Practice-W Exercise Archives
These exercises were written
and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its
You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that
them at the Internet Writers Workshop
Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 29 Apr 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 24 Feb 2002
Reposted on: Sun, 17 Nov 2002
Reposted on: Sun, 1 Jun 2003
Reposted on: Sun, 26 Jun 2005
This week's exercise will fall into the "involving the senses"
A common mistake in writing is to focus on sight and hearing, and
neglect the other senses, though those have an important role to play
setting the scene.
This exercise looks at the sense of touch. Think of the adjectives
relate to touch: soft, hard, satiny, coarse, prickly, hot, cold, and so
on. There are dozens of words to describe texture, temperature, and
softness/hardness. (In your favourite thesaurus, look up the entries
for "hard", "cold", "rough", and see the wealth of words at our
These words have their own power to evoke, so much so that they are
themselves used as metaphors: calling someone "lukewarm" does not refer
to body temperature, after all.
As an example, here are two extracts from Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion
Wine" which makes wonderful use of sensory data, including touch:
Crossing the lawn that morning, Douglas Spaulding
broke a spider web
with his face. A single invisible line on the air
touched his brow
and snapped without a sound.
So, with the sublest of incidents, he knew that
this day was going to
Four pages later, this section describes Doug's moment of
The grass whispered under his body. He put his
arms down, feeling
the sheet of fuzz on it, and, far away, below, his
toes creaking in
his shoes. The wind sighed over his shelled ears. The
bright over the glassy round of his eyeballs like
images sparked in a
crystal sphere. Flowers were sun and fiery spots of
through the woodland. Birds flickered like skipped
stones across the
vast inverted pond of heaven. His breath raked over
his teeth, going
in ice, coming out fire. Insects shocked the air with
clearness. Ten thousand individual hairs grew a
millionth of an inch
on his head. He heard the twin hearts beating in each
ear, the third
heart beating at this throat, the two hearts
throbbing his wrists,
the real heart pounding his chest. The million pores
on his body
I'm really alive! he though. I never knew
it before, or if I did
I don't remember.
In Bradbury's typical effusive style (note the richness of his verbs
images), he evokes sound, sight, and touch, sometimes combining more
than one sense in a single phrase. For example, "The wind sighed over
his shelled ears" gives us both a sound and a sensation - we can hear
and feel that wind.
This week's exercise: in 300 words or less, write a scene in which
touch, in combination with other senses, plays a significant role in
describing the mood or the action. While writing the exercise, remember
to experiment with different words for the same sensation, and see
of those best serve the scene.
Extra-curricular activity: a few times in the next few days, in
different places, stop a moment and feel the objects around you - the
fabric of your chair, the difference in texture between your shirt and
your pants, the gloss of tableware, the brick of a wall, the ground
beneath your feet. Think of the possible words you could use to
describe those sensation.
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: Mon, 7 May 2001
I always find it interesting to see the variety of approaches to our
exercises, and this week was no exception.
The submissions show the richness of the sense of touch: this sense
gives us pain, pleasure, information about our environment. The
submissions gave us weather, loss, sensuality, combined with prosaic
interaction with the environment. Even with all this variety, I can't
help thinking we've only scratched the surface of this topic;
as I looked at the submissions, I wondered at times about what could
have been added to provide even more richness. (Of course, how much
detail to provide would depend on the context, the desired rhythm and
pace of the text.)
Among the touch sensations in the submssions (and picking almost at
random), I see examples like: "compelling itch", "throb", "tingling
fingers", the heartbeat of a dying bird, a sun-warmed carpet, "bruising
cement" conveying a woman's pain, the caress of a feather, and much
more. Obviously, just as touch is a rich and varied sense, there are
many ways to convey those sensations - and through them, to draw a
picture of what else the character is experiencing (since what we
perceive is filtered through what we are living at the time.)
I would like to thank and congratulate all our participants!
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: March 7, 2002
Another interesting week. As always, it was a joy to see the
different approaches to the exercise.
For some reason, I was struck by the use of water in several of the
submissions, and how differently water can feel: warm, cold, still,
flowing, bubbling - or showing up as mist or steam or snow or ice. A
simple substance, and so many sensations, so many different
We saw a lot of sensory details in the submissions this week.
However, it is clear that involving the senses (and touch in
particular) is not always easy. Doing it without being obvious is just
as much of a challenge. Obviously, the sensory detail must serve the
story in some way (or ideally, more than one way): describing the
setting, of course, but also showing us something about the
point-of-view character, and perhaps moving the plot along. The key, I
think, is how much we, as the author, can "feel" with the character. Is
the character just a cardboard cut-out to be moved through the
necessary actions to advance the plot? Or is the character alive (for
the author first of all, before it can be alive for the reader)?
Good work, everyone - I hope it's been a worthwhile learning
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: June 9, 2003
Last week's repeat of the touch exercise gave unique perspectives on
characters and their worlds. The touch sensations in the stories
topics including suicide; teenage sensuality; intense summer heat;
with illness, accidents and nausea; an encounter with a snake; a
walk; and relaxing at the beach.
Touch played a major part in developing the action and story lines.
characters were developed better when touch information appeared in
of the story. When other senses such as sight, hearing, and smell were
story would become especially successful. Touch allowed the development
and voice in the stories.
It may be valuable the next time we run the touch exercise to keep
in mind that
an overall use of touch throughout the story brings a more polished and
thorough quality to the work. In addition, using all the senses allows
story more depth and interest. These are goals worth practicing toward
Patricia L. Johnson
Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 3 Jul 2005
The Touch exercise presented a few challenges and some rewards this
time. In general it was a successful week of submissions and
critiques. As I read the submissions I wondered how different
characters would convey the sense of touch in distinctive ways. In
rewrites consider a detailed examination of how different characters
or personality types would convey the same touch experience to reflect
their own unique perspectives.
Thanks to everyone for participating. I hope that this week's
submissions will lead to polished, publishable rewrites.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.