Living Art, Making Fiction

ENGL 090-03: Fall Semester 2004
MWF 11:00-11:52 in O'Leary 309
R 7:00-8:52 in various locations
Robert Love Taylor
Hours MWF 2:00-3:30 or by appointment
Office: Carnegie 201

Places    People    Action   Dialogue    Monologue    Story One    Story Two


  1. Describe the place you are in now--objectively--using nothing but facts (sizes, shapes, colors, smells, etc.). About 100-125 words.

  2. Do the same for some other place. (Note: it may be a place you've never been, but by the specificity of your details make it seem as though you've been there.) 100-125 words.

  3. Describe one of these places again, this time subjectively; that is, convey a feeling or judgment about the place, but do it through a slanted selection of sense details. You are choosing which details will elicit your feeling or judgment about the place, and shaping the order of the details to further enhance that feeling. Don't use evaluative or judgmental words: keep to the senses, as in the first two exercises. 100-125 words.

  4. Describe a place--again, solely through sense details, as in number 3--so that it characterizes the person who lives there or the people associated with it. 100-125 words.

  5. Describe an ordinary room as seen by a person in an extraordinary state of mind. As before, limit yourself to what that person sees, hears, touches, smells, tastes. 100-125 words.
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  1. Another variation on the above exercises: Using only sense details, describe a person subjectively, so that a negative or even hostile attitude towards that person comes across.

  2. Using the same method, convey a good feeling about a person through your description.

  3. Describe a character from the point of view of another character. Make your description reveal more about the observer than the person observed. (Use the first person singular pronoun for the observer, who may or may not be yourself.)

  4. Describe the same character as in number three, from the point of view of still another observer. (This time, use the third-person singular pronoun for the observer.)

  5. Describe a person who is not quite what he or she appears to be.

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  1. Describe an ordinary event, focused through a character's point of view. Make the event seem, by turns: (Each description should be one hundred words. Remember, you are describing the same event each time, only from a different character's point of view, and relying in each instance on sense details to convey the mood.)

  2. Describe an extraordinary event now, but make it seem ordinary. Again, focus the description through a character's point of view.

  3. Describe an action so that it reveals something psychologically or temperamentally significant about the character performing the action.

  4. Describe two people eating a meal. They do not speak, but their actions tell us something about their relationship, how they feel about each other.

  5. Describe an event witnessed by a "disturbed" observer--someone, that is, whose state of mind may make him or her distort the actual nature of the event. Try, at the same time, indirectly, to convey the "real" nature of the event.

  6. Writing in the first person, describe an activity or event you are unlikely ever to experience yourself. Through your use of specific sense details, make it seem that this event surely happened to you.
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  1. Begin by listening in on and then writing down from memory an actual conversation (about a page). Next, write a fictionalized version of that conversation, making the dialogue reveal more about the speakers than they might mean to reveal. The main purpose of this dialogue is to emphasize characterization, to show us, through the way the characters talk, the essence of their personalities. Use a bare minimum of descriptive details, preferably none at all, and arrange your dialogue in standard paragraph form, using quotation marks. If you're in doubt about how to punctuate dialogue, see me and I'll be glad to help. Note: Hand in only the fictionalized dialogue, not the actual conversation that inspired it. It should be no longer than a page.

  2. Write a dialogue in which both parties say something other than what they are really thinking. Show the discrepancy through subtle action or gesture. Length: page, maximum.

  3. Write an indirect (summarized) dialogue, using Porter's "Rope" as a model, in which two people argue about something superficially petty but in reality revealing an important gulf between them.

  4. Write a dialogue that shows two people in deep but unspoken (unspeakable?) conflict. Interweave this dialogue with descriptive narration that conveys the sense of a specific place, as well as mood and characterization, but use no evaluative adjectives. Employ a third-person, focused point of view.

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  1. Using Katherine Mansfield's "The Lady's Maid" for your model, write a dramatic monologue in which the speaker tries to justify something he or she has done that is dishonest or shameful. Remember, in a dramatic monologue, you do not record the listener's speech, but you should convey a sense of who that listener might be. (about 500 words)

  2. Interior Monologue (see Dorothy Parker). Invent the interior voice of a character in a state of
         Each should be from the point of view of a different character.  The setting should be the same, however, in each case.  (length for each monologue: one hundred words)

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Go over your exercises, from earliest to most recent. Look for characters that still interest you, situations that seem to set forth intriguing tension. Develop a story by expanding on the possibilities of that exercise (or exercises), following the logic of its beginning to a conclusion that doesn't necessarily resolve the conflict or remove the tension. The body of the story should nonetheless explore as fully and deeply as possible the complexities of your character's situation. Write in the first-person, with (as always!) sharply focused sense details. Your narrator may be reliable or unreliable or a mixture of both. Use dialogue extensively (only direct, not summarized). Remember the importance of setting! (Length: 1500-1750 words )
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For your final story, create a character who in some significant way is trapped by a situation or by a character flaw or by some interesting combination of the two. The trap cannot be physical--that is, do not put your character in prison or chained to a dungeon floor or some such mischief. The trap must be primarily of the mind's doing, a psychological conundrum. The story should explore some aspect of art, but don't make art an easy answer to your character's dilemma; it may in fact be part of the problem. As with your first story, you don't have to resolve the issues raised by your character's dilemma; just develop them in dramatic terms to the point where their complexity has been explored fully. This story should be written in third-person, focused narration. Employ both direct and indirect (summarized) dialogue. (Length: 2250-2500 words)

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