Writing Exercise: Structure

Here’s another exercise from my current fiction workshop. This one was neat: we had to write a 26-sentence story with each sentence beginning with a different letter, from A to Z. 

After Nicole died, Celia locked herself in the bathroom and examined the contents of the makeup bag her stepmom gave her when she was twelve, then began to powder her nose. Beautiful women are supposed to invest a great deal in their children also being pretty, especially their girl-children, so she supposed a zip-up needlepoint makeup bag from the 1970s filled with handpicked cosmetics was no great display of love. Celia had always been a great reader of fairy tales, however, and she knew that for a stepmother to encourage their step-girl-children’s beauty was another matter entirely.

“Dirtbag ballet down the bins down the alley as I walked through the chalet of the shadow of death…”

Everything that you’ve come to expect…” Celia began to sing, as if she were locked in a tower rather than a bathroom where she’d stained her first panties. “Fuck.”

Girlhood had been an enchanted sleep for Celia, and then womanhood began and she realized that waiting outside her bathroom walls were a forest of brambles.


Her stepmother had loved Ms. Ice-blue eyeshadow, tiger eyelashes, and Bianca Jagger, yes, but also Gloria and Germaine and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Jammed in between the Japanese powder and matte lipsticks were buttons reading A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE. KILL THE MISOGYNISTIC PATRIARCHY. Lip liner.

Mom would have held up the contents of the bag as a sign of her successor’s flightiness, her hypocrisy. Nicole had not even met Celia’s father until a good two and a half years after Daisy Mink—Celia always thought that her mother sounded more like a whore or a homewrecker than Nicole Taylor, who went braless and wore miniskirts but had the ordinary unliberated name of a pre-Betty Friedan California housewife—had her marriage annulled, not that it mattered. Only thing worse than a women’s-libber was a pretty women’s-libber in her mother’s book. Personally, Celia didn’t see the issue.

Quietly, she had always known her stepmother had her flaws. Reading all those tales of ogress mothers-in-law and mutilated virginal mermaids had not left her with briar rose-tinted glasses. She could be condescending, she could be cold or even cruel when she was angry; she had always been a heck a lot better at schooling her impressionable, perennially enchanted young stepdaughter on the rituals of womanhood—French manicures and pro-Roe v. Wade slogans, matching lingerie and Bella Azbug—then she was at providing a navigable roadmap around its dangers, the married kings and necrophiliac princes, the hungry wolves entreating tender morsels in Freudian red to undress with promises of grandmothers’ flesh, and when the married wolves inevitably came, Nicole might as well have lied down to rest in a glass coffin. The psychoanalysts always did leave out that fairy godmothers had created those thorns for protection.

Uterine cancer. Very ironic, her mother’s son had said. Wanker.

Xena: Warrior Princess’s theme song was playing when Celia emerged from the bathroom. Young Celia had loved Lucy Lawless, loved that she could be a princess and beautiful and butch, and now her own stepdaughter was waiting for the reboot. Zella, that was her name.


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