Describe a rock—but make it “really’ about something else.
No explicit metaphoric transformations permitted, no “like” or “as if” that tips the game. This is about internal processes, exercising one’s ability to be absorbed with one idea while writing, effectively, about something else. The special instruction is: give it power, deep meaning, strong feeling. Break our hearts, elevate our existence, terrify us. Pure description. Two pages.
Notes & Hints:
This can be done with great deliberation or intuitively, learning along with the reader what it means, as it were. The “really” part has no limits; one can imbue the rock with loneliness, historic purpose, the personality of your least favorite teacher, Spinoza’s God-saturated atheism, or the color green.
It does not matter if anyone can see (or guess) what your “really” is. It does matter that the reader feels something about your rock, and, if possible, be excited or disturbed. You succeed if they can’t help but sense something “more” is going on.
This exercise should disrupt one’s over-reliance on explicit, the literal, visible constructions of action, character, and plot. It can deepen one’s use of metaphor.
It's great fun—and liberating—to lose oneself in detailed description, to have almost no action or intentions for an object. (Though one can describe a rock caught up in an avalanche or skipping across a lake, one must always be describing the rock, not the “story” of its current circumstance.) (Mostly.)
This is by definition an extended metaphor exercise. But it should look like a straightforward description. It strengthens us as editors because we must edit as we go, or afterwards, to ensure we have no violations of the description-only rule. It can be daunting to invoke a metaphoric presence without referring to it, and our first attempt will likely have small cheats. For example: “a band of angry red color circles the rock”? “Angry” violates the spirit of the assignment, because it is literal and explicit. An alternative might be “a band of crimson turns and twist through the rock, erupts unexpectedly, submerging again.” (Like a flash of anger, the red turns and twists inside; erupts, then is hidden.)
Describe an action (or related set of actions) without describing the “actors,” the people or things that cause or engage in the action.
Describe a character in one of your existing works without adjectives.