Do you ever feel like the story you’re writing is bland? Like it needs to be spiced up? Or maybe you want to write a story but you’re fresh out of ideas. Perhaps you need to practice storytelling?
Fiction writing exercises are perfect for toning your storytelling muscles. They can also provide you with a wealth of ideas for writing projects.
Today’s fiction writing exercises are designed to stimulate creativity and get you thinking about story from fresh angles. Read more
When we writers discuss fiction, we usually focus on plot, setting, dialogue, and especially characters. These, of course, are the essential elements of decent storytelling. But what we often forget to address is the prose.
The words we choose to depict action, express characters’ thoughts, and render their dialogue is another important, albeit often overlooked, element of writing–and that’s true of any form of writing, including storytelling.
Language can raise a story to new heights or it can make a story sink. If readers are struggling to understand words and phrases or if they’re constantly distracted by unnecessary words and repetition, the story will take a backseat to the poorly constructed prose, and you’ll risk losing the readers.
No matter how compelling your story is, if you can’t convey it through well crafted prose, it will get lost in the slush pile and end up in the discount bin. Today’s fiction writing exercises encourage you to set story aside and focus instead on the language, which is at the very heart of the craft of writing. Read more
101 Creative Writing Exercises is jam-packed with fun and practical writing exercises.
You’ll learn useful writing techniques while gathering ideas and inspiration for all your creative writing projects.
Experiment with fiction, poetry, freewriting, journaling, memoir, and article writing.
Today, I’d like to share an exercise from “Chapter Five: Fiction.” This creative writing exercise is titled “Potter Wars.” Enjoy! Read more
These fiction writing exercises are designed to help fiction writers gain a better understanding of their characters, including antagonists, by learning how to relate to contradictory or opposing viewpoints.
Remember, an antagonist is not necessarily a villain. An antagonist is anyone whose purpose is at odds with the protagonist’s goals.
In addition to antagonists, we should be writing characters who are unique and complex, not characters who are all cardboard cutouts of ourselves. That means we have to get into the heads of people who are strikingly different from ourselves.
These fiction writing exercises will help you do just that. The idea is to try and view the world from a perspective that is completely different from your own and to get inside the head of someone who is not like you. Read more
Whenever I’m working on a story idea, I spend a lot of time during the development stages making character sketches and writing backstories for my characters. I usually end up with too many of them and some characters get cut. The lucky ones get resurrected in some other story.
Some of my favorite stories are plot-driven, but character-driven stories tend to resonate with me on a deeper level, which is why I believe that regardless of plot, stories with strong and compelling character arcs are the best. They start with a character who wants something and we see the character through conflict after conflict until he or she emerges changed, usually stronger and for the better.
The most compelling characters are unique in some way and brimming with personality. But they are flawed too, and I think that oftentimes, readers find themselves more in the characters’ flaws than in their strengths.
Conversely, the least interesting characters are boring. They lack personality or their goals aren’t clear. Oftentimes, they act “out of character,” doing things that are inconsistent with their established personalities and behaviors.
Character exercises can help with all that.
Create Characters with These Fiction Writing Exercises
You can use these exercises all by themselves–create a character just for fun, and who knows? Maybe one of these exercises will lead to your next big writing project. Or you can use them to develop a character for a story you’re already working on, but keep in mind that the story itself often shapes characters, so be flexible and allow your character to change with the story. In other words, you don’t have to stick to the profile you’ve created for your character.
1. Character Backstory
I define backstory as everything that happened to the character up to the point where the narrative begins. Sometimes it helps to start at the beginning:
This character was born in a small town south of San Francisco just a few days before the 1906 Earthquake. Her mother was a schoolteacher and her father ran a general store…
The character backstory can be simple, covering the highlights and important events throughout your character’s life. It can also become rather elaborate, depending on how much detail you want to put in and how clearly the character speaks to you.
For this exercise, write a character backstory starting with your character’s birth and hitting all the major events of your character’s life up to the point where the story starts. Try to write a minimum of 1000 words.
2. Psychological Profile
As with backstory, a psychological profile can be minimal or detailed: What is your character’s greatest fear? What traumas has your character experienced and how did it shape his or her personality? Does your character have any psychological disorders or conditions?
But the most important question you ask in a psychological profile is this: What does the character want and why?
If you really want to create a character who is complex, then try identifying an internal goal, an external goal, and figure out what the stakes are. If you can come up with an internal goal and an external goal that are at odds with each other, all the better.
For example: let’s say your character’s internal goal is to improve his community and his external goal is to become a politician so he can accomplish his internal goal. In his mind, his community is at stake. Those are big stakes if the character loves the community and has deep ties to it. What happens when the character gets into politics and has to start wheeling and dealing? With he sacrifice another community’s well-being to make things better for his own? Will he hang his city’s factory workers out to dry so he can do something to benefit the town’s small businesses?
For this exercise, list your character’s internal goal, external goal, and what’s at stake. This is an especially useful exercise to do with a protagonist. Whenever your story gets stuck, remind yourself what the protagonist’s goals are, and that will often get you back on track.
Bonus: if you’re creating a character who is not the protagonist, write a short description (it might be just a single sentence) stating the character’s purpose to the story.
3. Coping with Conflict
Some say that story is conflict–just one conflict after another. These conflicts are constantly pushing characters toward their goals and pulling them away from their goals.
For this exercise, you’ll experiment with writing scenes that show your character coping with conflict. Write one scene where your character faces conflict and gets defeated. Write another where your character overcomes some conflict. If you’re working on a short story or novel, write scenes that take place outside of your story. Try to write a minimum of 1500 words per scene.
A Few More Activities for Creating Characters
- Sketch picture of your character; search the web for images that resemble your character; or find video showing an actor, actress, or other public figure that you can use as a model for your character.
- Create a character journal and write a few entries in the character’s voice about his or her daily life.
- Write a letter from your character to a loved one (or write a letter from a loved one to your character).
Got any fiction writing exercises or activities that will help writers create characters? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Today’s creative writing exercise comes from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, a book I wrote on the craft of writing.
This book guides writers through an adventure in writing. You’ll explore different forms and genres of writing, including freewriting, journaling, memoir, fiction, storytelling, poetry, and article or blog writing.
101 Creative Writing Exercises imparts proven writing techniques while providing writing practice and creative inspiration.
Today, I’d like to share an exercise from “Chapter Nine: Philosophy, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving.” This exercise is titled “Moral Dilemmas.” Enjoy!
We each have our own personal philosophies and values. Our values come from our families, religions, and cultures. They shape our morals and the decisions we make.
People are complex. What we believe is right or wrong changes when we find ourselves in real situations. Consider an honorable character who believes that one’s highest loyalty is to his or her family. Then, that character learns his brother is a serial killer. Does he turn him in? Testify against him? Stories get interesting when characters’ morals are put to the test.
We all know the knight in shining armor should risk his life to save the damsel in distress. If he doesn’t, then he loses his status as hero and becomes a coward. What if the knight is forced to make a more difficult decision? What if his true love and his beloved sister are both in distress but he only has time to save one of them?
For this exercise, you will put a character’s morals to the test. Below, you’ll find a short list of moral dilemmas. Write a scene in which a character faces one of these moral dilemmas and has to make an agonizing decision.
- In the novel Sophie’s Choice, a young Polish mother and her two children are taken to a concentration camp. Upon arrival, she is forced to choose one child to live and one to die. If she doesn’t choose, they both die. Write a scene in which your character must choose between the lives of two loved ones.
- A single woman is close friends with the couple next door and has secret romantic feelings for the husband. She discovers that his wife is having an affair. Normally, this woman minds her own business but now she sees an opportunity to get closer to the man she wants.
- Some countries have strict laws regarding drug possession. A family has traveled to one such country for vacation. Upon arrival (or departure), one of the teenagers’ bags is sniffed out by a dog. The bag is opened, the drugs are identified, and the guard asks whose bag it is. Both parents are considering claiming ownership. Everyone in the family knows the sentence would be death.
- Your character gets to travel through time and face this classic moral dilemma: the character finds himself or herself holding a loaded gun, alone in a room, with a two-year-old baby Hitler.
- A plane crashes into the sea. Most of the passengers escape with inflatable lifeboats but they do not board them correctly. Your character ends up on a lifeboat that holds eight people but there are twelve people on it, and it’s sinking. Your character can either throw four people overboard and eight will survive or they will all die except your character, who will get rescued after the others drown.
During the scene, the character should agonize over the decision and reveal his or her reasons for the choice that he or she makes.
Tips: Search online for “lists of moral dilemmas” to get more scenarios.
Variations: If you don’t want to write a scene, challenge yourself to come up with a few moral dilemmas of your own.
Applications: These moral dilemmas also work as story prompts. They force you to put your characters in situations that are deeply distressing, thus creating conflict and tension.
Today’s post is from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which is available from your favorite online bookseller in paperback or as an ebook.
Chekhov’s Gun is a literary device in which an element is mentioned in a story and its purpose or significance becomes clear later. For example, early in a story, the narrative mentions that the hero carries a knife. Later, he uses that knife to defend himself in a fight. If the knife hadn’t been mentioned earlier, it might feel like an object of convenience. On the other hand, if the knife is mentioned but he never uses it, the reader might feel cheated after anticipating a good knife fight.
The real purpose of Chekhov’s Gun is to remind writers that they have an obligation to fulfill all promises made to readers. If the narrative mentions that the hero carries a knife, the reader expects that he will, at some point, use it. If he doesn’t, the writer has failed to fulfill a promise. In other words: don’t pepper your story with unnecessary, insignificant, or meaningless elements. Make everything count!
The term “Chekhov’s Gun” comes from a letter from Anton Chekhov to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (also known as A.S. Gruzinsky) in which he said, “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”
Write a short scene and introduce two objects right at the opening of the scene. Make sure one of the objects is used later in the scene, but leave the other object unused. Note that these objects will not be part of the descriptive content. For example, if the scene includes a description of a room and mentions a chair in the corner, you don’t have to use the chair later because it is part of the setting description.
Let your scene sit overnight then read it back the next day. Notice how the unused object lingers in the reader’s mind in an unpleasant way. Once you’re done, feel free to revise and edit out the unnecessary object or add action in which it becomes significant.
Tips: Differentiating between what constitutes a necessary or unnecessary element can be tricky. In some cases, a knife that is mentioned may not need to be played later (for example, a knife might be mentioned in the context of one of the characters eating). In other cases, a chair that is mentioned will need to be played. A woman might carry a purse, but that doesn’t mean she needs to retrieve anything from it because most women carry purses. On the other hand, if she’s carrying a file marked “TOP SECRET,” the reader expects to eventually be let in on the contents of the file.
Variations: Go through a story you’ve already written and look for instances in which you included unnecessary or misleading elements.
Applications: The difference between excellence and mediocrity in storytelling often lies in the details. Chekhov’s Gun is one of the many details that could cause a story to lose credibility with readers. Therefore, checking your narrative for unnecessary or irrelevant elements will strengthen and improve your work.
Fiction writing exercises can help you discover storytelling techniques and provide ideas and inspiration for your fiction writing projects.
For writers who are young or just starting out with fiction, these exercises provide practice and experience. For more experienced writers, these exercises offer inspiration and can help you see a story from new angles.
Today’s fiction writing exercises are carefully chosen to help you develop some of the most critical components in a story. If you can create a few characters; identify a conflict, climax, and resolution; and choose a theme, you’re well on your way to writing a short story or novel that will resonate with readers.
These exercises are similar to assignments you would complete in a college-level fiction writing class, exercises that push you in the direction of writing material that can be published. You can tackle these exercises separately, but I recommend using them to develop ideas around a single story.
1. Character Exercise: Sketching a Protagonist and an Antagonist
We often think of them as the bad guy and the good guy or the hero and the villain, but those terms are becoming outdated as modern storytelling increasingly embraces protagonists who are highly flawed and antagonists who aren’t 100% evil.
The Exercise: Sketch two characters who are in conflict with each other.
Do not identify a protagonist or antagonist, just create two characters. Both characters should have the potential to be good or evil. Start with physical descriptions, then get inside the characters’ heads to establish their inner landscapes, and finally, work up a bit of backstory for each of them. Remember, these two characters have a fundamental conflict with each other. What is it? The core of this exercise is identifying that conflict.
2. Plot Exercise: Conflict, Climax, and Resolution
The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective way to break down a story. Often, the acts are 1) Setup, 2) Confrontation, and 3) Resolution. I think of the three-act structure as 1) Conflict, 2) Climax, and 3) Resolution because those are the three pinnacles in each of the three acts. In the first part of a story, we learn what the conflict is. The second (and largest portion) of the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits boiling point. Finally, the third act resolves the conflict.
The Exercise: Determine a conflict, climax, and resolution for a story. You can use the two characters you created in the first exercise for this.
Conflict examples: Two people vying for the same job, a natural disaster, people-eating aliens landing on Earth.
Climax examples: In a big showdown, one job candidate smears the other and knocks the opponent out of the race. A natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. Humans engage in a final battle with people-eating aliens.
Resolution examples: The job candidate who got smeared makes a comeback and gets the job. Earth’s survivors rebuild after a planet-wide natural disaster. Against all odds, humans win the battle against aliens with superior technology.
3. Theme Exercise: Universal Ideas
Theme is difficult to explain, but Wikipedia does a good job:
A theme is a broad idea, message, or moral of a story. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.
I usually think of theme as the big questions that a story asks or its underlying philosophies.
The exercise: Choose a theme and write a list of ways in which a theme can be executed through the course of a story.
You can choose a theme for the characters you sketched in the first exercise or for the three-act structure you developed in the second exercise. For example, in a story where two characters are vying for the same job, the theme might be dream fulfillment (if it’s one or both of the characters’ dream job).
As an alternative, try to identify themes in other stories. Think about your favorite books, movies, and TV shows and make lists of some themes you’ve found in storytelling.
Get Busy with Fiction Writing Exercises
Do you think about character, plot, and theme when you’re working on a story? Do you plan these elements in advance or let them unfold through discovery writing? Who are some of your favorite characters? Can you think of a truly original plot in modern storytelling? What themes in fiction appeal to you the most? And finally, do you use fiction writing exercises and if you do, how have they helped you improve your writing?
Are you looking for more writing exercises? 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.
This book takes you on an adventure through the world of writing. You’ll explore different forms and genres while learning practical writing techniques. You’ll also get plenty of writing experience and ideas for publishable projects.
Each chapter focuses on a different form or writing concept: freewriting, journaling, memoirs, fiction, storytelling, form poetry, free verse, characters, dialogue, creativity, and writing articles and blogs are all covered.
Today, we’ll take a peek at “Chapter Three: People and Characters” with an exercise called “Your Gang.” Enjoy!
Writing about one or two people in a story or piece of nonfiction isn’t too hard. Even a scene with three or four characters can be well executed by a beginning writer. When you start approaching casts and ensembles with seven, eight, nine primary characters, you risk turning your story into a riot. Everybody gets out of control.
Ensemble stories in fiction tend to be epics; they span long periods of time (sometimes several generations). Often in these stories, there are many main characters but only a few are in focus at any given time. You’re more likely to find a good ensemble on television or in a movie than in a novel. But in all mediums, there are great stories about groups and families.
Writing a true ensemble piece requires considerable mastery in writing. As the author, you have to constantly keep all your characters in play, rotating them and managing their complex personalities. You can’t forget about any of your characters and you can’t let any of them hog the spotlight. It’s a balancing act.
Choose an existing ensemble from a book, movie, or TV show and write a long scene or a short story featuring all of the characters. Don’t retell some story about the characters from the source material. Take the existing characters and make up your own story or scene for them.
As an added challenge, relocate the characters to a different setting. For example, take the cast from a book and put them in the setting of a movie.
The minimum number of characters you should work with for this exercise is six. Aim for eight.
Tips: You can write big scenes with all characters present. You can also put the characters in different locations and write a series of scenes that take place in these various locations. One example would be a huge family gathering for a holiday weekend. The characters will disperse to different rooms. You have to move through the house showing the reader what everyone is doing, and it all has to tie together in a meaningful way.
Variations: Come up with your own ensemble. Write a series of short character sketches and establish a setting in which these characters would be thrown together. They could be family, coworkers, passengers on a subway, or students in a classroom. You can also attempt this exercise with real people and write either a scene from a real-life experience or make up a scene featuring your friends and family (a holiday gathering, school field trip, or work meeting). Make sure you give all the characters equal weight. Remember, it’s an ensemble.
Applications: If you can write an ensemble scene, you might be suited for television writing!
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 post comes from my book 101 Creative Writing Exercises. This is from “Chapter Five: Fiction.”
Symbols and Symbolism
In Alice and Wonderland, a white rabbit appears and Alice follows him down the rabbit hole that leads to Wonderland. The white rabbit is a herald—a character archetype that signifies the first challenge or the call to adventure. This is the change in the main character’s life that marks the beginning of the story.
The white rabbit became so widely known that it eventually evolved into a symbol. Because it’s white, it can symbolize purity. Because it’s a rabbit, it can symbolize fertility. But because it was the herald that called Alice to her adventure, the white rabbit is often used as a symbol to represent change. Sometimes, it’s simply used as a herald.
The white rabbit appeared in The Matrix, an episode of Star Trek, and in several episodes of Lost. In Jurassic Park, a character finds a file labeled “whiterabbit.obj” and in Stephen King’s The Long Walk, a character refers to himself as “the white rabbit type.”
The white rabbit can function as a traditional symbol or as a reference to Alice in Wonderland. Such is the case with the song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane.
Symbolism occurs whenever one thing represents something else. For example, a book could represent knowledge. A caged bird could represent oppression or imprisonment. In a story, the repetition of a symbol (every time the book or caged bird appears) can have significance to the story. Maybe every time a character fails because he doesn’t know enough, there’s a book in the scene. Or perhaps a person who is oppressed keeps a caged bird but doesn’t recognize the irony (that he is imprisoning a living creature while suffering his own oppression).
Develop a list of five to ten symbols. Invent your own symbols rather than using ones that commonly appear in fiction. If you’re working on a story or novel, make a list of symbols that you might use in your project. Symbols are often linked to big themes: love, revenge, sacrifice, redemption, narcissism, etc.
Tips: You might find it easier to choose a theme or issue and then look for a symbol that represents it. On the other hand, if you have an interesting image (a red scarf, a snow globe), you might find a way to turn it into a meaningful symbol.
Variations: Choose one symbol and write a list of ways it can be used throughout a story. For example, a white rabbit in a story could appear in a pet store. It could be somebody’s pet. It could be in a science lab. It could be part of a magic show. Make sure you don’t give the symbol more importance than the plot or characters. A symbol is present to add depth and give the story greater meaning. It’s an accent to the story, not the central focus of it.
Applications: Symbols enrich a piece of writing, adding layers to the themes and meaning of the piece.
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.