Monday, November 17, 2014

Five Blankets- an exercise

I'm currently taking an online writing course at the University of Iowa. Each week we watch a video and are given an assignment around the issues brought up in the video. The week before last we were learning about ways constraints on your writing can force you to look closer at it, particularly at individual sentences. Constraints might include the number of words in each sentence, for example writing a piece where each sentence is only seven words.

In my case, I chose writing a piece where each sentence must have a number in it. I've realised that doing this does indeed improve the quality of the sentences. It was a great exercise and I'm planning to use this when I begin my next longer work of fiction, mostly because in longer works the space actually removes constraint and, at least for me, leads to flabbier sentences.

Below is my piece: Five Blankets.

Five Blankets

He murdered a man at twenty-four. In the prison where they sent him, he shared one big room with tiny windows high up near the ceiling that let in no breeze on forty degree days. Seventy men can make a mighty smell, he realised, a solid, alive smell that moved around and slapped you every now and then, reminding you about the seriousness of the situation. Though he was a murderer he had two non-murderer traits: a soft heart and the inability to identify evil.
            That first night, he was given five blankets and told to find a space on the floor. Blanket number one, he rolled into a pillow. Blanket number two and three he folded into thirds and used as a mattress against the hard, concrete floor. He covered himself with blanket number four. Blanket number five he rolled up and lay next to him. The first night he pretended it was his long ago girlfriend, the girl who lived next door to them when he was ten, Carmela; Carmela made the night shorter. The second night, blanket number five was the woman he left behind when the prison doors shut behind him, the woman he’d murdered for; she promised good would prevail despite all evidence to the contrary.
On the third night, when everything became too real no matter how he twisted his mind, when seven men promised they’d “get him” before the week finished, when the bed bugs and the heat and the prison guards high with their small power picked and poked him until ignoring was not an option, blanket number five became his mother.  He became her little boy, her three year old boy afraid of the monster rattling under the bed.  His mother hugged him and all seventy men disappeared in the fierce light of her love.
His mother stayed with him until day thirty-two when Prisoner 538 tried to steal the rolled up blanket lying next to him. He couldn’t allow that, and with four blows and a kick, he murdered his second man, again in defence of the ones he loved.


Unknown said...

I love this Lauri,wish there was more

TJ Dema said...

I like this exercise because I feel that on one level you could write it following the instruction to include a number in each line and then upon revision work to do away with the/some/most numbers but retain the images (lots of rephrasing I suspect) that the numbers helped 'generate' in a very specific manner. Thanks will steal it :) for my students.

Lauri said...

I've actually gone further in a recent story and tried the number of words in the sentence. I wrote a story where there are six sentences in each paragraph, the first is a one word sentence, the second two words, the third three words etc. I'm falling in love with this sort of discipline. I'm curious though in longer works, if you say restrict to six word sentences, if it will change the nature of the prose. I'd be curious to see.
The restriction alone though does improve my sentences and that's important. I'm investigating how to impose invisible restriction on myself at the sentence level for that reason.