Exercise 5: Chastity

The exercise Le Guin’s proposes at the end of chapter 5 takes far longer to complete than her short little chapter (just two and a half pages!) on adjectives and adverbs would lead you to believe. She admits that this one is hard and suggests you do it away from the pressure of a class or group. I did find myself staring at the blank page for quite a while…once I did start writing, I was surprised at the sinister turn my little paragraph took.

Exercise 5: Chastity

Write a paragraph (200-350 words) to a page of descriptive narrative prose without adjectives or adverbs. No dialogue.

The point is to give a vivid description of a scene or action using only verbs, nouns, pronouns, and articles…

Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft, page 45.

<<       Sunlight filtered through the cactus spines, illuminating them from behind. The ant colony in camp woke and began to forage among the rocks and charcoal. Birds flitted from mesquite to creosote to Mormon tea bush, chirping. Time was of the essence. They all knew as soon as the sun rose over the hills its rays would turn the landscape into an oven.

Sal and Fred drank their coffee and eyed the group of tents across the valley. The acoustics of the valley were such that the men had been privy to the campers’ antics all night long. Someone named Alex was having a birthday and was drunk. There were discussions of politics and professors and class schedules and it had become apparent that these people were students. Sal and Fred didn’t care much about that – what mattered was the folks in this other camp were unaware.

The night before the moon was at the quarter and its light had not dimmed the display of the stars and Milky Way. Meteors streaked by the valley. Mars had risen like a dot of blood right before Alex crashed into someone else’s tent, collapsing it. The commotion from that had resolved into silence, at long last. Fred thought it was funny, shoulders shaking in the moonlight.

Sal peered into his cup and considered the dregs. He flicked the sludge into the bushes. It was a shame, he thought, that the students were not paying attention to the night sky. It was the last one they would ever see. >>

Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t use any adjectives or adverbs to soften or dress up the scene, but I found I wanted to turn it darker than I had originally intended. Le Guin says that she does this exercise herself to sharpen her writing skills and I can see why. She also mentioned she came up with it as a teenager when she was first starting out as a writer – truly impressive!

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