In Luis Bunuel’s surreal 1962 satire The Exterminating Angel, an extravagant dinner party comes to a puzzling end when all of the host’s servants disappear. The guests retire to the music room only to realize that at the end of the evening, bizarrely, they cannot leave. They spend the night; days pass. As food and water grow scarce, their upper-class mores fall away, and they descend into animal-like behavior and insanity.
Watch The Exterminating Angel. Then try these writing exercises, borrowed from my grad-school class on “Film and Approaches to Writing the Novel” with John Rechy:
- In a passage, create the effect of silence (without using the word “silence”). Without any transitional adverbs (e.g., “then,” “suddenly,” “abruptly”), break the silence, conveying an eruption of sound.
- Create a sense of undefined mystery about a person, a place, or an object. Do not use dialogue.
- Write a short passage of dialogue (only dialogue) between two people. The same dialogue must be “ordinary”—even banal—and, at the same time (depending on how read), be ominous, or even evil.
- Begin a paragraph by describing a person or place and do so in a realistic style. Gradually shift the subject so that at the end it has become surrealistic.
- Write a passage in which essential information is given over explicitly in the opening line. Write the exact passage, but place the line of essential information somewhere around the middle. Write the exact passage again, and this time place the line of essential information at the very end.
The Mots Justes Series on Film and Approaches to Writing