This week’s prompt comes from Chelsey Grasso, alum of the UMass Boston MFA program in Creative Writing who has published in past volumes of the Write on the DOT journal. Chelsey writes:
There is a beautiful craft essay out there by Carole Maso entitled, “Notes of a Lyric Artist Working in Prose: A Lifelong Conversation with Myself, Entered Midway.” If you can get your hands on it, I suggest you do! In the essay, Maso discusses the potential of the novel form, as well as fiction prose’s reliance on plot:
“Fiction, too often, has substituted plot for structure. Fiction writers must be structuralists in order to realize the potential of the novel or the story, but for the most part are not. Only now and then, I realize, do I get anywhere close to a real insight.” ~Carole Maso
In this writing exercise, I’d like to encourage writers to step away from using plot as a story’s engine, and instead focus on language as a way to power a story. Here are the steps!
1) Write one sentence. About anything. Just make it a good sentence. (Ex: “The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin.” – borrowed from Raymond Carver)
2) Circle the “key words” in that sentence. (This is a subjective decision, depending on what words you believe carry the most weight in your sentence!) (Ex: “The four of us were sitting around his kitchen table drinking gin.”)
3) Make a list of 20 associative words (related to those key words). (Ex: us, around, drinking, gin, together, circle, alcohol, social, cocktails, neighbors, round, etc.)
4) Write for 15 minutes, using at least one of those key or associative words in each sentence. Once you get going, you can start to riff and bring in new words if you feel it serves the piece.
Afterwards, take a look at your writing. Do you find that the circular language helps fuel the writing, rather than plot?