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Time for exercises, children

“Time for exercises, children”. I groaned. I hated running round the school. Hot, red-faced, puffing – even at six years old, I hated that look.

Miss Bedingfield – who looked to be at least a hundred years old – didn’t mean running though. She probably hated running as much as I did. She could probably run as well as a kiwi could fly.

“Get your pencils and writing books out.” This was something I could do.
“I want you to write a story using one-syllable words only”. Wow!

Last week we had to write ten sentences where all words started with a vowel. Another time we had to write a poem where the spoken words had the rhythm of a running horse.

Writing exercises concentrated our minds on the structure of our writing; on the sound it made when read aloud, and in the shape our words created on the page.

When I began writing again as an adult I channeled Miss Bedingfield in a series of warm-up ‘writing games’. Just as I later trained to do an Ironman, I trained to write. A favourite exercise was to read a few chapters of an author I admired then write a few paragraphs in their style. This requires dissection of another’s work to identify where the magic lay. When we dissect to the soul of a collection of words we find the author’s elegance, or her panache, or his grit. We then have a rough template to construct dreams around.

John Steinbeck has beautiful sequences where he writes like a cinematographer. He sets a scene with an extreme close-up of rabbits grazing in the dusk then widens the view gradually to widescreen and the action of men escaping pursuers through a canyon. This cinematic eye draws us in, capturing our attention, setting a mood, and then walloping us with the bigger picture. Masterful.

Stephen King’s metaphor is so fresh, so visual, so stunning. I recall a sky he wrote of where one could reach up and smudge the chalky blueness with a finger.

Look and learn, ‘write in the style of’, but don’t steal. In trying out other’s methods, it is possible to gain your own sense of style. All writers have a unique fingerprint and are identifiable within a few sentences. Work on your own; others may one day try to write in your style if you take the time to find and hone it.

Writing groups on the net offer a chance to experiment with story style, structure and genre. Google ‘writing groups’, ‘writing starters’, beginning writers’ for a selection. Good groups offer a critiqued chance to dance with words, to compose symphonies with a pencil or keyboard, and to be coached through blind spots.

Now take out your pencil and exercise. Let’s try fifty words describing a pumpkin.