Friday, April 8, 2011

Haiku or Bust

It's been a while since I posted here on SFD, but I've gotten a bit of inspiration. I belong to Off Campus Writers' Workshop (lucky me), the oldest continuously running writing workshop in the country. We currently boast about 200 members and each Thursday morning between September and early May, we host a speaker. Two-and-a-half hours of graduate level classes on topics from technique to pitching to marketing (plus everything in between) for 8 bucks ($10 for nonmembers, so if you are ever in the northern Chicago suburbs on a Thursday morning, you should drop in — we welcome all comers).

On March 31, we heard Janice Del Negro, storyteller extraordinaire. Her topic was ostensibly "Building Inspiration: The practical construction of creative motivation", but it was so much more than that. That's the thing about OCWW — you never know what you might learn from a speaker.

One exercise Janice had us try was to write the entire plot of a story in Haiku — that 5-7-5 poem format. She recommended that we use a fairytale or folk tale, since the plots are so familiar. This is not a traditional form for me by any means, and I tried Goldilocks, but didn't like the outcome. Of course, one of the points of the exercise was to avoid perfection and just do it (i.e., create a SFD), but that's not my best thing either. So I tried a different story — my favorite story, so it is very familiar to me: The Great Gatsby. Here's my effort:

Gatsby wants Daisy
Nick visits, Tom cheats, three die
Dreams live best as dreams

Whether you like my haiku or not, it proved to be a lightbulb moment for me. First, I think this is a great exercise for creating your elevator pitch for your book/novel/story/script.

Second, it showed me that I have to know my story as well as I know Fitzgerald's masterpiece — so well that I could distill it down to 17 syllables.

Third, that I need to hone my story until it is concrete enough, substantial enough in its theme and plot, to be expressed in 17 syllables.

Thank you, Janice. If you like this exercise, feel free to take a crack at it in the comments.

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