Friday, March 21, 2008

3am Epiphany: Life Story

3am Epiphany: Uncommon Exercises in Writing
Exercise 94, Page 127-28

“Life Story”

Write a short first-person story of someone’s entire life. Make the sentences island of themselves, the scene of action, and detail. Don’t worry about making sense from sentence to sentence (which is good advice for any kind of writing). But also don’t forget that a reader has to follow a thread, a set of breadcrumbs, a trail of broken branches, footprints, and crumpled candy wrappers.

Focus on the details that reveal the personality and the changes in personality of this character. How do people change? Why do they change? Imagine a frame device the makes this kind of story possible – a guy in a bar, a grown womean magically transported back to third grade who is asked to tell what she did last summer, except that she confuses this with what did you do with your life?

300 words


… I look at him and know that it will never be the same. The world will tilt 180 degrees once I open my mouth because I will finally be admitting to it all.

I tell him that I almost died at birth and so did my mother, too much blood for one of us and not enough for the other. I was born a Catholic. As a child the Dr’s receptionist knew me by name. Each birthday, until I was 15, I blew out the candle and wished for the same thing - that my mother would have another baby. My parents were terrified of losing me, so they wrapped me in the cotton wool of their fears.

My mother never smiled and said more with her silence than she could ever have done with words. I was always trying to fit in – even with my own family. My only safe place of escape was my daydreams and I was scolded for it.

I was athletic and academic, but socially awkward. I hid my grandmother’s borrowed organ books and played the songs on the piano with the practise pedal. At age seven I won a creative writing prize at school, but my mother lost it on the way home from school. I still have the permission form for the school play I was offered a lead role in - that I never gave to my parents.

On my fifteenth birthday I blew out the candles on the cake and wished to stop feeling guilty. I prayed to God to release me. I still took communion, but gave up on him.

I smuggled philosophy onto the bottom of my VTAC form after my father had completed it for me. I hated studying business but did well. For three years I worked to pay my parents back for the wedding they wanted, but I didn’t show up to. Now I don’t owe them a single thing. I’m happy and alone. (396 words)


This actually took far longer to write than the 300 words warranted. I found that it was a continual process of writing, cutting down and condensing - making every sentence count and contain an imporant grain of this character's truth. The crumbs that I tried to drop through it was a sense of strangulation (the cord around the neck at birth and the control of the parents), of guilt (references to Catholisicm, prayer, wishes) of hiding the real self (dancing, day dreaming, playing the piano with the practise pedal) and of quiet rebellion (philosophy on the VTAC form, communion without believing).

I also struggled with the idea that I couldn't connect the sentences together in a way that made sense in normal writing or were meaningful .... thus my need to find some themes that I could weave through it instead. That in itself made me able to face up to the page to do it.

What I found was the you can pretty much sum up the core essence of a character in 300 words ... and I have a very solid basis to develop my Demon Lover female character from here ... not a woman forsakening love, but instead forsakening her shackles and guilt, breaking down her boundaries but at the same time unable to establish her own boundaries ... well we'll see what happens in April I guess.

I've discovered that all my 3am Epiphany exercises are going to be prefaced with 'I can't do this' .. the scream of the challenged and the sign post to major revelations! Annie's turn next week to pick.

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