James Maxey’s Noun Exercise

At the Codex Writer’s Workshop this summer, the esteemed James Maxey gave a short talk on spicing up prose with nouns. The right noun can convey an extraordinary amount of information, he pointed out, and he then drove home the point by having us collect nouns on little piece of paper that were then tossed into a hat. Each writer drew some number of nouns and then had to speed-write something — a beginning to a story, basically — that used those random nouns.

It was a fascinating exercise, and one that I’m repeating for those folks taking my creative writing class this fall.

Since I’m not the kind of person to assign work I’m not willing to do, I shall herewith complete the exercise myself. My random nouns, sitting on little pieces of paper before me, are these: compass, straight razor, hearth, boy, raven, and full moon.

Some good stuff there, frankly. Evocative and wonderful. I’ve not had a chance to mull these over until now, so let’s see what I can do to put them together in the next, oh, ten minutes or so:

For a long time William remained in the too-big heirloom chair where his grandfather had left him. The boy’s face was stoic despite his mind’s horror as he stared upon the gaping soot-black maw beyond the gray-brick hearth stretched out before him. The ancient chair’s shadow, shaped by the streaming light of the full moon rising beyond the undrawn heavy curtains behind him, stretched out and over that deep and wide fireplace, sliding up across the mantle toward the line of dead creatures standing sentry over the room. Drawn in darkness against that wall, the pinnacled cone atop the high back of the chair pointed like a compass arrow at the stuffed raven on its eternal wooden porch. The boy’s eyes traced the shadow to the bird and he at last managed a smile. Nevermore, he thought to himself.

His head turned toward the antique table and the gleaming straight razor his grandfather had left for him there. “Remember, William,” he’d advised before he locked the door behind him, “up the vein, not across.”

Staring over at the razor, building up his nerve, William decided it was good advice. Then he stood.

I don’t know if this snippet is any good or not, and I certainly have no clue where it’s going (I’d need longer than ten minutes for that, by gum!), but I know this, for sure: these words would never have come together in this way if it wasn’t for Maxey’s informative and insightful little exercise. Good stuff.

Oh, and his Dragon Age novels just happen to be terrific, too.

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