had to go back to work and now I smelled.

You said right at the top. This is too far. There is nothing here. There were the fresh stumps of fur trees fresh enough they smelled of sweet sawdust.

Get down on your knees.

I am paying you. The customer does not get down on his knees.

I didn’t attend business school, he said.

Part 2 — A field of fresh chainsaw stumps ascended to the gravel. Two tire ruts, unused, held run off from the ridge. Clear water ran over the black muck. A fog or clouds or mist, cool and smelling like pine and sawdust rushed up the slope. Snow melt gushed in the drain. The sound of traffic — Semi-s and machinery — engines muted through the fog, engines a bass hum as the carried their loads upward, engines —

Heaps of last season’s ferns lay flattened from last season’s snowfall.

This came from aclass exercise that goes like this:

1) Write a short scene set in a location very familiar to you. Write this scene so that that it is continuous action among 2 characters in dialogue.

In your portrait of the place, DO NOT tell us where it is, that is, don’t say “The Bothell QFC in Washington State,” and don’t even use the more generic, “grocery store,” instead, illustrate any aspect of the place important to the scene with concrete objects — cold case full of farm fresh eggs, stacks of waxy Red Apples with a sale price of 50 cents a pound, etc — and other sensual (sound, smell, touch, taste) of the place. When you are done with the scene, reread it and then in a sentence summarize the mood of the exchange between your two characters. Feel free to use an abstract word, like joyful, angry, frustrated, etc.

Length: 10 minutes

2) Rewrite the same short scene without any characters. It takes place in the same period of time. Again, do not name your location and do not name your mood. Attempt to capture the abstract word used in part 1.

Avoid personifying nature or introducing any people into the scene. Personifying nature could be as simple as using an adjective with a noun, as in the “lonely fire” or the “angry tree.” It will be tempting to insert someone so observe the scene. Instead, the writer must figure out a way of using active language and ascribe active verbs to essentially inanimate objects. Furthermore, how do these objects begin to suggest meaning?

Length: 10 minutes

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