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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Imitation

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.internetwritingworkshop.org/)

Prepared by: Gene Schmidt
Posted on: Sun, 28 Jan 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 22 Feb 2004
Reposted on: Sun, 4 Feb 2006


Raymond Chandler had taught himself to write fiction by selecting the best detective stories he could get his hands on and then rewriting them in his own style in order to learn the technique and see how it was done. He did this for months on end, with no intention to publish.

So, the assignment this week is to rewrite the following excerpt in your own style.

The excerpt is from The Great Gatsby. This is the famous scene where Jay Gatsby makes his first appearance. Nick Carraway, the narrator, is taking the evening air by the ocean after an eventful dinner with the Buchanans. He notices a figure in the shadow strolling across the lawn next door, and determines it is his neighbor, Mr. Gatsby.

"I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn't call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone---he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward---and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and faraway, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness."

That passage is flawless; it can't possible be improved. There's a sense of mystery about Gatsby---he is seen only in shadow -- and also a sense of almost magic in the way he appears and disappears. There is an indication of strong emotion associated with the man, the way he 'trembles' as he stretches his arms across the water. There is further mystery in the green light he appears to be reaching toward. At this point, we know nothing about Gatsby, yet few characters in fiction have ever made such an impressive entrance.

For the exercise, in 300 words or less, take a character from a story you're writing, or make up a totally new character, and have him make a first appearance that is as mysterious and awe-inspiring as Gatsby's.

Gene Schmidt's wrap-up
Posted on: Mon, 5 Feb 2001

I think this exercise went well, considering especially that it is not an easy one. Fitgerald's reputation is still safe, but everyone who contributed did a fine job. I think an exercise like this can be used in two ways: First, it's sort of like 'learning from the Old Masters", as the painters say. But I think it can also be used to spur one's own writing when one is stuck. The exercise doesn't have to involve introducing a character...just take any piece of writing that you admire, and try to duplicate---with your own characters and story---what the author has done. Before you know it you're writing, and that's always a good thing!

Anyway, a good job by all, hope everyone found this exercise helpful.


Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: March 7, 2004

Wrap-up: Imitation (from week of February 21-26)

As many participants' critiques mentioned, this exercise was not easy to accomplish; yet most submissions did a good job of presenting a mysterious character in an awe-inspiring way. Most submissions to the exercise invented innovative character traits and descriptions to accomplish the exercise goals.

Mysteriousness of character was usually present, even though sometimes awe was missing in the stories. Some of the characters were ordinary in physical appearance, but their actions added mystery, breaking stereotypes. Sometimes the way a character was viewed by the narrator or another character provided the mystery. Unpredictable and contradictory behavior developed the character's mystery and awe. The more careful use of action and images led to believable characters. Readers were drawn into stories that developed emotions in characters.

The most successful submissions used many details to enhance mystery and awe in the character. Sometimes clues were given to the reader, some subtly, and some implied which allowed the reader to intuit and deduce. When the writer grabbed the reader's interest in the first few sentences, it drew the reader in and invited further reading. Success occurred when curiosity was peaked, leading to further questions. The use of the devices of setting scene, dialogue, and describing body language revealed characters in more depth. Short and simple presentations were most successful

Some points to strive for the next time we use this exercise would be to focus on a few characters, perhaps only two; keep the narrative voice even and/or believable throughout the story; be succinct; use details that express emotions to provoke interest; eliminate the use of complex devices such as flashbacks; have a mix of action and detail to build the character; use setting as a device; and, move in the story from an overall view of the story to a close-up description of the character.

Thanks to everyone for participating in this difficult exercise, and for providing helpful critiques.

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