Tag Archives: john rechy

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Film and Approaches to Writing, Part IV—“Duel in the Sun”

In producer David O. Selznick’s Western romance Duel in the Sun—dubbed Lust in the Dust at the time of its 1946 release due to its overwrought sentimentality—“half-breed” Pearl (Jennifer Jones) is orphaned when her father kills her mother in a jealous rage and is sentenced to death. She’s sent to live with her father’s second cousin/former fiancée (Lillian Gish) , where she’s torn between two brothers—Jesse (Joseph Cotton), an educated gentleman, and Lewt (Gregory Peck), an unruly brute.

In my grad-school class on “Film and Approaches to Writing the Novel” with John Rechy, we watched Duel in the Sun and then turned our attention to writing exercises focusing on the difference between sentiment and sentimentality:

  • Describe a person, male or female, of any age you choose, and convey a sense of his or her sensuality, through movement and gestures only. Avoid overtly sexual words.
  • Write a passage involving a person, place, or situation and render it with sentimentality. Only by deleting (not substituting) certain words and/or phrases, convert the same passage into one that conveys sentiment. (Pathos vs. bathos.)
  • Write a paragraph about a person or a place, or both, that begins with rich, even lush language. Gradually and progressively alter the language (sentences, phrases, words) so that by the end of the paragraph the prose has become spare, conveying the effect of fading out entirely.
  • In three brief paragraphs, describe the same character, employing a different prose style in each paragraph. In all these paragraphs, the reader must be able to know that the same person is being described, but in altered language.
  • Write a short scene or describe a person (each in a modern context) that evokes a myth or a legend. At the bottom of the page, identify the mythical or legendary antecedent you’ve employed.
  • Write a passage, landscape, or interior in “Technicolor,” splashing it with vibrant colors. Only by deleting colors, render the scene in black and white.

The Mots Justes Series on Film and Approaches to Writing

Part I—Persona

Part II—Sunset Boulevard

Part III—Providence

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under writing exercises

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Film and Approaches to Writing, Part III—“Providence”

After watching Persona and Sunset Boulevard—required viewing for any film-studies undergrad—my grad-school class on “Film and Approaches to Writing the Novel” with John Rechy was assigned to see Providence, avant-garde director Alain Resnais’ first English-language film. In the movie, a cancer-stricken writer (John Gielgud) stays up all night chugging white wine while struggling with the plot of his latest novel. The characters, based on his own family members, are portrayed as nasty, deceitful, debauched people whom he places in various settings—a courtroom, a morgue, a forest crawling with werewolves. The next morning, however, his family arrives, and it becomes clear that his worldview does not mirror reality. The writing exercises associated with the film had to do with perception:

  • Against a placid background (described), develop a short scene of turbulence between two people, using action and/or dialogue. In another paragraph, reproduce the exact same turbulent action but place it against a turbulent background.
  • Write a short scene of action occurring at night. Write the same scene as it would be seen during daylight. Consider visibility/nonvisibility of details.
  • In the omniscient view, describe a scene of action. In a separate paragraph describe the same scene as witnessed by a first-person narrator who misinterprets the action entirely, the latter contradicting what we “saw” in the former.
  • Using a first-person narrator, describe another person whom the narrator admires, likes, and/or loves. In a second paragraph, also using a first-person narrator, describe the same person previously described, but convey that this narrator feels contempt, dislike, and/or hatred for that person. In both, the reader must know that the same person was viewed but through opposite emotional shadings.

The Mots Justes Series on Film and Approaches to Writing

Part I—Persona

Part II—Sunset Boulevard

2 Comments

Filed under writing exercises

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Film and Approaches to Writing, Part I—“Persona”

One of the courses offered by my master’s program—indeed, one of the reasons I applied to the program in the first place—was “Film and Approaches to Writing the Novel,” taught by John Rechy (City of Night, About my Life and the Kept Woman). In it, we watched seven movies and then were assigned exercises based on the techniques used in the films. The instructions were very precise, calling for no more than a half a page, double-spaced. Over the course of the class we produced maybe seven pages of writing, but they were focused and honed.

The first film we watched in class was Persona, Ingmar Bergman’s experimental masterpiece about a nurse who is charged with caring for an otherwise healthy actress who simply won’t speak. As the nurse chatters away to her mute patient, she finds that her personality is being submerged into the actress’s. Persona is a still film, with minimalist compositions and extreme closeups, particularly of faces.

Watch Persona, then try one or two of these exercises (in class, we were assigned to choose two):

  • In one paragraph, describe a face. In a separate paragraph, write the spoken words to which the person to whom that face belongs has been reacting. Match the expressions to the words heard.
  • Describe a face in full light. Gradually “darken” that face into a silhouette (without using the word silhouette). Use words that evoke light, words that evoke darkness. Consider gradually subduing adjectives, verbs, etc., to create a fading effect. Consider sentence length to enhance a sense of diminishing light.
  • Write a description of a natural backdrop. By carefully selecting language, suggest the mood (angry, sad, happy, etc.) of a person viewing it. Do not introduce the viewer within the description, but, separately, at the end identify him or her and the mood. (Project mood into description.)
  • Describe a scene of silence, a person in silence, or a silent place. Do not use the word silence. Use words that evoke it.
  • Without using the words black or white, describe a scene involving people and/or a place that conveys the effect of being “seen” in black and white; for example, stark outline suggests darkness, whereas snow suggests white light; ice might convey either, in different contexts.

2 Comments

Filed under writing exercises