Monday, May 14, 2018

Blast Past Easy: A Permutation Exercise with Clichés

As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.

YE ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIND
Yes, this was on my bookshelf and
yes, I actually used to consult it
I've previously posted on my favorite exercises for a fast-acting manuscript Rx, what I call "emulation" or "permutation" exercises, here. (Which one is it, emulation or permutation? Depends. That would be another post.)

The basic idea is to take a phrase or perhaps as many as a few sentences from another writer's work or from your own manuscript, and play with it in some predetermined way. Sometimes the exercise might prompt a new piece; othertimes it might give you just what you need to brighten up the blah or smooth a rough patch in a draft. Moreover, for my wampum, permutation exercises beat crossword puzzles by a Texas section. (Yowie, that was an orangutang's tea party of imagery!)

Yes, I am being silly. To play, you have to be willing to be silly! Tell your ego to just take a long cool breath. You, dear writerly reader, do not have to use the results of your writing exercises in your manuscript, never mind show them to anyone else.

Simply, for any given permutation exercise, come up with a bunch of things! Maybe elegant, maybe dorky. Maybe even dorksterly dorkikins dorky. Then circle the one or two results that, for whatever reason, strike your fancy and/or seem apt for your purposes.

In my experience, and that of many of my writing students, doing these exercises is a tiny investment for a mega-payoff. The more often you do these little exercises, the easier they get, and this ease will greatly serve you in your endeavors to write, and in particular, to write more vividly. You will also get practice in generating material you are able to, la de da, discard. And discarding unworthy bits and pieces of a draft, and even whole novels, without attachment, that's a vital skill for a writer, too.

"IT'S LIKE DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN"

There are as many permutation exercises as you can dream up. This one, what I call "Blast Past Easy," plays with cliché.

How can you spot a cliché? If a phrase sounds familiar and/ or it came to you too easily, it's probably a cliché.

What's wrong with cliché? For more discerning readers, whom presumably you would want to have, cliché signals a lack of originality and/or naiveté and/or sloppiness. In sum: mediocrity. There are exceptions-- for example, a fictional character or the subject of biography might use cliché (and if they do, that tells us somehing about them, does it not?) And some essayists use cliché for comic effect. (I'll be posting about intentional diction drops anon.)

"Like deja vu all over again"-- well, you can debate me, but I'm going to call that a cliché, except  as used by Yogi Berra, because he's the one who came up with it.

Here are a few clichés I happened upon in recent weeks' reading, and my permutations-- four each. If you feel so moved, a good exercise could be to add more permutations of your own.

"Talk does not boil the rice"
Talk does not shampoo the pooch
Talk does not slice the pepperoni
Talk does not iron the shirts
Talk does not roast the turkey
(You might try a permutation of the noun, "talk," e.g., art; violin playing; texting

"Shoveling smoke"
Shoveling soap bubbles
Shoveling Koolaid
Shoveling fog
Shoveling thunder

"Bet you dollars for donuts"
Bet you deutschmarks for Dingdongs
Bet you dinars for dinos
Bet you dollars for diddlysquat
Bet you pounds for peanuts

(Part of what makes "dollars for donuts" such an appealing cliché is the alliteration, that is, the repeating "d"s of "dollars" and "donuts." You might try varying the sound, e.g., silver for Skittles, or, pesos for pips, etc.)

"Let the cat out of the bag"
Let the cockroach out of the bag
Let the bedbug out of the backpack
Let the tarantula out of the pickle jar
Let the troll out of the compost pile
(Another permutation could be to switch the verb, e.g, Put the cat in the bag; stuff the cat in the bag; drown the cat in the bag; swing the cat in the bag, etc.)

"The bee's knees"
The snail's tail
The donkey's ankle
The sloth's toenail (doesn't rhyme but, oh well, I like it)
The kitten's mittens (is that a cliché?)

"A fish out of water"
A mole out of its hole
A horse out of its pasture
A sheep out of its herd
A credit card nowhere near a department store

# # #

P.S. Visit my workshop page here. For more exercises, help yourself to "Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More Free Five Minute Writing Exercises."

Today's exercise is

May 14 "Barrel, Mirror, Telephone"
In three sentences or less describe the barrel. In three sentences or less describe the mirror. Where is the telephone? Describe what happens.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.