Ambiguous Cherry Blossoms and Dangerous Space Junk: Two Writing Exercises

© Margaret Balch-Gonzalez, originally published in The Prompt Literary Magazine, Vol 2, Issue 1, 2013, p. 10

Writing Exercise 1: Write the same scene from the point of view of (a) someone who has just had something terrible happen to them and (b) someone who has just had something wonderful happen to them.

a. She could not avoid walking past the half-block of neat houses on her way to the bus stop, so she kept her eyes on the sidewalk. She especially could not bear to look at the cherry trees, heavy with heartbreaking light pink flowers, the color of a baby girl’s blanket, that would not last through the next day, when a heavy rain was predicted. Tomorrow, the streets would be full of soggy petals and the branches would be bare, and then she could raise her eyes. But not today.

b. What a world this was, with so much beauty to spare, she thought, her eyes raised to the spectacular fairyland canopy of cherry trees in peak bloom. How lucky she was to be here, on this street, at this moment, when every arching branch was heavy with thousands of tiny, delicate light pink petals, the lovely paradox of waves of perfect light and weightlessness suspended over the town for a few short days, driven by the power and urgency of living things that push, swell, and explode out of dormancy in springtime. A heavy rain would wash the branches bare by tomorrow. But what mattered was that she had witnessed the short-lived miracle today.

Writing Exercise 2: Take a complex sentence you particularly like from a piece of writing you admire and write your own sentence using exactly the same syntax, but with completely different vocabulary and themes. Add two or three more sentences to develop your story.

Model, from The Hours by Michael Cunningham:

New York in its racket and stern brown decrepitude, its bottomless decline, always produces a few summer mornings like this; mornings invaded everywhere by an assertion of new life so determined it is almost comic, like a cartoon character that endures endless, hideous punishment and always emerges unburnt, unscarred, ready for more. This June, again, the trees along West Tenth Street have produced perfect little leaves from the squares of dog dirt and discarded wrappers in which they stand.

My version, with the first sentence duplicating as exactly as possible the structure of the model:

The space program, in its costly bureaucracy and its overblown amalgam of patriotism and religion, always produces a few paradoxical moments like this: an astronaut tethered to a tiny mechanical outpost of planet earth against a universe so vast it is almost banal, like a bad science fiction movie. “Oops, I dropped my toolbox” takes on laughably severe consequences as the hundred-thousand-dollar toolbox becomes a dangerous piece of space junk hurtling in orbit around the earth. If it doesn’t rip through the hull of a spacecraft or satellite first, it is only a matter of time before it plunges through the atmosphere in a searing path of self-destruction – too small (probably) to rise to the level of hazard to the creatures inhabiting the surface far below. A child might look skyward and make a wish – on a falling toolbox.

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