on writing

A Writing Exercise on Mood Creation

Two canoes.

With a rope I drag one behind me and return to the place. The empty canoe yaws and straggles and hampers so I have to relearn my paddle. Last time the water was serrated, chopped into spades by homeless and invisible gusts. The sudden rain made the most fragile bubbles when it struck the lake. Last time out we weren’t concerned about a squall or fragility. All our bubbles till then were blown from soap and sticks and had iridescent rivers on their hardy surfaces.

I row. I decide that today, if it strikes me, the rain will run right off in jagged rivulets. I row harder. My hitching breaths throw their own quick ghosts that die off like unspoken words. An ache develops in my shoulders. I row until they are screaming.

Today the water has no pulse. Even the jostling canoes don’t mar the reflection. Clouds rise like saints in white robes, their unhurried legions make a serpentine ascent to the treetops, to the colorless sky.

From tall, parlous grasses red-winged blackbirds shriek complaints to one another. Then in a black conflagration, they launch into space. They glide, unhinged from gravity. Fish too, wend unconcerned through a watery, leaden passage that hungers in silent patience.

My fat canoe sits next to your sleek canoe and I cannot help but think how unfair that is. Both are grey steel.

They say it’s low lying clouds, not ghosts rising up all over the water like a rapture.

I don’t believe them.

This is an assignment I gave to my 5000 Words class: write a 500+ word description of a lake. The key was that someone they knew had drowned in that lake. They were to describe the lake, the emotion coming through in the description alone, not the story of what happened to the victim. As I began to do this assignment, I found it difficult to make the word count without dipping into plot. So I allowed my students to tell a story in addition to describing the lake.  

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8 thoughts on “A Writing Exercise on Mood Creation”

      1. Red wing blackbirds-
        “From tall, parlous grasses red-winged blackbirds shriek complaints to one another. Then in a black conflagration, they launch into space.”

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