Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Dignity in the Details: Dreamstorming Exercise

In the last post, we considered how the right details can draw readers into a story, especially one that spans genres. To practice the art and craft of detail selection, try this exercise, based partly on a technique called "dreamstorming," from Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream.

Dawn in central Italy
Bring a pen and pad of paper (not your laptop or other e-device) to a quiet place — it could be a room in the house, or out in your car or to the local park. Quiet, in this sense, is more about being away from technology and anybody who's likely to interrupt. Close your eyes for a few moments (sunglasses help if you'd rather keep a low profile). Open them and jot down the first things you notice — but only jot, just sensory perceptions, like these:

Amber stripes of afternoon sunlight
[Jewel tone] drapes
[Children] laughing, playing [games]
Peach-colored clouds
[Pale blue] sky
Fading light
[Pine trees] stretch [upward]

Sit for a moment, not looking at your list but taking in your surroundings. Then go back over the list and replace any ambiguous words. Examples above are in brackets.

Next to each phrase, add another phrase describing your emotional response to the sensory perception. Now, of the phrases you've written, arrange them in an order it could be less intense to most intense emotion, or the reverse, or from the top to the bottom of your field of vision, or the reverse. See if you can craft a flash fiction or creative nonfiction piece from what you've written.

If you'd like to share what you've created, email me. Happy writing!          

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