Thursday, September 24, 2009

Real Writers Kill Dogs

I want to recommend a book for anyone who is serious about fiction writing. It’s called “What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers” (Bernays/Painter).

One of the authors, Pam Painter, taught the weeklong fiction workshop I attended at Ghost Ranch in August. I’ve been a writer for 30 years and the exercises gave me completely different insight into writing techniques and revitalized all aspects of my writing.

There are too many brilliant exercises to mention but the one that’s on my mind is called Kill the Dog.

The authors write: “If you want to write serious fiction, you have to kill the neighbor’s dog. In fiction there is no avoiding the malevolent. In fact, there are very few states of mind or motivation that lie beyond your reach. You should be able to describe a tree, cooking a gourmet meal or slaughtering an animal, for one reason or another, you want to get rid of. Just as an actor assumes the role of a killer and makes him plausible, dispatch the animal convincingly and without flinching.”

YIKES! The emotional and physical reactions I had to reading that chapter were many: revulsion, horror, fear, anxiety, anger.

I still haven’t attempted this exercise. But I completely understand the need to stretch beyond the limits of what is comfortable.

In my novel, God Doesn’t Like Sweet Cornbread, the protagonist has been sexually assaulted by her father for 10 years. It’s not a pretty subject. In fact, some days I’m emotionally spent after spending time in Cissy’s head.

What do you think of this exercise? Have you written on difficult subjects, even put yourself in the shoes of a killer, villain or sleaze ball?

1 comment:

  1. I haven't tried it, but I was in a writing group some years ago where one of the members, a man who had been sexually abused by his father, wrote fiction, drawing on his experience. It was wonderfully compelling, but excruciating. Reading it, I wondered how someone could live through that again.

    I know I don't like sweet cornbread - didn't know God felt the same way, but would like to read it just to find out why!