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Hashtag: Writing the Center Square

Hashtag: Writing the Center Square

By Kristen Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     From 1965 to 1982, there was a popular game show called The Hollywood Squares. This is not to be confused with "Hollywood Squares," the tepid 1998 attempt to revive the show. The stage set was a massive tic-tac-toe stack of nine squares, each with a famous person seated comfortably inside. The general premise was that one contestant was x's, one was o's, whoever got three in a row won all manner of prizes. There were several rounds of game play went like this: contestant picks a square, host asks celebrity inside square a question, celebrity cracks jokes and eventually gives their answer, contestant agrees or disagrees with the celebrity and if they are correct they make their mark. Cast members changed often and included Vincent Price, Billy Crystal, Eartha Kitt, William Shatner, Mel Brooks, Mama Cass Elliot, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and a huge list of others. The show was absolutely hysterical.

     Whichever contestant went first would invariably choose the center square, as winning that box would give them the advantage. That meant that the center square was an honor - whoever was in that spot was going to have more air time than anyone else and had to be highly entertaining. Paul Lynde, Tim Conway, and George Carlin all had their reigns as the Center Square, with Paul Lynde's being the longest. Even if you think you don't know who that is, you do - Seth MacFarlane based the voice of the gray alien Roger of American Dad on Paul Lynde. He's also been imitated on The Simpsons and Futurama. There's your pop culture lesson for the day.

     Back to the center square. By the look of things, the center square was boxed in. If it were a traffic jam, you would not want to be that guy. But consider the fact that winning the center square gives the contestant four options to get tic-tac-toe, more than any other square. A corner gives three, a side square only two. What seems the most cramped actually contains the most opportunity. Thinking inside the box is what you're going for.

     How does this relate to writing? It's a lesson in making boundaries. For prose writers, that can be banning sentence fragments in your first draft or making strict rules about the universe you've created. For poets, this can be avoiding similes or writing in forms like the comeback villanelle. You might cross writing exercises - one says to write about your childhood home, one says to write in the voice of an animal. Suddenly you're looking at your same-old kitchen through the eyes of the family dog, and he notices a lot of things you never did. 

     Writing from Center Square doesn't guarantee a win, of course. But if you're willing to explore the small space where two ideas intersect, you may find it more expansive than you ever imagined.

Contact Information

Kristen Thompson

Published on August 06, 2014

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