*finish this sentence

In ALL, WRITING EXERCISES by Stephanie Klein50 Comments

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Lately people have been asking to see a little bit of the thought process that goes on here in my workshop. I consider this blog, in many ways, a focus group when I need some help or opinions. So feel free to chime in, pick the sentence you favor most, or add one of your own. I’ll only remind you that there’s helpful critique, and then there’s useless criticism. "You’re awesome," while flattering, is pretty useless. "Quit your day job and food" gets us nowhere, except maybe my wanting to snack. So I only ask that if you’re going to criticize, please instead of tearing down, make a point of building up. Offer encouragement and constructive criticism on how the writer might improve upon a sentence, and for the love of all things Grammartastic, please just be respectful. Why a certain turn of phrase made you laugh, or specifically which cliches made you yawn. "You can do better," is all fine and dandy, just follow it up with a suggestion. "I’d never have thought to put it that way, but I like how unexpected and exactly right it is," will work every time and twice on Sundays. Let the exercise begin:

"I love that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives sharing a sock drawer and a 1040." She hugs him, and we know by the look on his face…

Here’s what I’ve got so far:
that socks won’t cure him of cold feet.
that he deeply regrets not wearing his sneakers.
that he will never go through with it.
that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. 
that this fish is rotting from the head down. (This is my personal favorite)
that we ain’t in Kansas no mo. (Okay, I’d never use this)
that they’ll need more than a yellow brick road if they ever hope to see Emerald City.
that Auntie Em would not give her blessing.

*Disclaimer: If you write something good in the comments, I’m going to steal it and take all the credit. Now that’s what I call playing fair.

Comments

  1. #1 makes no sense to me.

    Here is what I came up with(because I am a nerd): … that she has just deduced/itemized herself into a separation (or break-up?)

  2. that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. – Sounds like a cliche I'm supposed to have heard of, but have not. So I'm left thinking more about whether it's a cliche than what it's actually saying.

    that this love ain't about to pass the whiff test. Crass. I hate the word "ain't."

    that this fish is rotting from the head down. This one is probably the best – succinct, gets the sentiment across without making me curl my nose.

    that we ain't in Kansas no mo. (Okay, I'd never use this) Good, don't use it.

    that they'll need more than a yellow brick road if they ever hope to see Emerald City. Why are they hoping to see the Emerald City?

    that Auntie Em would not give her blessing. Again, what's with the Oz references? Is the character's name Dorothy?

    Most often, you have this insane knack for banter within your writing — and not necessarily dialogue banter, but author's voice banter — that comes off as witty, sharp, fun, flirty, and just this side of crass. These don't quite get there. I feel bad criticizing and not putting up anything muself, although it's hard to come up with something as (1) I'm not even the teensiest bit a writer and (2) I don't have any context. But mostly because of (1).

    FROM SK: Fair enough, and thank you. Thankfully, this is just an exercise.

  3. I really like "that they'll need more than a yellow brick road if they ever hope to see Emerald City."

    But I'm wondering why you're skipping toward Oz rather than riding one of the horses you've already got in the sentence. Maybe something like…

    that the dryer has eaten more than its share of socks.
    that the socks in the drawer are badly mismatched.
    that the withholding going on here has nothing to do with the IRS.

    FROM SK: that the withholding going on here has nothing to do with the IRS… soooo good. Love it. Originally, I hadn't had the part about taxes in there. In SU&D, I wrote something like, "and when tax season approached, dependents equaled zero. I had written him off." I dunno, something like that.

  4. Not sure I get all the Wizard of Oz references.. maybe it ties into something else in the book?

    I'm so not a writer, but since you asked, my first thought was..

    "by the look on his face that their future was not as certain as death or taxes"….

  5. …he either has gas or this last statement has made him deeply uncomfortable.

    How's that. Now, I have to throw in the totally useless, "You're Awesome" just because you egged me on in your post. :)

  6. that he'd sooner sock her in the head.
    that he'd sooner use his teeth to tweeze the pubes off a sockless homeless man.
    that he'd much sooner give his mother a hickey.
    that their socks will need his and her apartments.
    that he'd sooner be watching the RedSox lose again.
    that some dirty laundry is about to be aired.
    that they'll need more than a maid and accountant to make this gig stick.
    that he might just be the type to prefer her socks to his.
    that she'll be the one wearing the socks and shoes in this mis-match.

  7. "…that he either had gas or this last comment had made him deeply uncomfortable."

    Also, I'm totally throwing in the useless "You're Awesome!" just because you egged it on with your post.

  8. …that he would now only ever wear flip flops and remain unemployed for the rest of his life!

  9. You are trying just too damn hard. A good quip is a great thing sprinkled around like a garnish, but your “characters” (in quotes b/c technically they aren’t characters but real people) always seem like long, 350-page, strings of quips. It’s their main ingredient…and no one I know talks or thinks like this 90 percent of the time. And I know funny people. It's easier to write like this because you have time to think about being clever. It's like crafting a great online dating profile, but you know that while you are clever in person there's no way you can be that quick off the fly all the time.

    As far as constructive advice goes I agree with the posts that wonder why you wander down the yellow brick road towards Oz? Is the traveling show of Wicked in town? You’ve got the tax thing and the sock thing and both of those could easily yield a clever ending to this thought.

    I’m being 100 percent honest and I’m trying to be sincere when I say that I think you have a tendency to overwrite. You seem to have a compulsion to take very basic, real, relatable emotions and situations and dress them up like a child beauty queen. Big hair, face full of makeup, a sequined dress so bright it burns a hole in my cornea, when the most beautiful thing could be that same kid in shorts and a t-shirt playing in the dirt.

    The guy in this exercise is uneasy, confused, wary about the future…everyone has had these emotions and you don’t need a tax/sock/Dorothy metaphor to make a beautiful sentence. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be bland but you always talk about how you want to write honestly and how you tell the truth or someone will tell it for you, but I sometimes have a hard time getting to your truth through all the stuff. It's a tad like a Russian doll. Like you are hiding it under all this clever banter.

    You have good stories to tell. With the 50 percent divorce rate, the fairly common reality of cheating and the fact that most of us don’t like the number we see on our scale/jeans, and haven't since our teens, you should be able to connect with an awfully large audience. You don’t need fishtails in Denmark to do it.

    Just a question, who do you like read? Fiction and non. Is there someone you model yourself after as a writer? I was just thinking it might give me, and some of your other readers a better idea of your point of view. For example, it’s obvious Helen Fielding used Jane Austin as inspiration to craft her major work. A lot of writers from Gen X and my generation (whatever’s after X…some say Y, some call us Millinnials…shudder) modeled their writing (structure and style) after JD Salinger and crafted completely unique works in their own right.

    Fans of Eat, Pray, Love might recognize a bit of Under the Tuscan Sun which might remind some people of Out of Africa (in the later 2 cases the book, not the movie, obvs). I know you don’t read works in the area you are writing about, but you still must have things you enjoy to read. Not books on writing, but books for pure pleasure. Please tell me Departures magazine isn’t your main reading material. You've plugged a few books on this site, but I can't recall you saying you've actually read them. The last one I beleive was foe turned friend Jen Lancaster. Since both your books are out now and both deal with the same general issue (weight, health, phsyche) I would assume you had a reaction to it. I find her way too quippy myself, but I get her story. There's something honest in the way she talks about being called a "fat B_tch" but secretive in the way she never really give you a sign post of just what she weighs. Not that she needs to publish her weight for the world to read, but she could be 275lbs or she could be 160 and depending on other factors (height, etc) still be considered overwight. She's honest, yet she's hiding…just a little bit.

    I feel like you want to be honest, but are afraid that if you just write it without your puns you'll appear boring and average. We all know you don't want to be either of those things. Hell, we all long to be extraordinary.

    Sorry this post is so long.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I think this was a very astute, well expressed comment. You couldn't be more right when you said, "You seem to have a compulsion to take very basic, real, relatable emotions and situations and dress them up like a child beauty queen. Big hair, face full of makeup, a sequined dress so bright it burns a hole in my cornea, when the most beautiful thing could be that same kid in shorts and a t-shirt playing in the dirt." Beautifully expressed, and um, said with analogy, something I do in my writing as well. In MOOSE, I believe I tried to avoid all the overwriting, the puns and quips. I didn't want to hide behind any of it. I think to a certain extent, it's a balance. When you want to show a bit of underbelly, you speak straight, but when you want to roll back your shoulders and flirt a bit, there's nothing wrong with a bit of sass. Again, it's a balance between beauty queen and tomboy, and I'm working on reaching it. It does help when I get constructive criticism, as it's one of the best ways to improve.

    As for my writing inspirations, I'll leave it to my next post. Obviously, I adore David Sedaris (and his sister Amy Sedaris, who recently called me up to say that she loved MOOSE and was interested in the film rights).

  10. And we know by the look on his face that these socks stink and the auditor is coming.

    Perhaps its just me, but I assume that the guy panics and flees. I wonder why that is? Mostly because "…that these socks will never stink" doesn't make a good story!

    PS – a W9 is a request for taxpayer ID. Don't you mean a 1040? or 401K?

    FROM SK: Yes, was going to ask the accountant before submitting writing exercise. Yes, 1040. Doesn't really roll off the tongue though.

  11. that she won't live to see either of those things.
    that he has no idea who she is.
    that he feels exactly the same way.
    that he hasn't heard a word she said.

  12. that he hasn't heard a word she said.
    that she won't live to see either of those things.
    that he feel exactly the same way.
    that he has no idea who she is or what he's doing there.

  13. I knew that beauty queen thing was going to get me in trouble:) It was the best illustration I could come up with of 1 thing (in this example, the child) that can be presented in two, totally separate, completely opposite ways.

    I’m no expert either, it’s much easier to spot than to avoid I’m afraid. Loved your scorpion post.

  14. Ok, so I am not personally a fan of the cliches.

    And we know by the look on his face…

    That he will be keeping the suitcases handy.

    or

    that he will be keeping u-haul on speed dial.

  15. I like Shawna's:

    "That he will be keeping the suitcases handy."

    That paints such a clear picture and tells you everything you need to know.

  16. I think it's telling that all of the proposed endings, as well as all of the commenters', assumed he was unhappy.

    "…that he was terrified she'd find out he wasn't who she thought he was."

    Also, please tell me I wasn't the only person who got the Denmark/Hamlet reference??

    FROM SK: I actually need it to convey a moment like we see in When Harry Met Sally, after they sex it up. Her face is blissful, and he looks like he just shat himself. And yes, it was a Hamlet reference.

  17. that she must be about to start her cycle, and while he did not discourage her emotional bouts, he didn't exactly embrace them so to speak.

  18. I liked the part about his cold feet but the cashmere or wool part didn't seem to add anything to the description. As you got more into the exercise you seemed to get away from the sucinct comments and more carried away with something quippy. Which sounds nothing like the voice of a Harry-type character to me.

    The only thing I thought of was "that he'd need to get some socks if he wanted to get the girl."

    FROM SK: Thanks. I don't need a Harry-type voice, just to capture that moment, the one where as an onlooker we know they're clearly not in sync.

  19. "I love that we're going to spend the rest of our lives sharing a sock drawer and a 1029." She hugs him, and we know by the look on his face…

    he's come out of a mexican standoff and lost

  20. I don't think any of those finish that sentence well but I'm not a writer and have no suggestions. I am not much help here, I know, but I really loved Danielle's post. I'm about halfway through SU&D and I'm feeling a lot of that too, though I'm enjoying it. I think you can get the message across without burying your audience in analogy.

    I think Susan's suggestion "And we know by the look on his face that these socks stink and the auditor is coming." probably comes closest to what I think would be the ideal way to complete that thought.

  21. "I love that we're going to spend the rest of our lives sharing a sock drawer and a 1029." She hugs him, and we know by the look on his face…

    his argyles were not prepped for this.

    FROM SK: Ha! Love it.

  22. The only one I liked at all was: "that he will never go through with it."

    To me, there's already a "cutesie", clever aspect to the first sentence, with the sock drawer and 1029, so it's best to be straightforward for the rest of the point. Anything more to me is over-writing, and just slows down the reader, thinking through each reference.
    The Auntie Em one would work, but only if there had already been a reference to her and Oz in general earlier on so it will be familiar and within easy reach, if you will, for the reader.

  23. . . . that he *is*, in fact, really, truly happy to have married her. After all, a woman with such a severe case of OCD would always keep that sock drawer organized and won't mind one bit taking charge of all the itemizations on those 1029s. And she smiled contentedly too, . . . as she meticulously picked the lint off the back of his sweater.

  24. "I love that we're going to spend the rest of our lives sharing a sock drawer and a 1029." She hugs him, and we know by the look on his face that she was never going to be picking those socks up off the floor anyway.

  25. You have no business being a writer.

    >>(and his sister Amy Sedaris, who recently called me up to say that she loved MOOSE and was interested in the film rights).

    great… because we all know amy sedaris's involvement gets your movie made. she can open a movie like julia roberts circa 95.

    FROM SK: What's making you so cranky Kate? Usually you only comment to say things like, "I call bullshit on your husband's health condition." 'Cause you've always been nice like that. And thanks for turning out such useful criticism. Hope you at least enjoyed Moose.

  26. Since most of my comments get ignored after that entire Christina fiasco, I wouldn't doubt that this one does too. Where is "me" quoting that from? Who the fuck is Kate?
    Ugh.

    Gay.

    FROM SK: Ha. Sorry I haven't been showing you the love. Kate is posting under the name "me", and it was taken from another comment I'd left. When I'd first posted about Phil's health she was kind enough to comment "I call bullshit on your husband's health." I get why some people keep reading. I can even understand checking a site a few times a day just to have something to bitch about. I get the trainwreck phenom. It's why people read tabloids. What I don't get is words expressed for the sole purpose of hurting someone.

  27. I find it funny that someone would say "you have no business being a writer" because writing is one of the few businesses in which, in order to be "in business" at all, the general public has to agree that you do deserve it (ie buy your books and want to read your work). Success in writing proves itself.

  28. I picked "That he would never go through with it", the other statements felt a bit like you are trying to hard. Emotions are most intense when understated – at least for me. I was going to try and explain why I feel this way about this exercise (and actually, SU&D in some parts too) here, but Danielle did it way better than I could have. I can only put in a reference to "Gilmore Girls", though their witty comments are usually very clever, the sheer ratio of them is sometimes too much, it can get tiresome.
    And as a European I have no idea what "1040" is btw.

  29. Having proxy issues, so this may be a double post, feel free to delete in that case

    I picked "That he would never go through with it", the other statements felt a bit like you are trying to hard. Emotions are most intense when understated – at least for me. I was going to try and explain why I feel this way about this exercise (and actually, SU&D in some parts too) here, but Danielle did it way better than I could have. I can only put in a reference to "Gilmore Girls", though their witty comments are usually very clever, the sheer ratio of them is sometimes too much, it can get tiresome.
    And as a European I have no idea what "1040" is btw.

  30. amy sedaris. moose. film rights. holy fuck stephanie. that is fucking fantastic. do it do it do it. what a great spin on it. happy happy days for you!!!!!! yes! yes!

  31. I have a couple of things to say – first, congrats on the Amy Sedaris thing. I think the way you say it, so off-handedly, makes me like you. Because as an aspiring writer, I do want to get to the point where you are quickly. I have to remind myself to work hard and to keep working harder and that my day of will come – on my own path.

    To counter that, I think you've also show me – that while you've had success writing and selling a script and maybe even film rights, you still deal with the same crap that we all do. Marriage, Kids, Hang-Overs, Responsibilities, Zits, Food Comas, Pants that don't fit, etc. I enjoy that because it reminds me that no matter how far I get, I'm still going to get pissed off at my husband for pretty much the same things that I do now.

    FROM SK: Indeed. And, yes it is a lot of work, and even I feel like I need to work harder. It's strange when "work harder" means watching MORE TV and analyzing the structure of shows. I have to say, it does fascinate me at least. I do, however, wish I made more time for reading. I always find I do my best writing after reading something else (unrelated in topic). It just breaks me out of all the ways I'm used to expressing things.

  32. That the withholding here has nothing to do with the IRS…that was my favorite :)

    And…Way to go putting Kate in her place. Rock on.

  33. hi. hope the health of everyone is still doing well : )

    I like the cold feet suggestion you put out there, as well as the one given about how she wont be picking those socks up anyway.

    but, why can't it be that he is just as happy? I cant turn a phrase this early in the morning but as simple as,
    ..
    we can tell by the look on his face that hes ready to use that tax return to get a bigger sock drawer.

    ..that hes suprised to find this wont be certain death.

    or something that says hes happy too!

    FROM SK: I love you for being such an optimist this early in the morning. Actually, it can't be because it's not actually fiction. I'm basing it on my own loverly experiences.

  34. I THINK I'VE NARROWED IT DOWN TO THIS (which I think is way more direct):

    "I love that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives sharing a sock drawer.” She hugs him, and we know by the look on his face that his argyles aren’t doing their job; he’s got cold feet.

    Thoughts?

    –I love how all your input really does help me! This is great. I'm going to do this more often when I'm stuck. Thank you.

  35. What have you and Phil been talking about over dinner lately, given that we are about to embark on the second great Depression in 100 years? I'm curious as to how the freezing of the credit markets filters down into the quotdien of marketeer family life..?

  36. Still taking suggestions? If so, I love Shawna's "u-haul on speed dial". I laughed. I smiled at some of the others and instantly forgot others, but the u-haul made me laugh. Of course, you may not be writing a comedy, in which case never mind.

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