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Exercise: Negative Capability

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: July 5, 2003

Have you ever read a poem or a story and wondered if it could be rewritten to produce an opposite story from the original? Have you written a poem or story that might work well if it were switched to bring out the opposite ideas? This new and opposite story or poem is like a photograph negative, most of the features and images of the scene are reversed. As if we have created a new reality, we seem to be gazing at something faintly recognizable, but also totally different -- eerie and unfamiliar.

What would it be like to rethink a novel to its opposite? What would To Kill a Mockingbird look like in reverse? What if the trial had turned out differently? What if Boo Radley were really evil? What if the lawyer had been against the man he defended? Each of us might imagine a totally different outcome to this story, depending on each of our unique imaginations. Consider a poem, for instance, Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven. How different it would be if the character of the black raven were a white dove; if Lenore were sitting beside her lover, sipping tea. This is almost humorous, but it illustrates how writing a negative of a work can bring into existence a brand new story or poem.

This week's exercise is to take a poem or a story that you have written or one that another author has written and write the opposite of it. Give a lot of thought to the plot or the poem's main theme, and how it will change; how characters' personalities will change. How these changes influence the finished work. Then in 300 words tell the new story. Remember to keep author's copyrights by mentioning the original, instead of putting the original in your submission. If you have a URL where we can read the poem or story, then put the URL in the submission. If you do not, then tell us the main plot or poem ideas. If you are using one of your own stories or poems, then put the original in at the beginning of your submission so we can compare it to the new, opposite story.

When critiquing the submissions, tell if you found the new work to be believable. Did it change enough to be the opposite, the negative of the original? In what ways did the characters change? Which version did you find more compelling and why? Would you have done anything differently?

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: July 17, 2003

Thanks to all the participants in last week's Negative Capability exercise.

The stories submitted used poems, fairy tales, dreams, paintings, opposing story forms, tonal variations, and historical period fiction as starting points for reversals into an opposite story line.

This was the first run for this exercise, and several concerns should be acknowledged. In writing the opposite story it was noted that often a portion of a story sufficed, often a whole story or all the characters would have been too involved for the 300-word limit of the exercise. In the area of critique instructions, it was noted that believability may not be a necessary criteria for fiction and for this exercise.

Some of the developments noted in the exercise were that it opened the imagination, allowed for a variety of different forms in which to express the opposite story line, and some readers became inspired to research for more information on the original from which a story was derived.

Some of the opposite stories seemed more compelling to critiquers than the original from which they were created. Even critiquers who were relatively unfamiliar with poetry found the poem form of the exercise interesting to critique and this leads me to wonder if the poetic form is best suited to this exercise.

Again thanks for your great participation.

Patricia L. Johnson

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