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Writing: Creative

Animal Play

In honor—sort of, sideways—of Groundhog Day1, here is a zoological playwrighting exercise.

  1. Write a scene for three non-human animals. (Make these characters original; i.e. no Simba, no Babe, no Gromit, etc.) They can all have human intelligence and talk, but they must retain the fullness of their bestial natures.

  2. Revise the scene for human characters, adding a human situation and setting—but keep as much of the original dialogue as possible intact. You may sublimate specific lines and actions when the only alternative is gaudiness or utter violation of character, but make every effort to keep, one way or another, all the animality of the first version.


  1. According to AccuWeather, Punxsutawney Phil has an 80% accuracy rate. According to Punxsutawney Phil, AccuWeather’s biting, blustery forecast for this February and March, 2013, is hot air. Early spring this year, says Phil. 

Women Writers

No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough.
—bell hooks, Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work

The Sevenfold Structure of All But the Most Outrageously Experimental Plots

The Sevenfold Structure of All But the Most Outrageously Experimental Plots


  1. Exposition / Setting: what is the status quo? Introduce characters, establish relationships and set the scene in which will occur a totally unexpected . . .

  2. Complication: some new element — an event, new information, new problem, often the appearance of the antagonist, — which in turn sparks a . . .

  3. Purpose: something set off in the protagonist (and possibly the same or an opposing purpose set off in one or a few others) by the introduction of the new element (i.e. the complication) that both points to an as-yet unrevealed motive, and generates a super-objective for the character(s).


  1. Conflict & Rising Action: a function of opposing objectives between characters, or between the character(s) and some other force. This is the classic man vs . . . theme: man vs. man (Connell, The Most Dangerous Game; W.C. Williams, The Use of Force; Crane, The Blue Hotel; Shaw, The Girls in Their Summer Dresses); man vs. himself (Charles Jackson, The Lost Weekend; Joyce, Eveline; Barth, Night-Sea Journey; Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart); man vs. environment (including man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. fate, man vs. machine, &c . . . : Orwell, 1984; Vonnegut, Harrison Bergeron; London, To Build a Fire; Salinger, A Perfect Day for Bananafish; Sophocles, Oedipus Rex & Oedipus at Colonus; traditional, John Henry).

The meat of the plot occurs through the Rising Action, which is an escalating dialectic between the protagonist as driven by his purpose, and the forces working against that purpose. In effect, the protagonist tries something, is frustrated by the forces of the antagonist’s counter-purpose (or the story’s obstacle), and there is a result from this, which, in turn, sparks the protagonist to try something else, to which the forces of the counter-purpose or obstacle respond . . . &c. At each stage of the rising action the stakes increase, as does the drama & pathos (& absurdity, if a comedy). This continues until the protagonist reaches a . . .

  1. Crisis: figuratively, a dark night of the soul. This is when all seems lost, hopeless (that is, for the accomplishment of the protagonist’s objective), because the protagonist has run out his standard repertoire of ideas & actions to take: the status quo will no longer work; the conflict can escalate no further.


  1. Climax: In response to the crisis, the protagonist takes some action outside the realm of normal behavior (normal for him, that is — i.e. outside the boundaries of the established status quo), in a final confrontation between the conflicting characters/forces. Out of this final confrontation comes the . . .

  2. Resolution / Denouement: the settling of the conflict; the bringing to light of dark motives; the learning of lessons. The status quo, as a result, is forever changed by the occurrence (or knowledge of) the preceding conflict & climax; thus the plot ends with a fundamental change of condition: marriage (Philip Barry, The Philadelphia Story); death (Shakespeare, Hamlet); rebirth (Homer, Odyssey); sadder & wiser (Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner); freedom (E.J. Gaines, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman); &c.


Obviously the particular expressions of this sevenfold structure will differ from plot to plot. For example, in Stephan Crane’s story The Blue Hotel, between the crisis and the climax comes a second exposition. In John Updike’s A & P, the complication is introduced in the very first sentence (“In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits”). Both of these stories, however, make full use of all seven plot elements, as do all but the most outrageously experimental works of fiction and drama.

If you’re writing a story, a plot can germinate from any one of the above stages.


Words do not label things already there. Words are like the knife of a carver: they free the idea, the thing, from the general formlessness of the outside. As a man speaks, not only is his language in a state of birth, but also the very thing about which he is talking.

— Inuit Wisdom

What is Poetry?

. . . it is not meters, but a meter-making argument that makes a poem,—a thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing. The thought and the form are equal in the order of time, but in the order of genesis the thought is prior to the form. The poet has a new thought; he has a whole new experience to unfold; he will tell us how it was with him, and all men will be the richer in his fortune. For the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Poet

Thoughts on the Art of Playwrighting

Relation Between the Characters’ Lives and the Playwright’s Themes

The life & action on stage should emerge & proceed affectively, propelled by palpable (not conceptual) desires. Subject thought to feeling and word to deed rather than the other way around. Even Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, possibly the most intellectual character in the English-speaking theatre (Nils Bohr notwithstanding), as a character wants the monastic peace & quiet of a simple life in the country so that he is free every day to tell God how much he (Thomas) loves him, as if God were a beloved father & wife all in one. Sir Thomas has been called by the ultimate & most beloved authority to think & pray as a vocation, and he WANTS to read & speak his devotions the way a born mathematician yearns for the airy freedom of numbers away from the muddy entanglements of the mundane ground. Sir Thomas wants to protect himself & his family from sin, stay out of Hell, maintain good graces with the King of kings. When threatened by the worldly king, Henry VIII, as well as by the serpent-wolf Lord Cromwell, Sir Thomas will subordinate his elegant speech to the actions of a fox: he will evade, not confront, as Cromwell sets iron trap after iron trap.

The playwright, Robert Bolt, was probably writing thematically about things like individual & intellectual freedom. He originally wrote A Man for All Seasons as a radio play in 1954, and, again thematically, I hear a vigorous reproof of McCarthyism.

Bolt imagined & constructed lives full of feeling, wants, & fears, and ended up with a play of high-flying ideals.

Instant Poetry Exercise: Creation

A way to create instant poetry. Write one or more lines for each of the following prompts:

  1. Think of something―any noun. Write it down.
  2. Plant it as a seed in the ground. What will it grow into?
  3. As its Creator, ask a question the seed must answer in order to be born.
  4. As the seed, answer.
  5. As Creator, command it.
  6. The seed grows. In the voice of the new thing that has grown, define yourself.
  7. Someone passes by, sees the new entity, and exclaims: “________________!”
  8. Above all, the new entity wants ________________.
  9. Uh oh. ___________ wants the opposite, and hurls ___________ at the new entity.
  10. As witness to this act of creation, respond to what you’ve encountered here.

“Here the frailest leaves of me”

Here the frailest leaves of me

Here the frailest leaves of me and yet my strongest lasting,
Here I shade and hide my thoughts, I myself do not expose them,
And yet they expose me more than all my other poems.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

The Passions of Poetry

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. . . . [However,] the Poet ought to profit by the lesson held forth to him, and ought especially to take care, that whatever passions he communicates to his Reader, those passions . . . should always be accompanied with an overbalance of pleasure. Now the music of harmonious metrical language, the sense of difficulty overcome, and the blind association of pleasure which has been previously received from works of rhyme or meter of the same or similar construction . . . —all these imperceptibly make up a complex feeling of delight, which is of the most important use in tempering the painful feeling always found intermingled with powerful descriptions of the deeper passions. This effect is always produced in pathetic and impassioned poetry; while, in lighter compositions, the ease and gracefulness with which the Poet manages his numbers are themselves confessedly a principal source of the gratification of the Reader. All that it is necessary to say, however, upon this subject, may be effected by affirming, what few persons will deny, that, of two descriptions, either of passions, manners, or characters, each of them equally well executed, the one in prose and the other in verse, the verse will be read a hundred times where the prose is read once.

William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads

Short Story Elements

You can use this form to take notes while reading (or planning to write) a short story:







Other characters:






Plot structure, including important events:

Status quo:


Protagonist’s purpose, & counter-purpose of antagonist(s):

Conflict, & summary of events in rising action:



Resolution & dénouement:













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