View Full Version : Writing Exercise

07-18-2011, 08:08 PM
A while ago, a friend proposed a writing exercise that was really cool. I'd like to suggest people try it out here.

Here is what he suggested:
What we need are 1-3 consecutive paragraphs--one if it's exceptionally long--from a great work of horror. And by 'great' I mean that the author is generally held to be one of the 'masters' in the genre. Even if you don't particularly like the author or story we get the paragraphs from, you still agree with the general consensus. In practical terms, this will mean stuff that's in the public domain. Poe, for example.

We can do this a couple ways. The way I prefer is that we all agree on the paragraphs to be used for the exercise. However, we could also each pick our own paragraphs and go with that--as long as the originals are freely available to the other participants.

Note that whichever way we do this, you need paragraphs with solid exposition. Not dialog. And they should be relatively substantial paragraphs. Not one or two sentences. The best way to do it is decide on a few paragraphs that we find particularly memorable or stylishly written.

He ended up using Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Here is the paragraph we were given:
He went in quietly, locking the door behind him, as was his custom, and dragged the purple hanging from the portrait. A cry of pain and indignation broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. The thing was still loathsome--more loathsome, if possible, than before--and the scarlet dew that spotted the hand seemed brighter, and more like blood newly spilled. Then he trembled. Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been? It seemed to have crept like a horrible disease over the wrinkled fingers. There was blood on the painted feet, as though the thing had dripped--blood even on the hand that had not held the knife. Confess? Did it mean that he was to confess? To give himself up and be put to death? He laughed. He felt that the idea was monstrous. Besides, even if he did confess, who would believe him? There was no trace of the murdered man anywhere. Everything belonging to him had been destroyed. He himself had burned what had been below-stairs. The world would simply say that he was mad. They would shut him up if he persisted in his story.

I had a story that I had written I never published and decided to use that in this exercise. This is how I transformed my writing to "imitate" this paragraph from The Picture of Dorian Gray:

She entered in silence, leaving emptiness behind her, as if nothing could fill the space she once occupied, and filled the room with her hardened gaze. A whine of joy and excitement escaped from her. I saw no change in her posture, except in her nub of a tail which moved in slow metronomic arcs and her ears which swiveled in my direction. The room fell silent—every mouth sealed, each ear bent, all eyes locked—and the deformity that curved her muzzle seemed to stretch, as if she were attempting an impossible grin. Someone gasped. Was it because of me that Princess was acting so out of character? Or was it simply that she was finally ‘coming round’, as the vet suggested, with his assured smile? Or had she finally broken years of stony passivity in a pivotal conscious act of self awakening? Or, possibly, a combination of all these things? And why did she suddenly stop wagging her tail? A horrible keening warbled up from deep in her throat. Her ears slowly flattened to her head, as though pressed down by an invisible hand—a hand that simultaneously pulled back her black lips into a misshapen grin. “Princess? Princess are you ok?” Was this reaction all because Tammy had placed a hand on her dog’s back? She withdrew. Princess perked up and padded towards me. Panic, every muscle in me tensed for action, but if she attacked what could I possibly do? There was no sense of malice in her gait. Every qualm inside melted away at the pleading in her eyes. I lowered myself to her level and held out my arms. Everyone in the room must have thought me crazy. Princess lowered her head and stepped into my embrace.

It was an eye opening experience. Suddenly I'm writing way above and beyond how I have always written, and even though it is based on another's work, I still managed to make it completely my own. I didn't just change the words to match what I wanted them to say, but actually used his structure and style--his beat--to write my own story.

Anybody interested in giving this a try?


07-18-2011, 09:41 PM
Sounds good to me. I think we should all use the same "source" writing, as it would make the comparisons much more interesting. I'll look for a source to nominate. However I think we'd all be best served if it isn't Poe or Lovecraft. I think all of us have tried to copy them at some point in time.

07-18-2011, 09:58 PM
I've never been too keen on most writing exercises, feeling that they are a little pointless. All that time spent on doing exercises to improve one's writing could also be used to actually write.

This is intriguing though, as it has the potential to entertain as well. It would be most interesting to see what kind of prose could be manifest through such an endeavor.

07-19-2011, 08:52 PM
It sounds like a good idea to me. I don't have a nomination yet, but I'll take a look and try to come up with one.

07-21-2011, 06:14 PM
Interesting idea!

07-22-2011, 08:34 PM
How about some Washington Irving (Sleepy Hollow) or Nathaniel Hawthorne (Rappaccini's Daughter, perhaps?)? Both classics in the public domain.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/41/41-h/41-h.htm (Irving)
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/512/512-h/512-h.htm (Hawthorne)

There's also Robert W. Chambers (The King in Yellow): http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/8492/pg8492.html

portrait in flesh
07-23-2011, 07:22 PM
Oddly enough, I just picked up the King in Yellow (I'm playing around with the computer versions of Kindle and Nook).

I'm game for this if a prompt is chosen.

07-25-2011, 02:56 PM
King in Yellow is fine by me. Please post a string of 3 or 4 paragraphs with little or no dialogue and let's see how they look for this exercise.


portrait in flesh
08-07-2011, 06:47 PM
Math is difficult for me :p, so here are 2 proposed paragraphs from The King in Yellow. (Most of what I've read so far is 1P narration with not a great deal of description, and this is the longest section I've come across in a while.)

When he had double-locked the door and pushed a heavy chest against it, he came and sat down beside me, peering up into my face with his little light-coloured eyes. Half a dozen new scratches covered his nose and cheeks, and the silver wires which supported his artificial ears had become displaced. I thought I had never seen him so hideously fascinating. He had no ears. The artificial ones, which now stood out at an angle from the fine wire, were his one weakness. They were made of wax and painted a shell pink, but the rest of his face was yellow. He might better have revelled in the luxury of some artificial fingers for his left hand, which was absolutely fingerless, but it seemed to cause him no inconvenience, and he was satisfied with his wax ears. He was very small, scarcely higher than a child of ten, but his arms were magnificently developed, and his thighs as thick as any athlete's. Still, the most remarkable thing about Mr. Wilde was that a man of his marvellous intelligence and knowledge should have such a head. It was flat and pointed, like the heads of many of those unfortunates whom people imprison in asylums for the weak-minded. Many called him insane, but I knew him to be as sane as I was.

I do not deny that he was eccentric; the mania he had for keeping that cat and teasing her until she flew at his face like a demon, was certainly eccentric. I never could understand why he kept the creature, nor what pleasure he found in shutting himself up in his room with this surly, vicious beast. I remember once, glancing up from the manuscript I was studying by the light of some tallow dips, and seeing Mr. Wilde squatting motionless on his high chair, his eyes fairly blazing with excitement, while the cat, which had risen from her place before the stove, came creeping across the floor right at him. Before I could move she flattened her belly to the ground, crouched, trembled, and sprang into his face. Howling and foaming they rolled over and over on the floor, scratching and clawing, until the cat screamed and fled under the cabinet, and Mr. Wilde turned over on his back, his limbs contracting and curling up like the legs of a dying spider. He was eccentric.

08-10-2011, 08:56 PM
I've been swamped lately. Thanks for posting this. Let's see what I can come up with later this week.