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Exercise: Lights Out! (update)

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: Rhéal Nadeau and updated by Patricia Johnson
Posted on: Sun, 21 Nov 2004
Reposted on: Sun, 20 Nov 2005

This exercise falls into the "Involving the senses" series.

Involving all the senses is a powerful tool to liven up our writing and draw in the reader. Too often, however, writers limit themselves to visual descriptions and dialogue. This yields a world with no taste, no smell, no texture.

One way to explore the senses is to imagine what things would be like without them. So for this exercise, write a scene where the character(s) can't see, for whatever reason (blindness, darkness, whatever.) How would that person perceive the world? (This exercise is similar to the one involving total silence found at http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/pwarchive/pw7.shtml .)

Try to use all the other senses: smell, taste, touch, hearing. Show the experience, don't just narrate it.

When critiquing, mention specifics about how the story addressed the absence of vision: was the story's approach unique, believable; was the absence of vision and the presence of the other senses successful within the story or not and why.

Recommended word limit: 300 words.

Have fun!

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Wed, 22 Dec 2004

Thanks to everyone who participated in Lights Out!

The Lights Out! critiques noted the emphasis we put on the sense of sight when we write stories, sometimes at the expense of details from the other four senses. One critique noted a story might work as creative non-fiction. Another mentioned showing needed to be balanced with telling in the submissions. Critiques explored the problems that a sighted person might easily overlook. Tension was introduced with small details and the emotions of the narrator. One critique mentioned the way hearing and the sense of smell sharpen immediately in the dark.

This run of the exercise was successful. The subtle and sometimes covert inclusion of sensory details added interest to submissions. A solid point of view helped make stories natural and realistic. Writing was so well-polished that in many of the stories it did not seem to be for an exercise assignment. Endings of some stories were powerful. The narrators stayed focused on what was important to the story. Clever set-ups with unusual sensory details led to expanded story possibilities. Stories used emotions to produce suspense, employed humor and emotional restraint. Stories applied many layers of character and sensory detail to be convincing.

For next time let's use dictionaries and a thesaurus to select words that will provide the best sensory information. Use several sensory details for each of the senses; for instance, note more than one smell, while remembering to include all the senses within the story. Keep the story line moving. Perhaps use narration to reveal sensory information. Use the beginning, middle and end of the story to reveal the different senses. Keep the experiences immediate and real by mixing some telling into the showing. Stick to the assignment instructions.

Thanks to everyone who participated this time.

Patricia L. Johnson

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.