Writing Exercise: The Postcard

February 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm 2 comments

This week I added another ‘workbook’ to my writing exercises repertoire.
This one was very hard for me:
1) I had to remain totally focused on ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ — much harder than it looks at first glance — and as a result I had to keep revising and editing and visualizing and thinking.
2) I suddenly had to get over my ‘maybe it’s not good enough’ and  ‘I don’t want anyone reading this, do I?’ anxieties.
The exercise got easier:
1) Once I made a list of what I could ‘see’  — the girl, road, surroundings.
2) Once I made a list of what I couldn’t see but needed to know — what happened before, where she had been, where she was going, all of the emotional content in her and the reasons for those emotions, the conflict/crisis/climax.
And once I started writing it was interesting to see the postcard taking on a life of its own — the more I visualized and thought, the more that postcard came to life.

:Naming the World and other Exercises for the Creative Writer, pages 28-29
Exercise submitted by Rachel Cline

The Postcard

“Write only what the camera sees…..Show, don’t tell.
Picture a postcard with a girl alone on a road. Decide who, what, where, why when. There is no one she knows nearby. Use only what can be seen, smelled, touched, heard, and possibly tasted to dramatize her situation. If she speaks, it can only be in reaction to something that occurs in her surroundings. No interior monologue, no recollections, no omniscience. In essence, you are a camera, but a camera with five senses and a decent vocabulary, and the film is free. Keep shooting until something happens.
When you think of your girl on your road, what do you hope will happen? What do you fear might happen instead? Entertain the possibility of more than one outcome.”

Here’s my attempt!!       The dirt road ended at the river’s edge where the pine trees grew thick on one side of the slope. That’s where she stopped — where the water swallowed her boots, where the wind wooshed thru the trees with such force that their trunks bowed toward her.  Her body faced the river but her eyes –brown and wide and filled with tears — searched the road behind. Salt stained her chafed cheeks where the tears had dried. Grass stained the knees, ripped and muddy too, of her gray pants. Wind blew her short brown hair into her eyes, stinging her face; the wool scarf protecting her neck flapped behind her and then trailed on the ground ; her heavy coat fell from one shoulder pulling her sweater with it and exposing a single shoulder.  The shaking gloved fingers of one hand rested against her quivering lips. The other hand, bare and bleeding, pressed against her heart. Two deer – mother and doe – watched from the shadows of the pine trees as vultures circled overhead in the gray sky. It was the sound of the boat’s motor — speeding toward her from up river, aiming straight at her, heard in that moment when the wind stopped — that caused the deer to run, the vultures to caw and soar higher, her head to jerk ’round, her eyes to widen …. her scream. Her knees buckled, but she pushed herself up once again and she ran — into the forest, away from the river, out of sight of the road — she ran.

O.K. — I pass the challenge on to you. Show, don’t tell. Describe your postcard!
And, as always, this is a conversation –so post your reactions, thoughts, attempts, whatever — in the comments section.

And by the way, from the same book, something I’ll put on my bulletin board for daily inspiration: “Faced head-on, the pressures of creating art can prove too intimidating, too daunting; the infinite possibilities of language and story can paradoxically paralyze rather than liberate the writer. By focusing on one element at a time, however, the writer can make the task more manageable, and the writing itself becomes more inventive and original.” (Naming the World and other Exercises for the Creative Writer, page xix, edited by Bret Johnston)


Entry filed under: Steering the Craft_Writing Exercises.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. megan hicks  |  February 22, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Sue — On purpose I didn’t read yours until I had finished mine. Some similarities. If I feel ambitious, I’ll try this again and see if I can hit a comic vein.

    Your inspiration quote reminds me of the central metaphor or Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird.”

    Okay…Here’s my postcard:

    Further back, the road had been a highway – the king’s highway – wide enough for royal processions, for cavalry and foot soldiers. Just over the rise, though, the castle out of sight, the road split and one fork narrowed to a rutted country lane and then a bridle path, muddy from the early thaw. It was along this path that she picked her way, stepping on patches of dead grass. Soon the road was no more than a track overgrown with needlegrass that grabbed at her cloak, as if to hold her back. But she could smell the marsh, salt when the air stirred. The ground sucked her feet into icy mud now, and the cold sucked her breath in shallow gasps. She stumbled and reached out to catch her balance. Her hand found needlegrass. She winced, but she did not cry out.For a long moment she regarded her stinging palm – the bright red, the soft white skin. Her tongue soothed the stinging. Blood tasted like the marsh smelled. Something fluttered in the breeze, caught on the rough edge of the grass. Soft. White. Weightless. A feather. And she saw another. And another and others, more and more of them further along, marking the way before her. Swans!

    • 2. Sue Black  |  February 23, 2010 at 7:25 am

      that’s what I’m talking about!!! way to go!


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