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Exercise: Remembering change

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
Posted on: April 27, 2003
Reposted on: March 13, 2006

This is part of our "Remembering" series of exercises. The idea behind these exercises is that our own life experiences are primary resources for our writing. How else can we really know what it's like to be happy, afraid, hopeful, disappointed? No amount of research, no amount of reading, can give us that basic material. Learning to remember these experiences, and to draw from them, can therefore be of great value to us as writers (and for that matter, as people.)

First off, you might want to review previous exercises (and the resulting wrap-ups) at http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/pwarchive/index.shtml#know

In previous exercises, we focused on a single emotion or concept: beauty, peace, embarrassment, anticipation, etc. However, the essence of life is change. If things went well all the time, we'd get bored; if things only went wrong, we'd have no reason to go on. This is true in life - and it's true in writing. How long would you keep reading a story where everything went right, or nothing did?

Think of life's reversals. For example, I have often opened a letter from a publisher I'd sent a story to - a story I was sure could not miss - to have my hopes dashed by a standard rejection slip. And conversely, there was the story I was sure would get rejected; when I got the letter of acceptance, I had to read it three times to believe it was real. (In a more serious vein, there was the day I came home, thinking all was fine, to discover my wife had left - how often, in the following period of uncertainty, followed by the separation and divorce, did my hopes get dashed, or my fears turn back to hope?)

So, for this exercise, we ask you to remember, and to describe, a moment when your life took a turn. Perhaps it was a change for the better, or for the worse. (Think of all the cliches to describe such changes: the light at the end of the tunnel, the calm before the storm, hit like a ton of bricks, it's an ill wind that blows no good. Avoid such cliches, of course, but also realize that they reflect a very real part of life.) In no more than 500 words, describe this change to us. This means you'll need to tell us how things were for you initially, what changed, and how that change affected you.

The usual warnings apply:

  • be honest - don't make things up, don't hide things.
  • take the time to remember what it *felt* like, then describe that - the point of the exercise is to remember how we were affected, the emotions we felt.
  • be careful what you write about. Don't pick something that's too painful or embarrassing. On the other hand, don't choose an event so minor or so far away that you can't remember what it felt like at the time. This does not have to be high drama - it just had to be significant at the time.
  • when critiquing, remember that we are dealing with personal moments, so make sure to focus on the writing, on how the emotions are described. Don't question or criticize the emotions themselves, or any actions that might have resulted.

Remember: the key to the exercise is to focus on how those events felt like *at the time*. (If you wish, you can add a short epilogue about how things turned out - this should be no more than 100-150 words, not to be counted as part of the 500 word limit for this exercise.)

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: May 11, 2003

My apologies for being so late with this wrap-up - just too busy lately!

First of all, I realized when I started seeing the submissions that, while we had not explicitly done "Remembering Change" before, many of the submissions we had seen in the Remembering series did fit this topic. A lot of those submissions used change, or contrast between two situations, as a way to explore the particular topic being addressed. This only reinforces the idea behind the exercise: that story (and real life) is really defined by the changes we face.

Certainly, the submissions showed this clearly - and along the way, reminded me that we are always most vulnerable at the time of change (be it a change for the good or the worse - though I believe, personally, that even changes for the worse are often necessary steps towards achieving something better.)

The Remembering exercises require a strange mixture of courage (to face parts of our lives that may have been painful or uncomfortable or embarrassing) with judgement, trying to see things as they really were. On the one hand, we must not embellish the events; on the other, we must present them clearly, create a strong picture. So these submissions will always be a balancing act. The submissions last week met this challenge well.

The other challenge for these exercises is how to critique the submissions. Because we deal with personal moments, with true events, we need to be particularly sensitive - while not being so tentative we offer nothing useful to the writers. Once again, this challenge was well met, on the whole. (There was, however, a tendency towards making broad statements of approval, without getting into specifics; such responses may be welcome, but they don't qualify as true critiques: a real critique will offer the writer something concrete to think about, be it a positive to be reinforced or a negative to be addressed.)

So once again, congratulations to all who participated. And let's not forget, in our writing (whatever we may write), to remember our own lives, since those are our most basic resource.


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