Rusty Barnes – Writing Prompt
Edited by Tara L. Masih
Rose Metal Press 2009
FLASH FICTION EXERCISE
Exercise from Rusty Barnes
I acknowledge here the conflation/adaptation of a couple of exercises from Josip Novakovich’s essential book Fiction Writer’s Workshop (Story Press, 1995), the “Settings” chapter in particular. Where Novakovich asks writers to use lists of objects remembered from the childhood home and descriptions of the childhood neighborhood to imagine what happened in those places, using a map if necessary, I take the exercise in a different, character-generating direction. I’ve used this generative exercise successfully to jump-start students having difficulty finding material they’re sufficiently invested in, as well as for beginners who have trouble moving away from the autobiographical in their work.
First, imagine your childhood home in as great a detail as you can. Take a room, at first, and imagine every object in it. Draw a map; it needn’t be artful at all. If that proves insufficient, widen the scope; imagine the entire house, or the entire area around your childhood home. This should take 15 minutes or so. Now, and this is key, imagine all the members of your family interacting in that space. What happened there? Or more important, what might happen there? What might be the precipitating event?
Families are full of conflict, as we all know, and to take the autobiographical question out of the equation—I trust most families don’t want their business told in fiction—imagine each individual with their exact opposite characteristics. Mix it up, and have fun. If Uncle Vinny was a kraut-eating truck driver with bad football knees and a sycophantic streak toward the Steelers, make him Uncle Denny who graduated from Harvard Law and has three noisy children, two boys and a girl, who constantly play farting games at the family reunion.
Once all that fun stuff is done; write. See what happens.
Copyright Rose Metal Press 2009, used by permission.