creative writing exercise – one sin

A few weeks ago, Eric posted about a writing exercise in which you only use single syllable words.  I decided to give it a try, but first I had to come up with a title to work from.  I cleared my mind, set forth the constraint that it was to be a phrase consisting of single syllable words (might as well start off on the right foot) and took the first thing that popped in, which happened to be “one sin”.  Now, it is entirely possible that my subconscious was instead trying to convey the phrase “once in”, but I think “one sin” has more potential.  So, without further ado, it’s time to get all monosyllabic.

“One Sin”

Once in the church, I found the priest with a frayed frock tied much too tight ’round his neck.  I thought that I might just back out the way that I had come in, but some other soul who had come in from the cold blocked the door.  Her hand flew to make the sign of the cross as she weighed the scene in front of her.  She must have seen too much of the type of show where the perp hung out and got caught, since she eyed me with a tinge of fear.  I tried to speak, but found no words could be coaxed from my throat while my lips pursed and then gave part, all with no sound.  By the look in her eye, this was not what she would need for us to get past this point.  “Not me,” I croaked with a whisp of drawn breath, while she paused to stare at the floor.

When her eyes once more were raised, she spoke, each word forced like a great weight from deep in her chest.  “One sin, that was all I came back to make up for,” she said.  “And now,” she said as she crossed the floor with new found drive, so fast that I could not move, “I have to live with one more.”


This is a ‘one-pager’ that we do alot for exercises in my writing group. As mentioned in the Short and Sweet post it’s just a sketch. The idea was to write a piece using only one syllable words.

He sat back in his chair and played at calm. He clenched the stem of the pipe in his teeth and puffed but the pipe had gone out. He stared at the ash in the bowl and looked at the clock. He reached for a match but the bell rang. She was here. Not yet time but she was here. He jumped up, went for the door but he still had the pipe. He went back and set it down, swept a hand through his hair, sighed.

She came through the door one step at a time, like a shy deer at a pool. Her hair was still long, still dark but now there was a thin streak of white. She saw him look and brushed it back but he shook his head. It’s not what you think.

“I’m glad you came,” was all he said, took her coat. “Thank you.”

She just gave a nod and looked around. Yet, she walked in. The smell of pipe smoke still hung in the air. Her head came up to sniff. He thought once more of the deer. He hung the coat on the rack and placed a hand on the small of her back walked her all the way in. She saw all the food and stopped.

“What’s all this?”

“I cooked,” he rushed forth, pulled back a chair, but she just crossed her arms. “Please, sit.”

“You said a drink. This is too much.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“No,” she said, arms still crossed, “I mean it is too much. I just ate.”

“Oh, I see,” he said. “Well we can still sit. We can talk.”

“Talk? What’s left to say.”

“Who knows?” he said and held out his hand to the chair. “I thought I had said it all but I was a fool. That much is clear at last. At least to me.”

She shrugged and sat and he joined her. He looked at all the food but there was no way he could eat. He looked at her, her set jaw, and sighed.

“There are things you have to hear…no,” he stopped. “That’s not quite right. Things I have to say, I think. If you’ll let me.” He stopped, and now leaned back. Can she know how hard this is? He thought.
And then he heard his voice in his head clear as a bell. Why don’t you tell her?

“Ah…this is hard,” he said, his chest tight, voice soft and now she was the one to sigh.

“Why don’t we start with the drinks?” she said.

“Of course,” he said, “how could it slip my mind?”

He stood and went to the board and there was the clink of glass on glass. Her eyes slipped from his stooped back to the door. Why was she here? Much of her knew she should go but more of her thought she should stay, at least for a while. When she turned he was there.

“I think you’ll like this,” he said. “How does port sound?”

She stared, eyes wide, the glass was dark as coal and the ink could not be read for it was quite old. Still she knew what it said.

“Is this…from his stock?” her voice held doubt though it was right there to see. “I thought…”

“It was all gone? So did I. There’s more. So much I should have seen. I’d like to share it with you. Please.”

Tears filled her eyes and one spilled, gleamed on her cheek, her chin. Then she smiled and the tear fell. “Just pour,” she said.

He did as she bid and they both drank. It was strong and danced on their tongues, full of notes. The port went down smooth. It was a good year. It had stood the test of time.

Short and Sweet

A few days back I ran across a small paperback my wife had lying around.  It was The Miracle of Languageby Richard Lederer and was published in ’91.  It’s a quick read, musings on English and it’s use but one chapter hit me.  It was “The Case for Short Words”.  The chapter was fittingly brief, only four and a half pages where the author praises the grace and strength of short words over the plodding ambiguity created by poorly used long words.

Apparently Lederer is also a high school English teacher.  Believing wholly in the power of short words he sets his ninth graders a task.  They are to write a composition, anything they want, but they can’t use words with more than one syllable.  Now “omit needless words” is one thing but monosyllables only?  Thing is the author posted the work of the ninth graders and, freed from the pressure to use ‘fancy’ vocabulary they write clear and heartfelt pieces.  Lederer gives two examples and they’re good.  Now I love me some ten-dollar words so this exercise sounded worth a try–break out of the comfort zone and all that.  I gave it a shot on the ‘one-pagers’ we do in my writing group. 

The key-word was aperitif so I was already starting with a fancy multisyllable word.  The result was interesting.  It was a little awkward at first but the trick seemed to be rhythm.  With single syllables the sentences seem to need a meter to get the flow right and it felt a bit like trying to write poetry.  I doubt I’ll give up all my high falootin words but anyone who gets distracted trying to think of the exactly perfect word to describe the color of the red bricks could just say ‘brick red’ and keep typing.  I’ll post it below if you want to read it but it’s just a vignette, not a complete story.  And hey, it’s short.