Playing with styles and genres

This writing exercise gives you an excuse to play with styles and genres.

To start with you will need a short passage. It could be one you have been working on and want to experiment with, or it could be one from a story or a film that you admire. It could even be something you have observed recently. It doesn’t need to contain a story – though it might – but it does need to have story potential.

Your task is to take your passage and re-write it, or elaborate it in different genres or styles, repeating the exercise a number of times with the same text. You can do this all at once, but it’s probably more fun to spread the exercise out over several different sessions. Then you can come fresh to your passage each time. You may also surprise yourself by thinking of new ways to tackle the passage while you rest between sessions.

You might write your passage as a noir detective story, as a romance, as a YA fantasy, as a war-time thriller. Or you might write it as if by a Victorian academic, as if by a modern 10-year-old, as by an immigrant, as if by a labourer who is unused to writing. You might write it as a monologue or as a dialogue, but without any description – only the words spoken. You might write it as if reporting a dream, or in the style of a police witness statement. It’s entirely up to you.

Hopefully, the more you repeat the exercise the the more you will find that you extend your range.

If you like, share one of your efforts below, but mostly this is an exercise for your desk drawer.

You can choose any passage at all, but here are three examples in case you can’t come up with a scene of your own.

Colours

Rastafarian man in a rastacap with a street sign behind
Rastacap

A young black man in faded jeans, a jeans jacket and trainers is standing, waiting to cross at a pedestrian crossing. On his head he wears a large, knitted rastacap in bands of green, yellow, red and black. On the opposite side of the street, also waiting to cross, is a man with his daughter. The man is unremarkable, but the little girl is dressed for a Halloween party – in mid-September – all in orange and black with a stand-out net skirt, leggings, t-shirt and a hair band with two pumpkins on springs that vibrate above her head. On her feet are yellow trainers covered in sequins. The lights change. The two parties cross the road. As they pass, the Rastafarian guy and the little girl high-five one another.

The interview

It’s a darkened room lit mostly by a strip light on a wall off to one side. The light is bluish and there is cigarette smoke in the air. The interviewee enters the room and the interviewer, who has been standing, smoking, drinking from a small cup, invites the other man to sit as he takes his own seat behind the table. The interviewer is middle-aged, middle-class, dressed for the office in jacket, shirt and tie, but he looks tired. His tie is loose, the top button of his shirt is undone. The interviewee is more heavy-set, with unshaven cheeks and a ragged moustache. He is wearing work clothes. He is much less at ease. The interviewer activates devices on the table.
“I get kind of nervous when I take tests,” the interviewee confesses.
“Just please don’t move,” the interviewer says.

Kitchen sink drama

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy. I can’t say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left. And I have found that sitting in a place where you have never sat before can be inspiring – I wrote my very best poem while sitting on the hen-house. Though even that isn’t a very good poem. I have decided my best poetry is so bad that I mustn’t write any more of it.

A street scene - a man bicycles from a peaceful, friendly street into a dystopian street with armed police and graffiti on the walls
Street scene conversion

Sources

  • Kitchen sink drama is the first paragraph of Dodie Smith’s 1948 novel I Capture the Castle.
  • The interview is adapted from the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 1984 film Bladerunner.
  • Colours is something I saw happen in the street near where I live just a couple of weeks ago.

Image sources

The Rastafarian in his rastacap is from Unsplash, credit to Belinda Fewings.

“Street scene conversion” is a collage of my own with some help from Photoshop and some from Lunapic. The base image is from Unsplash, credit to Ignacio Amenábar. The additional images are: soldier, Wikimedia Commons, credit to MilitaryManR6; Joker graffiti, Wikimedia Commons, credit to Steve Collis.


Here are a couple of other writing prompts from my Pens Around the World friends. Back in May, Kimberly suggested Hanging out with Your Characters – and finding how they’re hurting – as a way to develop them further. Whilst back in January, Michael suggested a way to get yourself around a writer’s block in Forcing the idea onto the page.

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