Dec 5th, 2014 by writethebook
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J. Robert Lennon, whose second story collection, See You in Paradise, is just out from Graywolf Press.
This week’s Write the Book Prompt was generously offered by
my guest J. Robert Lennon, who is a teacher as well as being a writer, and who
is working on a collection of writing prompts and exercises. He created this
exercise after reading the book A Void, translated from the original French La
Disparition (literally, "The Disappearance"), a 300-page novel,
written in 1969 by Georges Perec, entirely without using the letter e (except
for the author's name). The 1994 translation by Gilbert Adair likewise does not
contain the letter e. As J. Robert Lennon pointed out to me, “there goes the
past tense and every pronoun.” His exercise is this: write a one-page story
about a funeral without using the letter “e.” You can’t use cemetery or grave
or funeral or death or tears or dead or die. He finds that students will come
up against a word they can’t use, then another and another, and the
sentence becomes so terrible, they have to back up and do an end runner on the
problem. Which is a great thing to do in any case. He says it often ends up
being the best prose they’ve written all semester because they have to work so
hard to write every single sentence.
Good luck with this exercise and please listen next week for another.