Texas is another country...

Texas is another country...I have driven into Texas from all four directions and can affirm that after crossing that imaginary state line you just know you are in Texas . The world becomes wide open space, the sky feels higher, you can stretch out and rest a spell.

Monday, September 1, 2014


This exercise was actually an ongoing writing class that I taught in Austin. The class met once a week in a different location – a bus station, railroad depot, airport, restaurant or somewhere else you wouldn’t expect a writing exercise to take place.  We took a few day-trips as well and held the class on a riverboat in three different cities. 

The format is so easy and it feels more like a game than a lesson so that anyone can lead it at a dinner party at home or with a group friends at a restaurant or local coffee house.  It’s so much more fun that complaining about politics or the economy or watching TV.

Here’s how it works: 

The group meet, gets something (or brings something) to eat or drink, introductions are made if need be, and everyone settles down. Because you may not always have a surface to write on, remind everyone to bring a notebook or some other writing surface of their own.

1. The first part of the exercise is to simply observe the environment and the people in it.  After a few minutes, everyone writes down everything they saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted.  This primes the mind to think about sensory perceptions and seems to surprise everyone as they make notes of more than they were aware of seeing and hearing.

2. The next part of the exercise is to pick someone, a couple, or a small group in the vicinity, observe them, and write down the observations.  An easy example would be a list like this:
couple in their early 20s
            on a first date
            female seems more interested in the male than he is in her

3.  Then there are questions to be answered:

What makes you believe they are in their 20s? (from this you learn what you believe people in their early 20s look like)
What makes you believe they are hipsters? (and you learn that you believe that hipsters wear certain types of clothing and jewelry, have certain types of tattoos, etc)
What makes you believe these two are on a first date?  (body language is the indication, so you pay attention to how they are moving and write that down)
What makes you believe that the female is more interested in the male than he is in her?  (what’s the body language telling you this?)

It’s easy to see how this exercise can pull up a conscious awareness of what you have been observing unconsciously in your daily life.

3.  Adding depth to the exercise, the next step is to use that same couple, but to add a dimension that isn’t readily observable.  For example:
1.     the female is already married and the male doesn’t know – how would this change your interpretation of her movements, her dialogue, your attitude toward her as a character?
2.     the male stalked his last girlfriend – what does his disinterest in her seem to be reflecting with this added trait?
3.     the female is a pickpocket and she has already stolen his wallet – how does her interest in him come across?

In other words, you learn to observe people, seeing how they appear, sound, smell, move, and behave.  You think you know what all this represents, but if you get more information (or make it up) your original interpretations of body language and behavior will change.  [For a good example of this, read Guy De Maupassant’s story “A Piece of String.”]

4.  Writers in Motion gets really interesting when it’s time to actually write a story about the couple – adding dialogue and back-story (how they met).  And now is time for a plot. 

            This couple has just [fill in the blank]

For the plot to work in a group situation without a teacher to assign it, each writer would make up a plot, write it down on a small piece of paper and put it on the center of the table or into a hat.  The papers get mixed up and someone pulls one of them from the mix.  That would be the plot for everyone’s story.***

Writing is timed for 15-20 minutes and then people share their stories out loud. 

***[Writers could also write a story using their individual plots, but it’s really fun to see how each writer interprets the story from one plot line and compare them.]

Post by Alana Cash

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