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Exercise: Sing me a story

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
Posted on: March 10, 2002

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, a song lyric, 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. When you critique a story, mention these central characteristics. 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. Try for a story of about 300 words. Follow all copyright laws. Have fun, remember, we are all poets!

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: March 16, 2002

Hello Practice-w members,

Thanks to all you brave people who submitted an exercise this week. This was a complicated exercise and everyone put forth admirable efforts.

There was somewhat of a misunderstanding with the directions. My intent was to have the critiquer do all the hard work of finding the reference points to the song or poem without having them listed in the submission. Many submissions outlined the reference points.

It was sometimes a challenge to find the song or poem and read it without putting the original in the submission. Most everyone did an excellent job with this. Some people gave detailed histories of the song or poem. This was interesting and added to the exercise in an unforeseen way.

The stories varied as in several ways both from other submissions and from the original song or poem. Some stories stuck closely to the original poem/song. Others used the poem/song as a starting point from which the story took a totally different direction. Sometimes the story used concrete images from the original, and sometimes intangible ideas and concepts were used. Dialogue was used heavily, and in other stories mood and tone and voice were the decisive elements. Some stories brought out different ideas and emotions from the poem/song, but kept surface details. I think the most successful element of this exercise was that each writer brought their unique perspective to it. Creativity and originality definitely come through in the submissions.

Most of the critiques were detailed and focused on the translation of the original work into the author's own work. As Val mentioned to me, having the critiquer find the references without having them listed in the submission by the writer helps the writer determine how successful he/she was in reinventing the original.

In some cases the critiquer interpreted the poem/song in a different way form the writer. This made some critiquers focus on the two works separately. Mood, style, and atmosphere of the were the opposite of the poem/song in some of the stories. Some critiquers noted that occasionally certain feelings in the lyrics and verses were not easy to capture in story form. One critiquer mentioned that if the reader did not read the original poem/song, the interpretation of the story would be very different.

I think the writers tapped into their unique creativity in the submissions. The main focus of this exercise was to make a poem/song into your own work and I think this was well accomplished by all. Thanks for submitting, and congratulations on tackling a tough exercise. I hope everyone enjoyed and learned, I know I did.

Patricia Johnson

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