The following exercise comes to us thanks to the amazing Melanie Rae Thon, who has generously provided me with an expansive set of exercises that will be published here over the coming weeks. This particular exercise is the second part of a mini-collection, and the first part can be found here. They are meant to be completed in order, so go back and finish the first three if you haven’t already. Enjoy!
Necessary (Dedicated) Research
By now it should be obvious you will need to do an enormous amount of research in order to evoke the whole environment and your particular experience(s) within that environment as vividly and precisely as you wish! And you will have to make choices about what is important and what is extraneous.
Exercise Four is another extensive list of all the research you need/want/hope to pursue, and the kinds of sources you might consult.
Every project requires research of some kind. Sometimes we need to do “traditional” research, go to the library or cruise the web looking for information. Even writers like Nancy Venable Raine, Mary Oliver, Norman Maclean, John Wideman, Leslie Marmon Silko, Tim O’Brien, and Terry Tempest Williams who work with autobiographical material must do a great deal of research (exploring various texts, interviewing family members, learning the history of their communities, talking to other victims of trauma or illness, reading their own journals, looking at photographs, watching birds, exploring the environment, etcetera) in order to make their stories and poems vivid and accurate.
The following exercise comes to us thanks to the amazing Melanie Rae Thon, who has generously provided me with an expansive set of exercises that will be published here over the coming weeks. This particular exercise is the third part of a mini-collection, and the first part can be found here. They are meant to be completed in order, so go back and finish the first two parts if you haven’t already. Enjoy!
Loving the Whole Miraculous World
I have come to believe in the underlying interdependence of all living beings through time and across space. Thich Nhat Hanh shows us that no matter where we begin, even if it is with something as ordinary as a piece of paper, we will be able to find a pattern of inter-dependence that connects this being or this object with every other being or element or form in the universe! In the film What Darwin Never Knew and in the essay “The Germs of Life” we encounter the idea that every life form on earth is a biological relative of every other form!
Wherever you see life—that is you! The dissimilarity, the strangeness between humans and other creatures is here removed!
~ Albert Schweitzer
from First Sermon on Reverence for Life
In The Tiger, John Vaillant investigates a complicated web that includes the ways political, environmental, spiritual, technological, and historical circumstances ultimately influence individual lives (tigers, trees, humans, et al!) in a remote area of Russia.
The following exercise comes to us thanks to the amazing Melanie Rae Thon, who has generously provided me with an expansive set of exercises that will be published here over the coming weeks. This particular exercise is the second part of a mini-collection, and the first part can be found here. They are meant to be completed in order, so go back and finish “Matters of Life and Death” if you haven’t already. Enjoy!
Moments of Wonder
Try another brainstorming list, this time focusing on Moments of Wonder. Think about times when you have been astonished by something you encountered out in the mysterious world and/or deep in your own secret environment (clouds, snow, cold, mosquitoes, bees, cliffs, madrona trees, a river running gold with tannin, a coop full of pure
white pigeons, subalpine firs that had become snow ghosts (whose lower limbs were taking root in soft dark earth deep beneath snow even as you watched them), a man with hooks for hands who came to your rescue, reflections of trees in a river with fish swimming in the treetops, singing whales, a limestone cave, a howling coyote . . . ).
Your examples may focus on an encounter with single being (e.g. the coyote across the arroyo), or a whole experience (e.g. traveling out to sea, listening to—or even swimming with—the whales).
The following exercise comes to us thanks to the amazing Melanie Rae Thon, who has generously provided me with an expansive set of exercises that will be published here over the coming weeks. This particular exercise is not meant to be completed all at once. Rather, it’s a set of lists, meditations, responses, and ways that you can move those earlier portions into creative work. Enjoy!
Wilderness always speaks to human beings of Transcendence: in the widest possible sense it says, You as a Human Being are part of a System which is not just about your needs and your concerns. Like it or not, you’re part of something immense and very mysterious.
~ Doctor Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
In Part Five of the film series Planet Earth
Memory and Adventure
Entering the Wilderness: Impermanence, Interdependence, and Compassion
I hope this series of meditations will inform your work directly or indirectly. Individual choices about form, genre, balance, etcetera are all spectacularly open! Please feel free to translate/transform/re-imagine these explorations in any way that makes sense for your unique explorations. My questions are meant to open, not confine—to suggest possibilities that lead you into your own territory with more curiosity and awareness, more passion and wonder.
This experiment is designed to “break down syntax,” to jolt us outside the comfortable parameters of our rehearsed autobiographical narratives, to help us appreciate the complexity (and chaos) of our own lives and make us more responsive to (and curious about) the wide variety of human (and more-than-human) experience we encounter in fiction, memoir, poetry, drama, film, the nightly news, our daily lives …
(with thanks to Anna Deavere Smith for the three questions that first inspired this meditation)
Part 1: Brainstorming
Matters of Life & Death
Have you ever been close to death? (Your own, or someone else’s—a loved one’s, or a stranger’s?) Think of illness, injury, wild risk, accident. Consider the deaths of non-human beings (birds, deer, fish, insects, saguaros, cities, rivers, glaciers, frogs, lilies—a golden spruce, a belovéd chinchilla—a creature you dissected, an egg you consumed, a pork chop you devoured . . . ). List as many as you can. Some may exist in “clusters.” Consider times when you feared for the life of someone / something you loved, whether or not that being was in real danger. Think about times when you felt responsible for the harm that another being suffered.
Have you ever witnessed or committed a crime? Have you been the victim of a crime? Have you ever been accused of something you did not do, or escaped punishment for something you did do? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? What’s the worst thing that’s ever been done to you?
The following exercise comes to you courtesy of Rob Carney, an astounding poet and a professor at Utah Valley University. When Carney’s class was recommended to me, it came with one of the strangest testimonials I’ve heard. To paraphrase, my friend told me that when they took the course, they didn’t feel like they were learning at all. Rather — thanks to the exercises and assignments given in class — they were simply playing with language throughout the semester. It was only after the semester concluded that they realized how much this form of play had improved their effectiveness with the craft.
So, without further introduction, I bring you an exercise from that course (posted here with permission of the original author).
APRIL MAD LIBS
(Have enough fun that you can’t wait to share the resulting draft.)
1.Begin with “April isn’t the cruelest month. That would be [pick one of the other 11],
When worldbuilding, one of the difficult tasks writers encounter is understanding the cultures they are creating. As it is, we often do not learn about the other cultures around us or even study our own cultures. One tool that helped me gain a better grasp on cultures as I was younger was the Cultural Worksheet.
Something similar to the culture worksheet was given to my 8th grade social studies class by our teacher, Ms. Derwinski, to help us understand cultures. I wish I knew her full name and where she got the original so I could properly thank and cite her contribution. I have since used it to help organize several of my fictional cultures. It has gone through a few minor tweaks over the years to improve usability.
This Ultimate Culture Creation Worksheet can be used as a checklist or guide. Fill in the document with the relevant information. The first few times you should go in order to help with organization, but feel free to go back and fix things if you change your mind later. This worksheet provides a framework to ensure you address all the major elements of a culture.
Before using this worksheet to flesh out your fictional culture try filling it out with your own real life culture or a fictional culture you already enjoy. Doing so will help you understand each of the elements better and smooth the process of designing your own.
First, title your culture.
I. Background of Culture
A. Time: When does your culture take place? This can be in Earth time or your world’s time.
B. Geographic Setting: Briefly describe the geography that impacts the culture.
C. Physical Description of People: What distinguishing features do they have, if any?