Writers share something in common with actors; they need to be able to understand people who are outside their own personal experience. When we write a character who is vastly different from us, we do what actors do, which is step inside the mind and body of someone else.
Not all writers do this. If you write essays, blogs, or memoirs, getting into other people’s heads is not a necessary skill. But if you write fiction, it’s essential. It’s also a common practice in poetry, especially in poetry that strives to be compassionate, socially aware, or empathetic.
It’s also not a bad life skill. Fostering empathy gives you a broader understanding of the world and the people in it and can be immensely helpful in mitigating conflict and bridging cultures.
Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write a poem from a perspective other than your own. Read more
Language is a funny thing, and translations are neither as simple nor as straightforward as we might want them to be.
Years ago, when I was learning Spanish (I never did master it), on an especially warm day, I wanted to say, “I’m hot,” which is a standard expression in English. But when I said the phrase, “Yo soy caliente” to my Spanish-speaking cousin, he laughed and warned me not to go around using that phrase. Apparently in Spanish, this expression has to do with lust, not the temperature.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: translation requires more than looking up words in a language dictionary.
Languages are filled with connotations and nuances. Technology has given us a host of tools that we can use to parse languages that we don’t know, but we can’t rely on these tools for proper translations because they are not capable of fully understanding the subtleties of language: especially colloquialisms, cliches, and other common expressions.
We can usually use translator tools to get the gist of some text that’s written in a foreign language, but as writers, we can also find ways to use these tools to hone our craft. Today we’ll use online translators to generate a poetry writing exercise.
Poetry Writing Exercise
The goal of this exercise is to use an online translator as a tool to get your raw material, a collection of words and phrases that you’ll use to build a new poem. For this exercise, you’ll need a poem written in a foreign language plus a professional translation of that poem in English.
Here are the steps:
- Find a poem that was written in a foreign language that you don’t speak, read, or understand. Make sure it’s a poem that has been professionally translated into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). You’ll need both the translation and native versions of the poem.
- Read the poem aloud in its native language. You don’t know this language, so don’t worry about comprehension or pronunciation. Just read it and see what it sound like. Does it have a rough, jagged feeling? Is it smooth and flowing?
- Paste the poem into an online translation tool and translate it into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). Do not use a published translation of the work. The key to this exercise is to take the original poem in its native language, and run it through an electronic translator.
- Read the translated copy. Does it make sense? Do any words or phrases feel odd or out of place?
- Now pull out words and phrases that interest you. Copy and paste them into a new document (or write them as a list in your notebook).
- Use the words and phrases you’ve harvested to write a new poem of your own. For an added twist, try to incorporate new words and phrases that are reminiscent of the native language of the poem. For example, if you’re using a poem written in Hawaiian, consider setting your poem on one of the Hawaiian islands.
- Now get the professional translation of the poem and read it. How similar is it to the online translation? How similar is it to the poem you wrote?
A good way to find poems for this exercise is to search for famous poets from other countries or pick up a book of poems that are published in both their native languages and English translations.
Lost in Translation
I studied French for four years in junior high and high school plus two semesters in college. I never did become fluent because I was unable to experience immersion. But what surprised me the most about learning French was how much it taught me about my native language, English. We writers can learn a lot about writing by studying various languages.
Are you bilingual? Have you ever studied or mastered a foreign language? How has your understanding of language influenced your poetry? Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Leave a comment!
A while back, I wrote a post that had nothing to do with food, but food became a running metaphor while I was revising. The food metaphor was so delicious (or maybe I was so hungry) that I rewrote the entire post with food on the brain.
The blog posts that I write with metaphors always get a lot of positive feedback and everyone seems to embrace them. So I thought why not make writing exercises out of metaphors?
So, what makes metaphors work?
The most effective metaphors trigger our senses by connecting an otherwise intangible subject to sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. If you can engage any of these senses through metaphor, your writing will take on new life. Not only will it become more entertaining and more memorable, it will be easier for readers to relate to what you’re saying.
Writing exercises that focus on metaphors present a great challenge for learning how to use one of the most effective literary devices at our disposal. And using metaphors in our writing helps us engage readers’ senses. Metaphors are a lot of fun because tickling the senses is…well…sensual. So let’s try it, shall we?
Exercise #1: Thread the Metaphor
Step One: Choose a Topic
Just about any topic will do, but keep in mind that some topics don’t need the help of a metaphor. Subjects like sex, food, music, and anything else that intrinsically affects the senses might not benefit from a metaphor the way more abstract topics will. Think about subjects you’ve explored recently in your writing. Were there any topics that felt flat or dry? You can revisit those topics and see how a metaphor adds dimension and makes a piece more compelling.
Step Two: Choose a Metaphor
Choose one of the five senses and come up with something that affects that particular sense. Here are some examples:
- Sight: the bold colors of a Picasso painting, anything with motion (traffic, trains, the sea), scenic landscapes
- Touch: the warmth of velvet, the hard cool of steel, or the scratchy texture of wool
- Taste: foods or flavors — sweet, spicy, rich, or tart
- Sound: city sounds, nature (birds tweeting), music, a roaring engine, or absolute quiet
- Scent: spring showers, shampoo and soaps, swimming pools, a wet dog
Also, be on the lookout for metaphors that work and metaphors that don’t. Some metaphors are tired and have become clichés (stopping to smell the roses comes to mind). Look for unique and original metaphors and notice which ones don’t quite make the grade.
Step Three: Write
Write a short essay about your topic, threading the metaphor through the piece. For example, if you’re going to use the bold colors of a Picasso painting as your metaphor, you can play off your metaphor by mixing in new metaphors about canvasses, paintbrushes, color, and light. You can even get into museums, history, and just about any other area where art is part of the context.
Metaphors work well in almost any type of writing, so you can use this exercise to draft a blog post, a poem, or a short story
Exercise #2: Metaphor Refresh
Go through your journal or files where you store pieces you’ve written and see if there’s anything that could be reworked and made more enticing through the use of a metaphor. For example, metaphors often work well in place of lengthy descriptions. Instead of trying to describe how complex and mysterious life is, we can simply say life is a puzzle.
Exercise #3: Metaphor Mash-Up
Review the first exercise above (“Thread the Metaphor”) and then make a list of twenty-five things. They can be people, places, objects, and topics for discussion. For each item on the list, come up with a single metaphor that could represent it. Be open minded as you work through the list. For example, one of your items might be child. If you come up with munchkin as a metaphor, you’ll discover that the child has taken on personality and specific features. Let the items on your list inspire the metaphors, but then let the metaphors influence the items in return.
Use Metaphors Wisely!
If you decide to tackle any of these writing exercises, come back here and tell us about it!
Have writing exercises like these helped you improve your writing? Have they inspired new ideas? How have metaphors served your writing? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment.
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Here’s a creative writing exercise from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, a book that takes writers on an inspired journey through different forms and genres of writing while offering comprehensive writing techniques, practical experience, and ideas for publishable projects.
Each chapter focuses on a different form or concept: freewriting, journaling, fiction, poetry, creativity, and article writing are all covered.
Today, we’ll take a peek at “Chapter Ten: Article and Blog Writing” with an exercise called “You’re the Expert.” Enjoy!
You’re the Expert
You know a little bit about a lot of things, but there are a few things you know a lot about. And knowledge is power.
One of the traditional duties of a writer is to collect and redistribute knowledge and information. After all, writers are responsible for textbooks, instruction manuals, and reference collections, like encyclopedias.
The Internet has made this type of material more accessible than ever before. People no longer have to trudge down to the library or buy expensive sets of encyclopedias (which quickly become outdated) to research and learn. They just log in and look it up.
Choose something you know a lot about. In fact, choose the one thing you know the most about. It could a subject you studied in school. It could be a video game you’ve played for countless hours. It could be something simple, like the parts of speech in the English language, or it could be something complicated, like how photosynthesis works. Write an informative article explaining this thing to a layperson—someone with zero experience or knowledge about the topic.
Tips: Assume your reader is ignorant about the subject. If you’re doing a piece on photosynthesis, assume your reader doesn’t know what carbon dioxide is. If you’re doing a complex piece, break it down into simple steps and definitions.
Variations: If you’d rather not get into the nitty gritty about your subject matter, write a statement explaining your own expertise. Why are you qualified to write about photosynthesis?
Applications: Many writers have built careers around writing about what they know best or what they can research and explain to readers.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Today’s writing exercise comes from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes writers on an exciting journey through different forms and genres while providing writing techniques, practical experience, and inspiration.
Each chapter focuses on a different form or writing concept: freewriting, journaling, memoirs, fiction, storytelling, form poetry, free verse, characters, dialogue, creativity, and article and blog writing are all covered.
Today, we’ll take a peek at “Chapter Seven: Form Poetry” with a poetry exercise simply called “Haiku.” Enjoy!
Although haiku appears to be one of the simplest poetry forms, it’s actually quite complex. To truly understand haiku, you need to know a little bit about the Japanese language, or more specifically, some key differences between Japanese and English. Also, traditional haiku adhere to a few pretty strict rules regarding form and content.
A haiku consists of seventeen moras or phonetic units. The word mora can loosely be translated as syllable.
A haiku is a seventeen-syllable verse. Traditionally, haiku were written on a single line, but modern haiku occupy three lines of 5-7-5 syllables.
Haiku also use a device called kireji (cutting word). This word breaks the haiku into two parts, which are distinctly different but inherently connected. The kireji is not a concept used in English, so poets writing haiku in English often use punctuation marks instead of kireji, usually a hyphen or ellipses.
The kireji provides structure to the verse and emphasizes imagery used on either side. It may not always be easy to identify the kireji in a haiku, but if you look for a word or punctuation mark that abruptly breaks the train of thought and severs the haiku into two parts, you’ve probably found it.
Another basic element of haiku is the kigo (season word). A true haiku is set in a particular season and is fundamentally concerned with nature. The kigo might be an obvious word like snow (indicating winter) or it could be vague as with a word like leaves (which can be present in any season).
There is much debate (and some controversy) over what technically qualifies as a haiku. Some poets merely adhere to the 5-7-5 syllabic and line structure and disregard the kireji and kigo elements. Purists insist that a poem is not haiku if it does not meet all of the traditional requirements.
Additionally, many modern poets do not write haiku that exclusively focus on nature. Contemporary haiku explore just about any subject imaginable.
Try your hand at writing a few haiku. For this exercise, focus on writing a poem that is seventeen syllables on three lines with the following meter: 5-7-5.
Tips: The most captivating haiku are quite lovely and use imagery that is almost tangible. Many haiku have an element of surprise or use turns of phrase that are clever, reminiscent of puns.
Variations: Write a few haiku that follow stricter, more traditional rules. These haiku are concerned with nature and include the kireji (cutting word) and kigo (season word).
Applications: Haiku remain popular and can be found in literary and poetry journals. They are also ideal for social media (especially Twitter) and are fun and quick to write. They promote clear, concise writing and can help you cultivate the art of using vivid imagery.
Give it a Try
Feel free to write a haiku and share it in the comments. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Today, I’d like to share a fun exercise from my book 101 Creative Writing Exercises.
The book is packed with writing exercises that encourage you to explore different forms and genres while you discover useful writing techniques. You’ll find plenty of inspiration throughout the book with ideas for projects you can eventually publish.
Today’s exercise is from chapter 11, “Creativity.” It’s called “What’s Your Superpower?” Enjoy!
What’s Your Superpower?
What if you could fly or make yourself invisible? What if you could heal with a touch or read minds? Superpowers like these are the stuff of science fiction.
Savants and prodigies are superheroes in their own rights, and they exist in the real world.
A prodigy is someone (often a young child) with an extraordinary talent or ability: a twelve-year-old college graduate or a fifteen-year-old Nobel Prize contender.
A savant is someone who is an expert whereas someone with savant syndrome (savantism) is a person with a developmental disability who also has superhuman expertise, ability, or brilliance in a particular area.
Prodigies and savants are real-world superheroes!
Create a new superpower. Write a clear description of it, and make sure you include the following:
- Explain how the superpower is obtained.
- Anyone with that superpower also has a specific weakness (like Superman’s kryptonite).
- Describe how someone might use this superpower for good or evil.
If you’re so inclined, create a character who possesses this power and write a story about it.
Tips: Stay away from overdone powers like flight, invisibility, and super strength. Avoid psychic powers like telepathy and telekinesis. Think up something fresh: for example, someone who can breathe in outer space.
Variations: If science fiction isn’t your thing or if you’re tired of superheroes, then come up with a character who is a prodigy or who has savantism.
Applications: Many stories, both real and fictional, feature ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. In this exercise, you flip convention on its head and create a character who is extraordinary. How does an extraordinary person fit into the ordinary world?
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Fiction writing exercises improve your writing by challenging you, providing you with fresh ideas, and forcing you to approach fiction writing from new angles.
This is a flexible writing exercise that could also be called Change the Tale. But in this exercise, we’re going to change the tale by changing the tail.
The idea is to take an existing plot and change the ending to make it completely different. This will help you understand the basics of story structure, particularly the part where you bring the story to a close.
Take the tail end off a story, right after the climax, and change it to something else. Choose a story from a book, magazine, newspaper, or film, and change the ending!
Changing the Tails on Tales
Here are a few idea starters:
Gone with the Wind – What if Rhett Butler hadn’t walked away?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Without the lobotomy?
Titanic (movie) – What if the opposite characters had lived and died?
Try this with any of the Star Wars movies (I dare you!), or a Shakespeare play. Try it with a Dr. Seuss book or try it with War and Peace. Dip into nonfiction and try it with world history. What would life be like if World War II had gone the other way? What if a different candidate had won a major election?
Or just try it with the last book you read.
- You can flesh out a completely new ending for the story you chose by writing a polished piece or you can simply jot down some notes or an outline that explain how your new ending will differ from the original.
- Write a few sentences about how your new ending might affect the integrity of the piece or how a different ending might have changed the world. Would Romeo and Juliet be the classic that it is today if the two star-crossed lovers had lived? How would that have changed our culture, the literary canon, or the way the most compelling and moving stories throughout history have been viewed and received?
- Turn this exercise on its head and change the opening of the story. Make the hero and villain switch places. Tell the story from a different character’s point of view.
Which story ending will you change? You can pick one that you didn’t like much and fix it by giving it a better ending or choose a story with an ending you loved — just to see what a different outcome would have been like.
Fiction writing exercises are supposed to be fun and challenging, so tackle this with a light heart and a focused mind. And keep writing!
If you have any fiction writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.
101 Creative Writing Exercises is a collection of creative writing exercises that takes writers on a journey through different forms and genres while providing writing techniques, practical experience, and inspiration.
Each exercise teaches a specific concept, and each chapter focuses on a different subject or form of writing: journaling, storytelling, fiction, poetry, article writing, and more. Every exercise is designed to be practical. In other words, you can use these exercises to launch projects that are destined for publication.
Today, I’d like to share one of my favorite exercises from the book. This is from “Chapter Four: Speak Up,” which focuses on dialogue and scripts. The exercise is called “Body Language.” Enjoy!
Sometimes what people say without actually speaking tells us a whole lot more than what comes out of their mouths. Using body language to communicate is natural. We all understand it intuitively—some better than others.
As a writer, you can closely observe people’s body language and learn how humans speak without words so you can bring unspoken communication into your writing.
Imagine two characters, a man and woman, who are complete strangers. They are in a bookstore. Their eyes meet across the room. You wouldn’t write “Their eyes locked. They were instantly attracted to each other.” That would be boring and unimaginative. Instead, you would let the scene unfold and describe it to the reader—how their eyes met, how he gulped and she blushed, how they both suddenly felt warm, how the two of them slowly worked their way toward the center of the store until they finally met in the horror section.
Write a scene between two (or more) characters in which there is no dialogue but the characters are communicating with each other through body language. You can also write a nonfiction piece. Surely you have experienced nonverbal communication. Take that experience and describe it on the page.
Your scene can be a lead-in to two characters meeting or conversing. The scene should comprise at least two pages of non-dialogue interaction with two or more characters. Here are a few scene starters:
- A cop, detective, or private investigator is tailing a suspect through a small town, a big city, a mall, amusement park, or other public area.
- Strangers are always good for body language exercises. Think about where strangers are brought together: public transportation, classes, elevators, and formal meetings.
- Kids in a classroom aren’t supposed to be speaking while a teacher is giving a lecture, but they always find ways to communicate.
Tips: What if one character misinterprets another character’s body language? That could lead to humor or disaster. Maybe the characters are supposed to be doing something else (like in a classroom where they’re supposed to be listening to the teacher) but instead, they’re making faces and gestures at each other. One helpful technique might be to go inside the characters’ heads, but don’t get too carried away with he thought and she wondered as these constructs are basically inner dialogue.
Variations: As an alternative, write a scene in which one character speaks and one doesn’t: an adult and a baby, a human and an animal.
Applications: There are depictions of nonverbal communication in almost all types of storytelling from journalism and biography to memoir and fiction.
These fiction writing exercises are designed to help fiction writers shave away the fluff and reveal the bare bones of a piece of fiction.
We’ll start with one exercise that will help you assess the core structure of a story and then explore a few bonus flash fiction writing exercises that are good for developing concise writing.
What is Flash Fiction?
Flash fiction is a short story that is extremely brief. There is no official word limit, but generally, stories of fewer than 1000-2000 words would fall under the flash category.
Fiction Writing Exercises and Flash Fiction
Many writers have a habit of using gratuitous words and phrases in order to meet a word count, make a piece sound more rhythmic, or enhance descriptive passages. Often, such words hinder a story because they leave less to the reader’s imagination. Other times, there is so much description that the plot and characters get lost in the fray.
Fiction writing exercises like the one below will help you pinpoint areas where excessive wording is creating a problem. In addition, it will peel away the layers of your story, revealing its core. Plus, it’s a very simple exercise and can be completed rather quickly.
Flash Your Fiction
Select a short story you’ve written that is either completed or near completion. Try to choose one that is about ten pages long. You can do this exercise with an entire manuscript, or with a story that is just a couple of pages long, but ten pages is ideal.
First, save the file with a new name so you don’t lose your original work.
Then go through the piece and remove every single adjective and adverb.
Next, remove words, phrases, and sentences that do not move the action of the story forward, especially if they are solely there for description.
Finally, go through the story one last time removing as much as you can without making the piece unintelligible. A traditional example is: Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wins girl back.
Of course, this is an oversimplified example, but it gives you an idea of just how much a story can be stripped to reveal its core movements.
More Flash Fiction Writing Exercises
If you don’t have any pieces that you feel are appropriate for this exercise, if you want to try something a little different, or if you want to do more flash fiction writing exercises, here are a few projects you can tackle:
- Write a piece of flash fiction from scratch and try to keep it under 1000 words. If you really want to push yourself, aim for fewer than 500 words. Remember, the story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it has to have a central conflict. It’s harder than it sounds!
- Instead of rewriting an entire piece, turn a scene or a chapter into a flash fiction story.
- Turn movies, novels, and other story sources into flash fiction writing exercises. Take the plot from a favorite book or movie and write it as a piece of flash fiction.
This exercise can be a lot of fun, and it’s extremely eye-opening when you realize just how many unnecessary words we pack into our writing. It’s also interesting to see the skeleton of a story after stripping away its excess.
Are You Up For It?
Have you ever written flash fiction? Do you aim for concise writing? Got any fiction writing exercises of your own to share? Leave a comment, and keep writing.
One of the most valuable writing exercises I learned in college was freewriting.
When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.
At first, freewriting is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you will produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.
Freewriting is not like other writing exercises; it allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts.
Writing Exercises and Train of Thought
The first few times I tried freewriting, I botched it. I would describe everything I’d done that day or jot down my thoughts on a particular subject in a random, messy way. Finally, in one of my creative writing classes, I got to hear some examples of freewriting and something clicked. Freewriting is not about train of thought, it’s about stream of consciousness, and there’s a big difference.
Here is an example of one of my early attempts at freewriting:
I set the microwave timer for 30 minutes so that I wouldn’t write for too long, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if I did. Usually I do freewrites in a journal. I have a tendency to reflect on the current events of my personal life during a freewrite.
Yes, I was actually writing about how I was writing.
Train-of-thought writing exercises are pretty coherent. For the most part, the text makes sense, as you can see in the example above. The technique involves writing on a particular subject in a pretty clear manner. This can be useful in many ways, but it won’t tap into your deeper creativity the way freewriting will.
I use train-of-thought writing for clearing my mind or to prepare for writing a nonfiction piece as a brainstorming method to churn out all the information I have stored in my head. But when I’m looking for poetic images or vivid characters, freewriting does a much better job.
Writing Exercises and Stream of Consciousness
After hearing another student’s freewriting read aloud, I had a much better grasp on it. Here’s a sample of what I wrote once I better understood what freewriting was all about:
in moonshine eyelet lace a rhapsody of liquors dancing off light reflected in the cut glass spoons stirring iced candy meltdown of hopes washed out memories of faded photographs and standing in line at a supermarket eyeing the magazines their eyes watching you like cats high up in trees crying for freedom but afraid to come down
The key to stream-of-consciousness writing is to relax your thinking mind and let the images of your subconscious take over. For some people, it takes a little practice, but once you get it down, it becomes a neat trick. So what can you do with it?
Applications for Freewriting
Once you’ve built up a nice collection of freewrites, you have created a repository of images and lines, sentences, and paragraphs. You can now go through and harvest the material for your various writing projects. As you can imagine, the fruits of freewriting lend themselves particularly well to poetry.
When I’m writing poetry, I often go through my freewrites with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that pop or strike me as especially meaningful or aesthetically pleasing. Then I pull these from the freewrite and use them to compose a poem.
Freewrites can also be used to bring creative, colorful language into prose. Strong images and rich language generate work that is more literary in nature, and if done well, it’s a lot more fun to read. It will help you generate words that show rather than tell and make your story or essay come alive more easily in a reader’s mind.
Have you ever tried freewriting? Do you tend toward train-of-thought or stream-of-consciousness writing? Are there any other writing exercises you recommend for creating more vivid prose or poetry?
If you have any writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.