Writing Exercise for a Wednesday: Mimicry and Gap Analysis

Evil Monkey says “do this or else”:

– Choose a chapter or scene from your favorite novel.

– Photocopy it so you can easily place it on your typing stand. (For even more interesting results, perform this entire exercise in longhand.)

– Now retype the chapter or scene verbatim.

– Set aside your retyped version. Set aside the photocopy of the chapter or scene.

– Now type the chapter or scene again, from memory. Worry less about remembering the exact words than getting the mood and tone right, but do try to reconstruct it as the author intended it. (This part doesn’t work if you have a photographic memory, you freak.)

– Compare your reimagined version to the original.

What did you learn? Report back between now and Sunday.

15 comments on “Writing Exercise for a Wednesday: Mimicry and Gap Analysis

  1. I learned that my printer is still broken, and that I give up easily when it comes to repairing printers.

  2. You know, this is what Ben Franklin used to do. Except, you know, not with a computer.

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    JM: Evil Monkey is going to come to your house and slap the living crap out of you. No whining. Use your own blood for ink if you have to. Write it on banana leaves. Send it out via the river in a bottle.

  4. If Evil Monkey is coming over, can you ask him to bring some whiskey with him? I’m running low.

    I’ll just be polishing my shotgun collection while I wait. Don’t mind me. *whistles nonchalantly*

  5. Evil Monkey carries a 50mm machine gun with him, a howitzer, a gatling gun, and 500 tons of dynamite. You’ll be fully integrated with your shotgun collection.

    In lighter news–your best of list is now online and I’ll post about it in a sec.


  6. David Moles says:

    If I were a cruel workshop instructor, I’d make the whole class do this with “Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote.

  7. I’ve actually, in seriousness, done this exercise a lot with poetry.

    From Ann Sexton, I learned exactly how one is supposed to use similes and metaphors correctly. Especially metaphors.

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    LOL! Now, that’s a splendid idea.

  9. You know, David, that actually has gotten me thinking that I might try to do that. That would be surreal.

  10. It’s actually not the same doing it for poetry–not as immersive because you’re not dealing with as much text. Also, the effect is different for each book you do the exercise with because each book has a different level of complexity, and different approaches. Which is why it’s a useful exercise for writers at any stage of their career. I still use it to break down text and inhabit it when I want to know exactly how a technique or “hive” of techniques works.

    Anyway, if anyone does it, report back. Then we’ll talk about the more advanced reasons why you do something like this, and unintended results.

  11. Bill Ectric says:

    I’ll try it later on tonight.

  12. Timblynod says:

    I learned that I should really find a different favorite book. That technique is paramount, and that I need to go weep in some quiet corner for a while.

  13. Jessica says:

    I learned that:

    – the passage I chose (the scene in Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” where Nell fills Constable Moore in on what she learned about intelligence and then leaves for China) wasn’t so much atmospheric as much as it was practically a Socratic dialogue…so it was hard for me to capture the “feel” of the scene
    – I really suck at all the extended, almost overly-detailed descriptions that Stephenson excels at and as a result, mine was practically an abbreviated version of the key points in the scene

    Makes me feel that if I’d taken more time to flesh out the setting and descriptions of the characters…that would have gone a long way to setting up the mood itself. For some reason, I thought of this exercise as one to do in a hurry.

    Anyway, great ieda ^_^ That was the first writing exercise I’ve done in a long time. Fun.

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