Practical Writing: Prose Origami

Sometimes writing is an unencumbered joy–the words flow freely, the story unfolds smoothly, and the expression of the muse is in perfect harmony with the prose. Much of the time, writing is a creative process more akin to sculpture, where rough drafts are reworked and refined until the inner beauty is finally revealed by the artist.

On the other hand, during National Novel Writing Month in November, the goal is to just write. And write. And continue writing until you get to 50,000 words. The focus quickly turns to volume.

This is a little technique I learned last November to expand prose without turning my writing into one big long ramble. I called it prose origami because I keep folding new pieces into the prose until I am satisfied with its shape and structure. That is, I take a section of text, like these two sentences:

I have lots of sentences; you’re welcome to borrow this one, for example.

I think hairy chests, legs, and arms make a sexy man.

And I start folding text into them by adding sentences in between.

Jeff looked at her askance. “I have lots of sentences; you’re welcome to borrow this one, for example.”

Leah chuckled, and leaned closer. “I think hairy chests, legs, and arms make a sexy man.”

The doorbell rang, and they both jumped.

I repeat the process:

“Do I have your word on that?”

Jeff looked at her askance. “I can do better than my word. I have lots of sentences; you’re welcome to borrow this one, for example. If you like it, you may even keep it.”

Leah chuckled, and leaned closer. She idly thumbed through the pages of the magazine in front of her. “I think hairy chests, legs, and arms make a sexy man.”

He reached over and slipped the magazine from under her fingertips. The doorbell rang, and they both jumped.

“That would be your mom, undoubtedly.”

And then finally:

Leah set the teacups on the kitchen island. “Do I have your word on that?” She nudged him over with her hip, ignoring his protest as she slid the magazine from under his elbow.

Jeff looked at her askance. A smile played across his lips. “I can do better than my word. I’ll give you as many words as you like. I have lots of sentences; you’re welcome to borrow this one, for example. It’s quite versatile. If you like it, you may even keep it. Normally, I’d collect royalties, but for you… well, I’m sure we an come to some sort of arrangement.”

Leah chuckled, and leaned closer. She lifted her teacup, pressing her leg against his as if she were completely unaware of the contact. She idly thumbed through the pages of the magazine in front of her. She tipped her shoulder slightly and arched her neck, her gaze fixed solidly on the pages in front of her. “I think hairy chests, legs, and arms make a sexy man.”

“Is that so?” He reached over and slipped the magazine from under her fingertips. She could feel his breath against her neck. The doorbell rang, and they both jumped. Leah bit her lip and flipped the magazine closed.

“That would be your mom, undoubtedly.” Jeff pulled her close and kissed her firmly. “See you next week.”

So I cheated a bit because I put two sentences at the end of the last, but more words are better here. I’ve gone from 24 words in two seemingly unrelated sentences to 226 words in 24 sentences in a short scene that could easily fit into a larger story. And I did it all in three steps.

This technique is fun and simple and can be used with any size units of text. For instance, I could have used paragraphs, scenes, or even chapters as my unit instead of sentences. Of course, those would take longer to write, but the important thing here is that this technique helps you flesh out text in a controlled fashion. Rather than some rambling stream of consciousness, the end product is a pretty, tightly-filled bit of writing that has (hopefully) deepened your story and filled in some details that you might not even have noticed were missing.


Kit Fox writes when she’s not raising children, working, renovating her house, or knitting. She also hosts the Writer’s Chat on Tuesdays at 1700 UTC in the writers.stackexchange.com chat room.

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