Tuesday, August 25, 2015


As I was studying and honing my skill as a writer, I sought to come up with road markers to push my abilities and give me the confidence to take the next step. One of these markers was my Jack-and-Jill exercise.
The Jack-and-Jill exercise grew out of the fact that I write mysteries and thrillers. Mysteries and thrillers tend to rely heavily upon plot. I would sometimes read a mystery that, I felt, relied too much on plot and left out other elements of literary style. This may be a matter of taste because I gravitate toward literary mysteries like those of Tom Franklin and Dennis Lehane. So in my own work, I tried to come up with an assignment that would remind me of the importance of these other elements—even in a plot driven genre. What I came up with was my Jack-and-Jill exercise.

Basically, the Jack-and-Jill exercise is to take a nursery rhyme (like Jack and Jill) and rewrite it into a short story of some length relying on skills other than plot. Because the plot is already laid out and well known before the exercise begins, it forces me to focus on those other elements of story such as description, dialogue, pacing and character. To me, it feels like I’m working out those literary muscles that tend to atrophy when I focus too much on plot.

This exercise often comes to my thoughts as I write my novels. When I come to a place where I’m stepping from one plot point to another and I find myself struggling to write that transition, I take a step back and remember my Jack-and-Jill exercise. I change my focus away from plot and try to make the transition stand on its own merit. Over the course of writing three novels, I’ve found this exercise useful.


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