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Exercises of Style (1 Viewer)

K. Altan

Senior Member
This is something I did for my creative writing class. The idea was to create a "Notation" and then change it according to different guidelines (i.e. writing it completely in metaphors). I only had to write 3 variations, but if I have more time, I'm considering writing with all 5 of the senses. Let me know what you think.


He sat on the side of the road, instrument in hand. I’d never heard such skill come from a homeless man. The pluck of each string tickled at my ears and played with my emotions. The melodic noise bewitched a handful of passersby to a stop, while others were deaf to the beauty and walked by without even a sideways glance. Those who stopped listened until his tune was complete and granted him some change as a reward to his efforts. The man bowed his head in respect to his patrons, picked up the seven dollars sitting before him, and seeked out a cheap dinner.

He sat on the side of the grimy road. Dirt snaked into every crack and crevice from the street to his wrinkles. Wiry hair sprouted from everywhere, ears and nose included, and framed the wooden instrument in his gruff hands. I was not expecting such a glossy beauty to be held by such leathery skin and was even more surprised to see those arthritic hands create something so refined. People in dark colors strode by, briefcases in hand and a destination in mind, their collars turned up against the cold. A few, however, were entranced by the rich colors he produced from the reverberating strings, and they paused to listen. Serenity replaced the lines that decorated their faces in the form of stress. A small pile of copper, silver, and green grew before him to which he replied with a nod of his wrinkled head, the jungle of hair veiling the instrument for a short instant. His bent fingers wrapped around the bills and coins and he shifted up into a squat. Placing his hand against the brick wall behind him for support, he pulled himself to his feet and hobbled off to find a cheap dinner among the florescent lights of the city.

He sat amidst the din of the noisy road. Every breath was a wheeze interrupted occasionally by a set of shallow coughs. His clothes ruffled as he positioned himself to play the instrument in his hands. I was surprised to hear such perfect tone come from something played off of the street, but the strings rang perfectly in tune, its frequency matching up with mine and rattling my frame. Meanwhile, the feet pounding against pavement, the cars whooshing by and the breeze passing through my ears added even more dimension to the melodic notes. Some of the pedestrians paused when the song penetrated the silence of their day. They stopped and absorbed the calming music. Coins clanged together while being scooped from pockets and hit the ground with a ring. Bills brushed against each other and were placed underneath the coins so as not to blow away with the wind rushing through their ears. He coughed and bowed his head, his wheezing increasing in volume as he did so. He scooped up the money with a series of rustles and rose with the creaking of his joints. His footsteps contributed an unsteady rhythm as he searched for a cheap dinner among the honking cars of the city.

He sat on the side of the road, the cold biting at his cheeks and nose. His fingers traced over the smooth wood of his instrument and started to press down on the metallic strings, their rough texture had long ago carved callouses into his fingertips. I was not expecting his roughness to create such silkiness. The noise moved up and down my body, tickling my spine along the way. Meanwhile, people passed by with warm fabric pressed against their skin to barricade against the stinging wind. A few felt the music pass through the layers of clothing to deliver goosebumps all over. Those were the ones to stop and savor the tingling sensation that he produced. When he was done, they retrieved coins and bills, warm from sitting in their pockets and absorbing the heat of their bodies and placed them onto the rough concrete. He bowed his head in thanks, the wind brushing his cheeks to a raw red. Scooping up the metal and paper, he shifted to a squat, the stiff fabric of his clothes rubbing against him as he made it to a stand. He hobbled off in search of a cheap dinner among the cold metal of the city.


Staff member
Media Manager
It is an interesting exercise, but to me it seems a little like too much like just replacing one sensory signifier with another for the sake of it, until it's done. I mean, I can't imagine a scene like this needing taste, so including any would, to me, be a bit shoe-horny and jarring. I think a more interesting exercise would be to write it once using appropriate sense; hearing is obviously going to feature, some temperature maybe, touch etc to really make it realer than real ;) , plus a mood-setting external prop or two for visuals, maybe a metaphor or simile to pique our inner eye, a little internal perception, onomatopoeia, alliteration, assonance, straight narration, free indirect speech and whatever else to create the picture, and then just let it play and go out.

I suppose, having said all that, I ought to have a go :) *gulp* here goes:

The homeless man sat on the side of the road, instrument in hand, and each plucked string rang its note so sonorously into my ears that my tight-sprung emotions coiled and uncoiled, a sleeping serpent made restless by the passing of a hibernation and a sense of coming heat. A scant band of passersby slowed, similarly bewitched to a stop by the strange and fragile harmonies spiralling forth from the crumpled form on the fusty-smelling sidewalk that day; yet others, seemingly deaf to such mellifluous and homespun beauty, walked by without even a sideways glance, causing something in me to spasm and spit at them for their oversight. But those who stopped - we, oh, we listened all right, could have stayed all day, listened with ears like summer blooms 'til such time as this rag-tag man's tune was over and done, whereupon we bestowed upon him a ringing of change for his efforts. At that the man lowered his head and gave us each a touch of his gentle, weathered hand; though in other respects he stayed moveless, bowing only for his muse perhaps, waiting for the crowd to thin. Only then, with a shuffling grunt he - our soul-sold Johnson, our old man Leadbelly - rattled out the seven dollars from his battered tin-can and shambled to a nearby diner.

K. Altan

Senior Member
bdcharles: I really like your version, especially the choice of vocabulary. It definitely captures the feel that I was trying to achieve, and your metaphors are so incredibly poetic! =D>
Perhaps if I'd just chosen imagery as a parameter and used all of the senses it would've fit together the way you were describing, but I was aiming for the reader to almost feel something like synesthesia. The sound of an instrument and the surroundings of the city can elicit different feelings other than just sound and sight. I was trying to write this while studying for a chemistry midterm at the same time, so the creativity wasn't all there, hehe. Now that it's been turned in, however, I'd definitely like to tweak it and maybe play around with some different styles that don't feel as forced as the ones I used.
The Fantastical: Yes, it was really fun to do, and the stories that the other students came up with were really enjoyable. One person wrote one of their versions entirely in the form of an ad, while another switched the narrator from a person to the sock he was carrying. It was based off of a book by Raymond Queneau called Exercises in Style where he wrote the same story 100 times in 100 different ways. (I now realize that I totally messed up the title of my post by writing "of" instead of "in").


Senior Member
I think it's an interesting exercise and well worth the time you put in. Work out those writing biceps, fair fellow! ;)


Senior Member
It all seems like too much being too focused and too little being focused on all at the same time.

It's also tedious to read in such a format.

In terms of your actual writing, it's got a lot of great nuances and, although a little wordy for my taste, it's almost flawless from a technical standpoint.

There are some missed commas and run-on sentences, but I feel like this is because of the nature of your exercise?

I'd like to read some of your actual writing.

K. Altan

Senior Member
Thanks so much for your comment, and after reading it over again I see what you mean about the focus. It definitely seems to focus on specific details a little too much while not so much on others.
As for it being tedious to read due to the formatting, do you have any tips on how to format it better? Or is it really just caused by the exercise?
I'll admit that I tend to be extremely wordy and long-winded, so I'll definitely have to look out for those run-on sentences in the future, whoops.
But anyways, I really appreciate hearing what you had to say about my writing!


Senior Member
I think it was just the way the exercise demanded you to go on about the sensory aspects that made it tedious. The story is convoluted by all of the extra stuff; again, due to the nature of the exercise.

Example: "When he was done, they retrieved coins and bills, warm from sitting in their pockets and absorbing the heat of their bodies..."


I actually read the last original work you posted (which was brilliant) and I like your style of writing. This is a nice exercise to improve awareness of the technical aspects of writing, but not so much for story telling.

Hope I made sense.
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WF Veterans
I have never come across this method before, it is intriguing, I may give this ago sometime. Thank you for sharing.