I just finished a writing retreat during which I did the exercises in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft: Sailing the Sea of Story. Some of them were hard work and some were really fun – just wordplay. Much to my surprise, I discovered that I, who never write fiction, am capable of whipping some story and dialogue out of thin air. Some bits turned out well and others were garbage, but I learned a lot from the process.
Here are a couple of short narratives I wrote during the retreat that I really like. The first assignment was to write with no punctuation, and the second was to use repetition of a word.
Plain glazed that’s what she always got because there were too many choices but today she would take her sweet time crumpling the $20 bill in her pocket so many combinations chocolate maple strawberry icing and cake or raised and coconut sprinkles and even bacon which sounded weird but she might try it just once she crouched at the case to think but now the heavy man too close behind her sighed and she panicked and took a dozen plain glazed hot and turned to him with lips tight but he wasn’t even looking his kids had their hands all over the case she bit hard into a donut and felt the crisp hot sugar shatter on her tongue so rude so pushy when she wanted to choose her treats she’d make him sorry with one greasy donut smear down his windshield with his fat kids and skinny wife who stunk of cigarettes and didn’t eat a donut at their table just frowned and tapped her foot until well Christ she marched to the doorway dug through her purse and lit up a Virginia Slims you could see her relax as the smoke curled out of her mouth the boys were still in with their dad getting sprinkles everywhere and slopping milk so maybe he was already sorry and she’d just keep her donuts for herself and Pop who shouldn’t eat all that sugar but fuck it we’re all gonna die of something might as well be donuts
Marcus was a troublemaker, Shasta said, and everybody knew it. Nothing but trouble would come from that boy, and wherever he set his feet, disaster would follow. If he was cursed, he decided, he and Davy might as well make the most of it. “Trouble’s my middle name,” he informed Louise behind the counter at the gas station shop. She looked skeptical but kept a sharp eye on him as he browsed the candy aisle then moved on to look at the snacks. As he pulled out a package of chips, the whole shelf fell and an avalanche of chip bags dumped around his feet. While Louise dashed over, cursing under her breath, Davy pocketed a handful of candy bars and shot Marcus a look. Later, munching the chocolate together in the dark, Davy’s praise for his smooth work warm in his ears, Marcus felt satisfied with his cursed future and considered what he and his trouble might get up to next.