“Speak, Don’t Speak: Are We There Yet?” (writing exercise discussion)

Speak Do Not Speak--wonderbook

The nine-step “Speak, Don’t Speak: Are We There Yet” exercise in Wonderbook is one of  the most comprehensive way I know to test and develop your skill in almost all aspects of creating fiction. By separating out elements like perspective, description, and dialogue and having you use them in different contexts, “Speak, Don’t Speak…” not only gives you practice in many areas, it also helps you evaluate your comfort level with the various elements of fiction, like point of view. If you’re reading these words, I’m assuming you have attempted the exercise. Please note that it requires your undivided attention, and depending on the time you have available, it may take you a week to finish all of the steps. That may seem excessive time-wise, but practice–and especially targeted practice like this–is essential to improvement. Here are a few specific question to stimulate further thought after having completed “Speak, Don’t Speak.” – Jeff VanderMeer

  • Did your comfort level with a particular part of the exercise correspond to your ability to complete it with a degree of competence? (Speaks to the idea that you may be good at some aspects of fiction but that you’re not always going to enjoy working on those aspects.)
  • How did your impression of the importance of certain parts of the dialogue and description you wrote change over the course of the exercise? (What did you mourn losing the most, and why? Do you see why those sections had to be cut in order to prioritize or maintain the effect you wanted to achieve?)
  • Was it harder to cut dialogue or description? (Sometimes, depending on the type of scene, it may be hard to figure out what bits of dialogue must be there, or it may be hard to know what to prioritize in description, so your answer doesn’t necessarily mean that what you found hardest is what you need to work on the most.)
  • Was it harder to write dialogue or description? (If you usually don’t write much description, for example, this exercise is an excellent way to get exercise in that area, to improve it, given that you may in future find you’re writing a novel or story that requires it.)
  • Do you now have a better understanding of how the human body moves and how observation of people is essential to realistically portraying things about them, like mannerisms? (The most difficult part of this exercise may be writing a scene from outside of a character with no dialogue–it requires you to make use of specific detail and to write clearly and concisely. Refer back to the Description section of chapter 2 of Wonderbook for more tips.)
  • Do you prefer third person over first person, or vice versa? And do you know why? (What can you do going forward to gain proficiency in the point of view you are least comfortable with?)
  • Do you see how you can apply aspects of this exercise when you are having trouble  while writing your novel or story? Most parts of this exercise can be applied to your existing work to test it by seeing it from a different perspective or stance. If you’re stuck, it’s not extra work to solve that knot by writing material that won’t make it into the finished piece of fiction–it’s, in fact, probably essential.