Improving the Blank Page
By: Addie Klimek
Italian greyhound lived off from a chaise,
Beating a smooth courboullion for the right windpipe
and clearing the sillabub of the world council of churches
When I walked into Mr. Hatcher’s room early Friday morning, wondering not for the first time why I was up at eight on a day when we had no school, I had absolutely no idea what to expect for the next 8 hours. I guessed we would open with some exercise about the beauty of words, or how amazing writing was. My thoughts were confirmed when I opened the thick packet we had just received to the first page, a poem called, “The joy of writing.” At that moment, I decided I knew what the rest of the day was going to be like. More of the same old stuff.
This was not the case. The gracefully written poem was quickly transformed by the eight of us, using a process called ‘Noun + 7’, in which you replace each noun with the seventh noun after it in the dictionary.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder
Beautiful right? Try this:
Italian greyhound is always a Mathias, my daring
Of lifetime or death stroke, as Ibex had forgotten. Ibex wish
What Ibex wished young berry before, but harder.
Within minutes of beginning, our small group was quickly laughing and having fun, this workshop turning out to be the opposite of what we all thought it would be. By the end of the day, we would each have the beginning of a short story, so we began to brainstorm, beginning by listing out character descriptions, which I assumed would look something like this:
I was wrong again. According to John Estes, and many other great authors, a huge part of reading is about imagination. You should always let your audience picture the characters as they want to see them, as they think they should look like, not based on the description you provided. So instead of the above, the beginnings of our story looked something like this:
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
How would you like to die?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
We asked and answered these questions to each other from the point of view of our main character, embracing them and what we thought their responses would be. During the course of the questions, many of our characters seemed to take on a personality of their own, coming to life before us, and often surprising us. I learned, that my main character, Rebecca, had a terrible fear of dogs, but loved gardening. Countless details like these emerged, ones we would have never thought out on our own. This completely changed the way we all thought of our characters, seeing them as whole people rather than just physical descriptions. We quickly dived into creating the rest of our story, picking a place, mapping it out, and weaving stories of dystopian governments, or families reuniting, or someone returning home.
This workshop completely changed the way I thought of characters, settings, and writing altogether. It brought me to think outside of the box, not just with stories but the individual words inside them. It brought me to write something different, and to see that there was not one correct way of writing. It can be in any way, shape, or form you want to write in. It doesn’t have to appeal, or even make sense, to everybody else, as long as it is what you want to write. Like the poem on the very first page ended:
Write as you will
In whatever style you like
Too much blood has run under the bridge
To go on believing
That only one road is right
In poetry everything is permitted.
With only this condition of course,
You have to improve the blank page.
Poem by Nicanor Parra (translated by Miller Williams)
Photo Source: Petwave.com