Three Writing Exercises Using The Phrase “Resisting The Exclamation Point”
I’m constantly gathering information for future writings. A significant part of my input gathering involves collecting quotes to add to my quote collection. I also record unique names I want to use in future stories, as well as extract lines from magazine articles which I think could be used in a writing exercises.
Earlier this year I was reading a magazine article when I found the expression “resisting the exclamation point.” Immediately I stopped reading the article, found a piece of paper and pen, and wrote this down. At the time I didn’t know exactly what I would do with this loaded phrase, and what I am about to do with it in this article may be only the beginning of how I tinker with this expression. Like other immediately evocative phrases I’ve discovered, I have found my mind sporadically returning to this expression as if to remind me I must do more with it. Being “harassed,” as it were, in such a fashion delights me. In fact, I hope to write compelling phrases myself which will linger in the minds of my readers.
Which of these phrases would you most like to use in a writing exercise?
For this article I will be using the phrase “resisting the exclamation point” in a poem, a character description, and a place description. It obviously could also be used in a timed writing or to find photos which perfectly fit this expression and/or which embody the opposite of this expression. Once such photos are found, the writer can then expand on why he or she decided this particular image corresponded or conflicted with these words.
First, the poem:
Angry Enough To Spit
Andrea, painfully aware that her
name means womanly, was
to spit in the face of the
man who had called
her sleeping baby, Evan, uglier
than a dead cow.
They were standing in line
at a Dairy Queen
in Mobile, Alabama,
and Andrea knew
better—her mother would
NEVER let her forget
it—than to make a scene.
Resisting the exclamation
point, her voice poised
without the poison
she felt, she refused
beyond wishing him
a nice afternoon.
She could have easily
insulted his frayed
overalls or his balding
head or the
fact he spoke
like one who had never
left his trailer park.
Silence, she reminded
herself while paying for a
large vanilla cone,
is the only gold
Next, the character description (which could also be called a character sketch):
His dishwater blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, Zachery Davis paused to greet the latest person to walk up to the bar. In her early twenties, she was average height with a tiny, thin-lipped mouth covered with shimmery pink lipstick.
“Can I help you?” He asked. His voice was imperturbable. Even if it wasn’t four in the afternoon on a Thursday—meaning there wasn’t much happening inside Rudy’s Pub in Diamondville, Pennsylvania—he wouldn’t have spoken with alarm. He honestly didn’t know what alarm might feel like. Even last weekend, after two drunk men started a fist fight, the most adrenaline-filled thought he had was, “I wonder where my bouncers went” while he poured a Bud Light on tap for a young man with an overly ambitious mustache which didn’t suit him and his hipster attire.
As the youngest of six children, he could remember many moments from his childhood in which he would sit reading a book while Tony and Christopher, his two older brothers, ran through the house screaming at each other. On certain occasions he wouldn’t even look up from the book since he didn’t know what observing their irrational activity would achieve.
Humorously, when he was ten, his older sister Stacy sat him down on her bed so he could offer his opinion on the dress options she had for an upcoming school dance. She was like a second mother to him, and he dutifully sat on her purple-and-pink striped bedspread while she tried on a flirty red dress, a modest navy blue dress with long sleeves, and a pale green dress which looked nice with her long pale blonde hair. Devoted to her without having any fashion leanings whatsoever, he offered one non-committal response after another.
In a moment of uncharacteristic exasperation, she grabbed his shoulders, looked him in the eye with her large, pale blue eyes, and declared, “Oh, Zachery… Must you always be resisting the exclamation point? Don’t you have any strong opinions?”
Bewildered by her declaration, he mumbled that he liked how the green dress looked with her hair. She studied his face and wondered aloud if he really meant it. Staring at the dark beige carpet, he nodded silently. Still wearing the green dress, she hugged him gratefully, her pale, freckled arms wrapped completely around his much smaller body.
Stacy was now married with two little boys. She lived three hours from Diamondville, and this made their visits concurrently rare and special. During these visits she would observe him playing peacefully with Carson, her youngest son, and wink as him as if reminding him she realized he was, much to her amazement, resisting the exclamation point in all areas of his life.
Finally, the place description:
Understated is overrated was Rayleigh’s motto. She had no patience for subtly in any area of her life. Her speech was never offered at a normal volume; even her so-called whispers could be heard across long dining room tables. As a child she would often scream “Look at me!” when she felt ignored, a behavior she was never punished for because her bohemian mother believed she should “be herself at all costs.”
These days, as a woman inching precariously close to thirty, being herself involved color. Lots of color. To begin with, her hair was never a normal color. One month it might be the color of the blue raspberry candies she bought at the local gas station. Two months later she may opt for a vibrant green just in time for St. Patty’s Day.
Her apartment was the epicenter of her attempts to be continually larger-than-life. A mere 500 square feet, it was a feast for the eyes. She had begged her conservative landlord to let her paint the walls under the agreement she would paint them back once she moved out. With the help of her best friend Beatrix, a woman she met at the local tattoo shop three years ago the day she was getting the unicorn tattoo on her left thigh finished, they painted every room a different color. The small kitchen was lime green. After the paint had dried, Rayleigh looked at the blank walls and decided to add brightly-colored posters with slogans such as, “Keep Calm and Carry On” and “Keep Calm And Write Poetry.”
Next they painted the living room a deep purple color which reminded Rayleigh of royalty. This wasn’t enough color, however, and so she bought a lava lamp which glowed like angry, neon orange sea creatures whenever she turned off the lights.
Her bathroom was painted a color called Opera Rose, and the brightness of this pink was a popular topic with anyone who visited. She added a polka dot shower curtain and a ceramic frog to put her toothbrush in.
Finally, they painted her bedroom a medium blue color which was called Rocky Mountain Sky. Inspired by this name, she ordered three giant posters of the Rocky Mountains on www.amazon.com to affix to the walls. On the nights she consumed too many glasses of white zinfandel with Beatrix, she would stumble back into her bedroom and think, “I am inside the sky or underneath the ocean” before passing out on her multi-colored striped bedspread. In the morning she would often find one of her high heeled shoes would have fallen off during the night, whereas the other was still attached to her size-six feet.
Once, while her mother was visiting from Dayton, Ohio, she looked around Rayleigh’s apartment and remarked with amazement, pride, and bewilderment, “Well, dear one, you certainly haven’t been resisting the exclamation point, have you?”
Rayleigh, after pushing a strand of tangerine-orange hair out of her face, shrugged. “I am who I am. Are you hungry? We should grab lunch. If you like Mexican, I know a great place down the street.”