Poem Tryouts: A Narrative Slant

05 Nov

7:37 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to The Drifters singing Under the Boardwalk

Hello, all. I have a gorgeous Fall day outside. I’m almost tempted to go out; don’t worry, I’ll quash that. If you were with me last November, you know that during this month I give narrative prompts, to give the NaNoWriMo set something to think about, maybe something to move them forward if they are stuck. I suggest they adapt all the exercises for whatever they are working on. I do realise this means we might not see quite so many things posted.

Poets, do not despair, I shall give you an adaptation for your prompt. You may also do your own adaptation of the exercise.

Today’s exercise might seem a little wacky, but trust me.

A solid structure that underpins and carries the plot forward is one of the biggest challenges for a first-time novelist. The idea of this exercise is to tell you what to write without your worrying about what it does. At the end, when you re-order the paragraphs, you’ll have your story’s structure in miniature and can use it as a mirror against the larger story.

To make it easier for me to set out the steps, I am keeping the original exercise which casts its story around the finding of a body. Novelists, you can replace body with anything: make sure it’s a conflict integral to your story. Don’t try to unravel as you write, just follow the steps A through J.

A.  Write the paragraph that appears just before the discovery of a body.

Or, before he walked out the door; or, before the cows trampled the corn crop; or, before the alien spaceship crash-landed; or, before she signed the will disinheriting her family; or, well, you get the idea.

B.  Write the paragraph that appears just after the discovery of a body.

Or, after he walked out the door; or, after the cows trampled the corn crop; or, after the alien spaceship crash-landed; or, after she signed the will disinheriting her family; or, …

C.  Write the paragraph that appears just before paragraph #A.

D.  Write the dialogue that takes place sometime before paragraph #C.

E.  Write the paragraph that appears just after paragraph #B.

F.  Write the dialogue that takes place sometime after paragraph #E.

G.  Write the first paragraph of the story containing these paragraphs.

H.   Write the last paragraph of the story containing these paragraphs.

I.  Write the paragraph that appears between paragraphs #A and #B.

Number your paragraphs to indicate the proper order of the story:
J.  Complete the story.

The paragraphs should be healthy ones, not sketches. If you find yourself writing more than a paragraph for some steps, that’s fine.

Poets, take the word ‘body’ and look at this page from Scroll down the entire page. They offer new meanings under each apparent repeated, or similar, opening definition. Also, they have a list of 82 quotes that revolve around the meaning of body.

Write your poem with one, or more, of the definitions in mind. Or, pick one of the quotes as your spark. Let us know which one.

If you have not seen the results of last week’s image prompt, stop by to read some. They were a lot of fun to read.

I shall see you Thursday for a talk on narrative structure; Friday for the week’s prompt roundup; and next Tuesday for an exercise on narrative consciousness.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 05/11/2013 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , ,

32 responses to “Poem Tryouts: A Narrative Slant

    • margo roby

      05/11/2013 at 10:18 am

      And, thank god there’s a place you can do that. I haven’t seen it yet, but I hope your afternoon was better.


        05/11/2013 at 12:02 pm

        Yes, it has. My lovely poet friend Kay Cotton came to see us – they’ve been away on Sardinia – and we had a great natter. She also brought loads of poetry magazines she was throwing out.

  1. barbara_y

    05/11/2013 at 1:58 pm

    Actually took a stab at your prose prompt. Pretty pitiful. Not the prompt, which could be useful even to me–my paragraphs don’t even sniff at up to snuff. Back when Ive found the body.

    • margo roby

      05/11/2013 at 2:15 pm

      Mmm. It’s why I stay away from prose. You’ll like the next one better, though. More fun, more scope, involves food.

      • barbara_y

        05/11/2013 at 3:20 pm

        This was fine. Me, with a brain scattered across three prompt zones (if you count 2 Joseph prompts and 2 Robert ones as units. It could be five)
        Does Vit D affect concentration, do you know? apparently I’m vitamin D deficient along with everything else.

        Here’s the effort

        • margo roby

          05/11/2013 at 4:17 pm

          Vitamin D can, yes. Get outside in the sunshine twenty minutes a day. Supplements are iffy.

  2. aprille

    05/11/2013 at 3:40 pm

    I’ve done A and B.
    Want to see/C?

    • margo roby

      07/11/2013 at 5:10 pm

      Again, my apologies. Between the interesting email address and the cryptic, possibly spammish, comment, I hesitated. I would love to see/C.

      • aprille

        07/11/2013 at 5:51 pm

        Who says I’m real 🙂
        One can never be certain these days.
        BTW, the before and after body bit is the post just before where you just were.
        Oh dear, this sounds even more cryptic than my first comment.
        Anyway, I love you to read it, as I am rather proud of it.

        • margo roby

          08/11/2013 at 7:51 am

          ‘BTW, the before and after body bit is the post just before where you just were.’ I love this, Aprille. Okay, where do I find you and the body?

  3. brian miller

    05/11/2013 at 3:49 pm

    heya, popping over from dverse, but did not see a poem you were sharing with us this evening margo…

    • margo roby

      05/11/2013 at 4:16 pm

      Hey, Brian! Am I supposed to have shared a poem? Do I have an alter ego, or are you poking at me :-D?

  4. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)

    05/11/2013 at 4:11 pm

    Interesting prompt— something to consider…

    • margo roby

      05/11/2013 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks. I find it’s useful to lay out the skeleton of the narrative.

  5. DebiSwim

    05/11/2013 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Margo – The Drifters singing Under the Boardwalk brought back some nice memories.

    • margo roby

      06/11/2013 at 1:21 pm

      My favourite association is that our son thought, for years, that they were singing ‘Under the Warthog’. I love that.

  6. Hannah Gosselin

    05/11/2013 at 10:48 pm

    Oy…speaking of bodies…I’ve done a number to my lower back body-part…just bent over to give the dog a bath and got walloped…whew…I’d rather not do that again. Still pretty pinch-y…did see the chiro but still ugh. Maybe tomorrow will find me waxing poetic on the alternative prompt, Margo. :)’s and thank you for the prompting.

    • margo roby

      06/11/2013 at 1:20 pm

      Ack! That’s nasty. Aspirin [or the like] and hot anything. No lifting!

      • Hannah Gosselin

        06/11/2013 at 4:19 pm

        Yeah, that’s what they say…ugh…I’m so impatient to be slowed down but I’m blessed, could be worse. Thank you, Margo!

        I managed a poem…I found your link intriguing and used the word “body,” in a way that I don’t think I have before. :)’s

        • margo roby

          07/11/2013 at 10:10 am

          I can’t wait!

          You behave yourself, young lady.

          • Hannah Gosselin

            07/11/2013 at 2:05 pm

            Thank you for your visit and comment!! We need a mug with this logo “I ♥ Words” A hoodie sweatshirt, too…

            I will try…I’ve still gone on my morning “pack-walk” with my boy Finley but I’m careful and he doesn’t pull so I think it’s good.

            • margo roby

              07/11/2013 at 2:50 pm

              Oh yes, especially the hoodie!

              That is not behaving. Don’t make me use the mother voice 😉

              • Hannah Gosselin

                07/11/2013 at 7:01 pm

                Yes, I’m with you on that…Misky said she’ll have a mug! I’d love both…maybe I wouldn’t use them at the same time, though I don’t know…I just might! 😉

                Ha ha!! I love that…at least someone would be using that voice…taste of my own medicine and such. 🙂

    • Misky

      06/11/2013 at 7:05 am

      There are two of them in that post now …

  7. barbara_y

    06/11/2013 at 11:43 am

  8. Yousei Hime

    07/11/2013 at 8:34 pm

    One more time for the (post/write more often and you won’t have this problem) rabbit.


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