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19 November, 2006

Trading Places - an open writing exercise

As writers, we frequently use our passion for—and skill with—words in support of the causes and values we believe in strongly. We write strongly-worded essays, earnest poems, emotional protest songs, petitions to governments, sermonising emails, vituperative blog posts..

But how often do we take the time to really understand the other side of the debate? To get into the skins of those misguided souls who hold views diametrically opposed to ours?

This exercise seeks to get you to do just that. You may find that there are valid points on both sides of the line in the sand. You may find flaws in your own logic. Insh'allah, you will find a middle ground, a space where conversations can happen, not shouting matches and exchanging insults.

But that's not the only reason why you should try this exercise. It could also help you with your craft. When you write about a negative character (-: one evidently very unlike the rational, kind, sweetness-and-light-spreading person you are :-) this could help you give that character depth, it could get your reader to see that world view as valid, it could make your writing more convincing.

So here are the guidelines.

Pick a topic on which you have very strong views. Write about it. From the other side of the fence. No restictions on genre or style or subject. It could be a poem extolling child labour. A monologue from a necrophiliac. An essay in favour of stronger government controls if you're a libertarian (or a paean to free markets of you're not). A short story where the protagonist is a violent sociopath. And so on.

If you are a Caferati member, do come and leave your piece in the exercise thread, and come back here to leave a link to the post (that's the one you get when you click on the "#" symbol next to your post title) in the comments.

For those of you who are not part of Caferati (hmph): if you have your own web space, post it there, with a link to this post, and come leave a link and a small introduction to the piece here, in the comments.

And if you do not own online real estate, please feel free to post your entire contribution here in the comments.

I'll update this post with direct links as well.

Added on 20th November

The idea is to write postively about something you'd normally write negatively about.

To stretch your imagination to encompass a world view that you despise, ridicule or just don't believe in.

To write convincingly from the perspective of a person who is very unlike you.

Some examples.

Are you anti-terrorism? Then you could try writing something that glorifies it. Perhaps a story about how terrorists are created, from the point of view of a young adult who has just become one. Maybe it's a poem that invites participation in a violent revolution.

If you're in favour of a government banning XYZ television channel, then your piece could make the case against government control. It could be an essay. It could be a piece of flash fiction that dramatises the point.

Are you homophobic? Write a letter to the Prime Minister asking for legislation to legalise gay marriage.

Do you think the moderators of this forum are power-mad despots? Then your piece could be a hymn sung by a fictional - yet entirely believable - person who lights agarbattis in front of our photographs every day, thrice a day.

No, don't write both sides of the story. Write only the side that is, in your opinion, diametrically opposite to the one you'd support normally write in favour of. We will take it on trust that the point of view you espouse in this exercise is something you genuinely don't believe in, subscribe to, or endorse.

Here's an example, a love story by Pawan Sony that I'm (-: reasonably :-) sure is not a fictionalisation of his real life preferences.

Clearer now, I hope?

P.S. I'd particularly welcome feedback from those who choose to participate in this exercise. It would be interesting to hear how easy or difficult it was for you. And whether this altered your thinking in any way.

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