Crashing in Style: Growing Sentences with David Foster Wallace

4 June 2009

I had been wanting to try this writing exercise based on David Foster Wallace’s literary style for awhile now. The following [true] story seemed like an apt one for me to try it out.

0. Begin with an idea, a string of ideas.

As I was biking yesterday, I crashed into a taxi door. I fell and broke my finger.

1. Use them in a compound sentence.

As I was biking yesterday, a taxi door was flung open in my path, the crash resulting in a broken finger.

2. Add rhythm with a dependent clause.

As I was biking yesterday, a taxi door was flung open in my path, and though riding fast, the consequent fall resulted only in a broken finger.

3. Elaborate using a complete sentence as interrupting modifier.

As I was biking yesterday, a taxi door was flung open in my path, and though riding fast, the consequent fall—15 feet across the pavement— resulted only in a broken finger.

4. Append an absolute construction or two.

As I was biking yesterday, a taxi door was flung open in my path, and though riding fast, the consequent fall—15 feet across the pavement—only resulted in a broken finger, the taxi driving off with a clunky rear door, my evening spent at the hospital.

5. Paralell-o-rize your structure (turn one noun into two).

As I was biking yesterday, a taxi door was flung open in my path, and though riding fast, the consequent crash and fall—15 feet across the pavement—only resulted in a broken finger, the taxi driving off with a clunky rear door, my wednesday evening ruined and spent at the emergency clinic.

STOP HERE IF YOU ARE A MINIMALIST, WRITING COACH, OR JAMES WOOD

6. Adjectival phrases: lots of them.

As I was biking through breezy rush-hour traffic yesterday, a careless cab door was flung open in my narrow car bound path, and though riding fast, the inevitable and consequent crash and fall—15 feet across the rutty pavement—only resulted in a fractured finger, the taxi driving off with a clunky rear door, my whole wednesday evening ruined and spent at the emergency clinic.

7. Throw in an adverb or two.

As I was biking through breezy rush-hour traffic yesterday, a careless cab door was flung widely open in my narrow car bound path, and though riding fast, the inevitable and consequent crash and fall—15 feet across the rutty pavement—only resulted in a fractured finger, the taxi driving off with a slightly clunky rear door, my whole wednesday evening ruined and spent at the emergency clinic.

8. Elaboration — mostly unnecessary. Here you’ll turn nouns phrases into longer noun phrases; verbs phrases into longer verb phrases. This is largely a matter of synonyms and prepositions. Don’t be afraid to be vague! Ideally, these elaborations will contribute to voice. […] The goal here is word count.

As I was riding my fixie down Sainte-Catherine street through breezy rush-hour traffic yesterday, a careless cab door was flung widely open right in my narrow car bound path, and though riding fast, the inevitable and consequent crash and fall—15 feet across the rutty pavement—resulted only in a fractured finger accompanied by a side dish of rough scrapes on the right elbow and lower back, the more fortunate party of this brutal encounter drove away with a slightly clunky rear door, my whole wednesday evening ruined and spent devoted to waiting with an overly swollen right hand at emergency clinic.

STOP HERE IF YOU ARE NOT WRITING PARODY

9. Give it that Wallace shine. Replace common words with their oddly specific, scientific-y counterparts. Finally, go crazy with the possessives.

As I was riding my Harris Cyclery hubbed fixie down Sainte-Catherine street through breezy rush-hour traffic yesterday, a careless Camry cab door was flung widely open right in my narrow car bound path, and though riding fast, the inevitable and consequent crash and fall—15 feet across the rutty pavement—resulted only in a fractured annular accompanied with a side dish of rough scrapes on the right elbow and lower back, the more fortunate party of this brutal encounter drove away with a slightly clunky rear door, my whole wednesday evening ruined and spent devoted to waiting with an overly swollen right hand at the Hotel-Dieu emergency clinic.

  • UPDATE Following from the Kottke post, another try out of growing sentences with John August. Other examples in his comments.