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NaNo 2006 Winner
Exercise #201

Exercise #201: Craft
Posted 3/2/07

It’s happened to all of us. We’re deep in the world of another author’s book, or tangled in the maze of activity in a good movie. Then bam! we’re thrown out. What happened?

Something told our logical mind, “Wait, that can’t happen.” For my father, it was always technical impossibilities: an old revolver firing nine rounds, a touring motorcycle chasing the bad guys across desert terrain, the prisoner bending the cage bars to get free. For me, it’s anything my analytical nature has trouble logically fitting into the world I’m currently visiting. For instance, in the novel I’m reading, a science fiction geneticist has created a race of creatures by mutating the genes of an already-existing species of animal. These are her “children.” She finds one on a chain and has a fit (something I’d expect, given what I know of her nature; after all, would you chain Lassie or a Wiggle?).

However, then she asks the “owner” of this creature, “Why is it on a chain?” Would you call one of your “children” an it? I was thrown out of the world, back into reality, my mind shaking its figurative head. The geneticist I’ve come to know and love wouldn’t say such a thing.

And sure enough, two lines later, she informs the owner that the creature on the chain is not an “it,” she’s a she. (But wait, didn’t she just call it an “it” herself, not a paragraph ago?)

As writers, we strive for suspension of disbelief in our audience. Jurassic Park would have been a comedy if we couldn’t believe that dinosaurs could be brought back to life, at least for two hours. We seek continuity. If it’s snowing at the end of chapter two, it had better be snowing, or thawing, in chapter three, not summer on the beach (unless we’re changing POVs). Our characters build up a way of life, their own mannerisms, during the time the reader is in our world. We need to see that our character’s style stays consistent.

Have you ever seen an exhibition where talented performers were messing up on purpose? Clowns in a rodeo, a Disney-on-Ice skating show, or maybe Jean Stapleton torturing that awful theme song note from All in the Family? It takes a truly skilled artist to “mess up” and make it look (or sound) good.

Your challenge today is to write something compelling. Hook the reader, draw them into your world, make them live there for a moment. Then, mess it up. Break the continuity, give the technical items something impossible to do, have a character act out of . . . well, character. Snap the reader out of your world, on purpose. For this SUB, be that very talented ice skater in a Goofy costume, tripping and stumbling, by design. Don’t have a world to draw someone into? Drop me a line and I’ll give you a couple of scenarios.

Critiquers, tell your author where you were snapped back into the present, which line put you back into your computer chair. Try to define what it was that sent you out.

Word limit: 1200
Please use the subject line
    SUB: Exercise #201/yourname

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