Practice-W Exercise Archives
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
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
detective stories he could get his hands on and then rewriting them in
own style in order to learn the technique and see how it was done. He
this for months on end, with no intention to publish.
So, the assignment this week is to rewrite the following excerpt in
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
door, and determines it is his neighbor, Mr. Gatsby.
"I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner,
would do for an introduction. But I didn't call to him, for he gave a
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
have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward---and
distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and faraway,
might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby
had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness."
That passage is flawless; it can't possible be improved. There's a
of mystery about Gatsby---he is seen only in shadow -- and also a sense
almost magic in the way he appears and disappears. There is an
strong emotion associated with the man, the way he 'trembles' as he
stretches his arms across the water. There is further mystery in the
light he appears to be reaching toward. At this point, we know nothing
Gatsby, yet few characters in fiction have ever made such an impressive
For the exercise, in 300 words or less, take a character from a
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
easy one. Fitgerald's reputation is still safe, but everyone who
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
say. But I think it can also be used to spur one's own writing when one
stuck. The exercise doesn't have to involve introducing a
take any piece of writing that you admire, and try to duplicate---with
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
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
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
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
another character provided the mystery. Unpredictable and contradictory
behavior developed the character's mystery and awe. The more careful
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
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
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
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
providing helpful critiques.
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Rhéal Nadeau and
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Modified by Gayle Surrette.