Rhonda Herrington Bulmer
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August 7th, 2013
Warm-up writing exercises that take all day
by Rhonda Herrington Bulmer

In the first place, there is very little that’s surprising, dramatic, unusual, or unpredictable about me—and since I’ve already related this short list of anecdotes to my friends, I probably won’t be able to fool any of them. But I thought this was such a fun and useful writing exercise by Canadian author Lawrence Hill on the Canada Writes website, like so,


I thought it would be fun to share on my blog. And please, feel free to guess which of the following stories you think is true in the comment box. Here is Lawrence Hill’s exercise:

Writing Prompt #1
Write two surprising, dramatic, unusual, unpredictable stories about yourself. They can be short. Half a page will suffice. One must be entirely true, and the other 100% invented. They should be of equal length. Test them out on your acquaintances and see if they can tell which one is fiction, and which one is true.  If they are convincingly drawn, it should be difficult for your friends to guess correctly between the true story and the one you have invented.

So here goes:

Scenario # 1

It was late winter, and lunchtime break was just coming to a close. We were all lined up together on the steps leading to our grade six classroom, a portable add-on to a small grade school. The boys were jostling around, and Debbie was right in the middle of it. She had short auburn hair, brown eyes and lots of freckles. She could handle herself around boys, too.

I wasn’t enjoying the boisterous fun. I liked to stand still, especially since that was the rule—stand still, be quiet, wait to be let in. Though I tried to avoid the pushing, pulling and swaying, Debbie managed to elbow me and it hurt. I don’t know why I reacted so quickly, maybe I was just frustrated. I pushed her back—hard—and I wasn’t being playful. So the humour faded from her face, too.

And then I realized: I was about to experience my first (and last) fist fight.

“Woah,” came the delicious rise of anticipation from the boys.

I remember my stomach caving in around Debbie’s fist. It was painful and drove the air out of my mouth. And I remember my knuckles meeting her jaw in flailing fashion, ‘cause let’s face it, I didn’t know what I was doing.

It didn’t go on very long. The teacher opened the door and we were promptly punished after school. Lines, I think, sitting beside one another in silence.

When the teacher left the room, Debbie lifted a hand to massage her jaw and leaned toward me. “I think I’m gonna lose a tooth,” she whispered.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “My stomach hurts, if that makes you feel better.”

She turned back in her seat. “Kind of.”

We were pretty good friends after that.

Scenario # 2

I’m finally ready to admit it. I was a member of Pranksters United in grade 12.  We each took turns pulling an anonymous, innocent prank on a teacher once a month. Though I was a timid little thing, I have to say that it really brought me out of my shell.

Mr. Matheson, for example—the most boring history teacher in the history of teaching. He talked in a soft, monotone voice, the kind that hypnotizes you with the message, “just go to sleep, because I’ve been reciting the same crap for 35 years and quite frankly, I’m retiring next year.”

Mr. Matheson had a stereo system in his office and one day, we switched a recording of one of Hitler’s World War II speeches for a cassette recording of someone snoring. When he hit play in the middle of class, the confused look on his face was hilarious, but I think the subtle message was lost on him.

When my turn came round, my victim was Mr. Burns, our English teacher. He was fond of Shakespeare and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was in a wheelchair after developing multiple sclerosis a few years prior, but he still had a pretty good sense of humour. My idea was to photocopy a poster of The Bard, gave him some black teeth and a speech bubble above his head that read “Toronto sucketh.”

The problem was, how to stick the poster on the back of his wheelchair? During silent work, I approached him at his desk for help and while posing a question, managed to stick the poster on the chrome frame of his wheelchair with one hand.  He wheeled around with it all afternoon before somebody pointed it out.

I could tell you who the other members of Pranksters United are…but then they’d have to kill me. Or give me a wedgie.




2 Responses to “Warm-up writing exercises that take all day”

  1. Charmaine says:

    I guess the first one was you.

  2. Maureen says:

    I’m guessing the first one too.

Leave a Reply to Charmaine