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Exercise: Sing me a story (revised)

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Patricia Johnson, and updated by Pam Hauck.
Posted on: Sun, 10 Oct 2004

Where do we get our ideas for a story? Inspiration can come from nature, from our own life experiences, or from creative works of others. If we are inspired by someone else's work, we have to consider their rights. Anything we use must be made into our own original work. Picasso was famous for borrowing ideas from other's works and from the world around him. If we look at his paintings, we can see the influence of his study of African masks and Greek art. Picasso took an idea and instead of making a copy, he used his talent and creativity to make it his own.

Writers borrow ideas from all aspects of life to turn into fresh new works. One example is Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres. Her novel is based on Shakespeare's King Lear, but has been updated to a modern Iowa family's struggle to keep their farm. It is so original and imaginative that it received a Pulitzer Prize. Another example would be the recent movie by the Coen brothers titled O Brother Where Art Thou? This is based on Homer's Odyssey. This update takes place in America's Deep South with the adventures of prison escapees during the depression. Although the original ideas from the Odyssey are present in the story, it is definitely not Homer's work. Poems can succinctly express ideas that are often found in novels. There is a power in poetry to evoke a whole story in a very few words. Since every sentence of a poem is saturated with meaning, it is easy to find enough material for a story within even a short poem. This exercise will transform a poem or song lyric into an original story.

Examples of poems that translate well into stories include lyrics to songs, children's nursery rhymes, ballads, historical poems, and poems based on legends like the poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas'. Read it in the exercise titled 'Everyone's A Poet' archived at Practice-W: http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/pwarchive/pw49.shtml Review that exercise for poetry information that will help you in preparing this story. A helpful article on poetry appreciation is at the Borzoi Reader, written by Kenneth Koch. Here is the URL: http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/authors/koch/poetsonpoetry.html

If you do not have a poem or song in mind, you may wish to select one of these: - Shakespeare's Sonnet 43 at Bartleby.com http://www.bartleby.com/70/50043.html - Emily Dickinson's Poem 48 at Bartleby.com http://www.bartleby.com/113/1048.html - William Wordsworth at Bartleby.com http://www.bartleby.com/106/251.html

If you use copyrighted material, mention the poem/song that was the source of inspiration, but do not type it in the submission. If you choose a song, follow this public domain rule: most compositions registered between 1906 and 1922 are in the public domain even though they are not yet 95 years old. Songs after 1922 are copyrighted.

For Public Domain information, visit this site: http://www.pdinfo.com/copyrt.htm

Exercise: Use one of your own poems, song lyrics, or another author's poem to write a fresh and unique story. You can use an extracted portion of a song or poem or the whole work, keeping in mind that your story will have length constraints. From the original work, find at least three references that are central to the poem and rework these into your own creative story. Don't list the reference points. Leave it up to critiquers to find them. Try for a story of about 300 words. Follow all copyright laws.

Critiques: When you critique a story, mention at least three references central to the poem that were reworked into the story. Comment on how well the poem's devices translate into story form. Critique whether or not the main idea of the original poem is at the heart of the new story; and whether other characteristics from the poem might be incorporated into the story.

Have fun, remember, we are all poets!

Pam Hauck 's wrap-up
Posted on: Sat, 16 Oct 2004

Thanks to all who participated and helped make this week's exercise a success.

Everyone did a great job developing a story using reference points from a poem or song lyrics. Some stories stuck close to the original poem or song. Others used the three reference points and let the story take on a life of its own.

Even after a revision, this remains a complicated exercise. Once again, there was somewhat of a misunderstanding with the directions. We will remove "Comment on how well the poem's devices translate into story form" before we run this again. The objective of the exercise is to create a new story using the three reference points, not to use the same devices.

Hopefully, the submissions and critiques have helped all of us learn more about where we can find ideas for characters and stories.

I appreciate everyone's response and wish you all the best with your submissions.

Pam Hauck

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