Aug 17, 2007


There are probably as many writer's exercises out there as there are aspiring writers, each as wildly different as the next, but I ran across this one in the preface of a Phillip K. Dick novel and I really like the idea. I have no clue how original the exercise is, I may for all I know be describing the details of something that every semi-functional writer except me does with regularity, but there you have it, the perils of not knowing everything there is to know.

The writer in question posited a job (trash compactor mechanic) and thirteen short paragraph length forays, each intended to stretch creativity in, hopefully, thirteen different directions. And so, I'm going to try it; in the immortal words of those anti-drug campaigns I'm going to Just Say “Okay, Mebbe A Little Bit, Just This Once.” And I'm going to do so right here.

In this public forum.

In front of your very eyes.

Nine* Paragraph Length Writing Exercises About Trash Compactor Repairmen

1) John glanced down at the severed stumps of his left fingers, clutched and bleeding in his right hand and knew, beyond a certainty, that the GrindzAll Mark IV's faulty on-off switch had just claimed another victim. The tinny, metallic sound of his wedding ring being ground into golden bits was only the cap on twenty years of dedicated, loyal, and above all accident-free trash compactor repairman service.

2) Jerking angrily at the stuck on-off switch of a GrindzAll Mark IV, Stewart cursed under his breath, long and creatively. If it weren't for his drug-addled wife and his daughter desperate for that liver transplant he'd never have answered the newspaper ad promising him bright new opportunities and exciting adventures as a trash compactor repairman.

3) A peculiar odor greeted Samson as he wedged his massive shoulders into the sink cabinet's too-small opening. It was a familiar stink, comprised partly of old vegetables, partly of yeasty rot; settled, he was certain, in the delicate inner mechanism of the In-Sinkerator trash compactor hanging just beyond his reach. He made one more heave of his thick arms, trying to slip them past their wooden captors and the seam on his last clean work shirt parted with a quiet zipping sound, but with that it came to him: his drunk wife had served boiled cabbage and pork loins the night she asked him for a divorce.

4) With a soft snarl and a leap the blonde closed the last few feet between her and the stunned young man. Wedging him up against the sink with the pressure of her naked thighs her hands fumbled with his buttons eagerly. The dark-haired man hefted the soft weight of her pale breasts in his work-rough palms before burying his face in her cleavage. As the blonde slid her eager, admiring hands into the waistband of his boxer shorts Johnny sighed softly in the perfumed, powdered expanse of her bosom and wondered, not for the first time, what it was about a trash compactor repairman that made women so damned hot.

5) As the last spark of life ebbed from his refrigerator-crushed body, he realised he'd never get to tell the housewife the long, funny story of how he had come to arrive in her kitchen before she got home. Over the loud humming sound in his ears a soft, querulous voice said: "Oh no. You're not my rat-fink husband, you're the trash compactor repairman..."

6) Flying through the still morning light, Phil realised that he had just violated the first rule of trash compactor repairman across the world: Always make sure the power is turned off.

7) 7/16ths SAE box-end wrench clutched in one greasy hand, the impeller housing of a Kenmore Model Seventeen trash compactor (part number MJ-1994b) clutched in the other, Mark faced off against the two lean, grey aliens he had surprised in the little utility room of his client's home. Advancing with a yell something told him it was gonna be Monday all over again.

8) Laughing hollowly at the birthday cake shaped cunningly like a trash compactor, Steve "Wild Man" Jones gazed with unabashed hunger at the razor-sharp carving knife his wife was handing him. 'Thinks this is funny does she?' he thought to himself. 'She's about to see just how funny.'

9) Sidling up to the brand-new red Ferrari Testarossa idling in the parking lot, Jim glanced down at the occupant of the driver's seat, into the wizened, scarred face of retiring Senior Trash Compactor Repairman First Class Pearlie "Studs" Weblinger. "Don't drool on my paint, ya young punk" snarled Pearlie, as he shifted the sum total of his life savings into first gear and burned an acrid, smoking double line across the parking lot.

* yeah, I know I said thirteen up top there but this post has been sitting in my draft que for about a month now, and I figured it's time to give it it's legs, so nine you get. Wanna do better? Give it a shot and let me know how it comes out!


Maggie said...

Ok this is an amazing and cool writing exercise. I'm going to give it a try and let you know.

I absolutely loved the alien one - came out of nowhere for me and made me laugh. Oh and the fridge incident about the vindictive wife - excellent beginnings of say a murder mystery - or should I say the end really because now we know the killer.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Suhweet! I already have three ideas. I'll be back later.

meno said...

It was without question the worst mess he had ever seen in all his years as a trash compactor repairman. The woman beside him sobbed loudly, "Can you save him?"
"I'll try ma'am, but it don't look so good," he said. "Goddamn dog," he thought.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Vera adjusted her lace corset as she opened the front door. Seven this week! she thought to herself, A new record! But her hopes were dashed against the cleavage of the trash compactor repairwoman.

The trash compactor repairman pushed his white mask back over his head to get a better look. It didn't help much; the black water did nothing but reflect his white uniform back at him.
"Wha'da ya see?" the guard called down to him.
"Not much. I gotta...wait a minute." He pushed his mask back down over his face and took the plunge. As the fetid water closed over his head the trash compactor repairman wondered how his life might have been different if he hadn't taken this stinking government job. He found the intake valve that lead to the grinder and sure enough, it was completely blocked by a soft, thick mass. The repairman grabbed as much of it as he could and pulled. Most of it came out as he stood back up. The guard looked down at the massive wad of hair in the repairman's fists.
"Wookie," he said. "Goddam rebels fucking up my morning--" he managed to say before the massive explosion took care of the rest of his day.
(Written with an unconscious nod to 'Clerks')

" I look down into it, and I see two bright green eyes staring back up at me."
"Yeah. That cured me of peyote."
"Ok, Dan. What's _your_ worst?" Dan Chambers took another drag on his cigarette and looked around the group before his stare strayed to the waitress. Unlike the other trash compactor repairmen, he didn't look for long.
"Acid. I didn't see no eyes." He took another fortifying drag. "No, it was a...well, let's just say I couldn't fuck with the lights on after that."

(Wow. I hope this isn't a psychological test of some sort.)

He waited out in the hall with the other dads. One by one they went into the classroom and introduced themselves as doctors, lawyers, stock brokers, CEOs. He remembered driving in with his son that morning, Simon and Garfunkel on the radio. His boy said nothing to him the whole way, just fiddled with his uniform tie. When it was his turn, he stood in front of the class, every eye on him except for his son who studied his desk instead.
"Hi, I'm Phillip Dickens. And uh, I'm a...a boxer."
Every eye widened. His boy looked up.

Nancy Dancehall said...

Whoops. The last part of the second story should read:
"Wookie," he said. "Goddam rebels fucking up my morning--" the galactic trash compactor healer managed to say before the massive explosion took care of the rest of his day.

Irrelephant said...

Maggie, I was wondering how this little exercise would be taken--I'm glad it got such good feedback thus far. As for writing anything into a novel? *snort* I'm not about to start down THAT road. I know what writing a novel does to people. Just look at poor Nancy Dancy there.

Meno, you're a sick puppy, and I love it!

Nancy, you are utterly excellent at wordcraft. Each little paragraph stands so perfectly on it's own, has it's own life and colour. And an hommage' to Clerks...OMG! The poor contractors, trying to meet their deadlines, tryin' to feed their wives and kids, then BLAM!