Kimberlee Conway Ireton invites NCWA writers to join this writing exercise.
Dona Hickey’s book, Developing a Written Voice, is not for the faint of heart. She’s a college writing teacher, and her book is technical/academic in tone. Although primarily dealing with writing essays, the exercises are helpful for any prose writer, regardless of genre.
–no sentence longer than 10 words
–all words must be one syllable
I thought, That is going to be one boring piece, like a Dick and Jane book, only worse. I was wrong.
The bride and groom stand on the sand. They both wear white. She, a long gown sewn with small beads. He, a tux.
The sun shines in my face. I shield my eyes and watch, Doug at my side.
The bride’s friends wear black gowns. The groom’s wear black suits. They are hot in this sun. Sweat drips down jaws, chests, arms, legs.
I am glad I don’t have to wear black. Glad I don’t have to stand in the glare. Glad I can sit in this chair on the sand.
The waves roll to shore. The sun sets.
They give their rings. They say their vows. They kiss, long and slow. We clap. Still they kiss. Some of us look at the sea, the sand. We squirm in our seats. We sweat. A man on the groom’s side of the aisle hoots.
They turn, the bride and groom, and face us. Their smiles are wide.
They clasp hands and walk up the rose-strewn aisle.
Their friends in black walk up the rose-strewn aisle. Their moms and dads walk up the rose-strewn aisle.
It is our turn. I do not step to the aisle. I look at the waves. They still crash to the shore. The sun’s pink rays shoot through clouds as it sinks.
Doug takes my hand. I look at him. He winks. I smile. He leads me up the rose-strewn aisle.
The sea at our backs rolls to shore. The waves crash.
Hickey’s process reflection questions:
What was difficult?
Reigning in verbosity where I would normally use longer sentences to create flowing prose.
Word and syllable limits meant fewer adverbs, adjectives, and no gerunds (-ing words) or participles (like “given,” “chosen,” etc.).
What was possible?
More than I expected! I found I could attain an unusual level of poetic meter/repetition.
Nouns and verbs have to be strong, precise, without modifiers.
What was impossible?
Clauses. Flowery language. Flowing sentences.
What choices were made regarding subject, audience, and occasion?
Occasion—a blog post, informal, (possibly) educational.
Audience—friends, fellow writers.
Subject—Wanting to write about a specific event, I chose my niece’s recent wedding: bride, groom, white, sun, hot, and sand—all one syllable.
Having done this with a poetic voice, I wondered, could I do the exercise again with a totally different voice? Could I write about the Mexico wedding and have a snarky or cynical voice? Or would I need a different subject to achieve a different voice?
Try this exercise for yourself and tell us the results!
Kimberlee Conway Ireton is the author of THE CIRCLE OF SEASONS: MEETING GOD IN THE CHURCH YEAR (InterVarsity, 2008) and the mother of four children, including twins born in July. When she has functioning brain cells (and even when she doesn’t), she writes about writing and motherhood on her blog.