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Exercise: Hush!

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: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Mon, 19 Feb 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 7 Apr 2002
Reposted on: Sat, 1 Mar 2003
Reposted on: Sun, 13 Feb 2005

This assignment deals with "involving the senses", but in a different way.

Describing the absence of something can be as hard as describing something that is there.

In this exercise, describe total silence, without using the word "silence" or "quiet" or other synonyms. You are free to use any setting you wish, and to make the silence as ominous or as welcome as you choose. Limit your exercise to 300 words.

Extra-curricular activity: during quiet moments, listen carefully. What do you hear? (Total silence is rare.) Can you identify all the sounds?

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 25 Feb 2001

Well, the week for the silence exercise has ended, and I must say I'm impressed with the results.

Thirteen people have tackled this exercise with very varied approaches. We've had people becoming deaf, silence through weather phenomena, and silence as a metaphor for life - for its problems or for its breaks from routine or chaos. (And an amazing number of critiques for those submissions.)

It is obvious that this was not an easy exercise; I know I found it a challenge to answer myself. So congratulations to everyone who did submit a text!

I'll add a general comment, which applies to these exercises in general as much as to this specific topic.

Last week, reading the submissions on the characterization exercise, I was struck over and over again by how a character can't exist in a vacuum, but needs a setting - a context.

This week's submissions reinforced that thought. What is silence? There can be no silence without a listener; and the silence will mean different things based on who's listening, and what that person's situation is. The silence in a quiet snowfall will mean something different from the silence before a major storm; deafness will affect someone newly deaf differently than someone born deaf. Experience - and story - comes from the interaction of character, situation, and setting.

Finally, speaking as a participant and not as a teacher or admin, I would encourage all of you to use these exercises as a way to let loose, to explore, to try something different from our normal writing. My biggest problem as a writer has been too much restraint, too much second guessing; it's been a lot of fun to me to start with a thought, a specific challenge, then let the words flow and see what happens. I really believe that this list is a good place to let our hair down, and push our own limits. Who knows - we may like where that takes us!

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: April 15, 2002

This has (as always) been an interesting week, with a broad variety of approaches to the topic of silence. Some of the submissions introduced silence with a bang, others with a whisper. Certainly, we've seen a lot of situations where a character might encounter silence (though in some of the submissions, we did not get total silence, as I had intended, but rather the absence of some specific sound, desired or feared. This is not necessarily a bad thing, the exercises are meant to exercise creativity and the different interpretations of the concept of silence did not invalidate those submissions.)

Some submissions very successfully showed what it was like not to hear, permanently or for a moment. Others weren't as successful; in some, in particular, the scene described all the sounds the character was NOT hearing, creating a point-of-view problem and weakening the text (in my view.)

I hope all the participants have found the exercise useful.


Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: March 8, 2003

I don't know exactly why, but I always enjoy running this exercise and seeing the submissions. It's certainly a challenging exercise - and our members rise to the challenge with imagination and creativity. Some, of course, are more successful than others - but if any of us were perfect writers, we certainly wouldn't need this list.

Two things were highlighted in particular this week. First off, there are indeed very few scenes that are totally quiet (and in such a situation, our brains would make up sounds for us to hear!) Nevertheless, many people managed to find situations where silence reigned, if only for a moment. Others managed scenes with quiet (or sometimes no more than relative quiet); some of these nevertheless successfully described peace.

Second, quite a few submissions used contrast as a tool to describe silence. Since it's hard to describe the absence of something, adding a contrast between the quiet scene and the noise and bustle that surrounds it was often very effective.

As always, my congratulations to everyone who participated! Now, on to the next week...

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Modified by Gayle Surrette.