Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises. It’s packed with writing exercises to help you explore all forms of creative writing: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The book is designed to inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.
This exercise comes from “Chapter Two: It’s Personal.” The writing exercises in this chapter focus on writing of a personal nature: memoir, journal writing, and personal essays.
I chose this exercise because it’s challenging and fun. It asks you to look at your own life from a fresh perspective and make yourself the subject of a news report.
Give it a try! Then come back and tell us what you learned and how this exercise worked for you. Read more
101 Creative Writing Exercises takes writers on an adventure through the world of creative writing.
The book is packed with writing exercises that are fun and practical. Not only will these exercises inspire you, they’ll impart helpful writing techniques and offer valuable writing practice.
Try your hand at fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, including freewriting, journaling, memoir, and article writing.
Today, I’d like to share an exercise from 101 Creative Writing Exercises. From “Chapter Ten: Article and Blog Writing,” this creative writing exercise is called “Titles and Headlines.” Read more
101 Creative Writing Exercises is a book of writing exercises that takes writers on a journey through different forms and genres.
Each exercise teaches a specific concept, and each chapter focuses on a different subject or form: journaling, storytelling, fiction writing, poetry, article writing, and more. All of the exercises are 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 present one of the exercises to give you a taste of what to expect from the book. From “Chapter Six: Storytelling,” this exercise is called “Oh No He Didn’t!” I hope you like it!
Oh No He Didn’t! (from 101 Creative Writing Exercises)
Plot twists, cliffhangers, and page-turners. Oh my! These are the sneaky techniques writers use to keep readers captivated. And we’ve all been there: It’s late, and I’m tired. After this chapter, the lights are going out. Then there’s a cliffhanger, a shocking development in the story. Forget sleep! I have to find out what happens next.
Some writers are criticized for overusing these devices or for planting twists that are contrived or forced. But a good plot twist or cliffhanger is natural to the story and doesn’t feel like the writer strategically worked it in.
Some stories feature major twists in the middle of chapters. It’s placing such a twist at the end of a chapter that turns it into a cliffhanger. Soap operas and television dramas are known, loved, and loathed for their application of these devices. It’s how they hook viewers, and it’s a way you can hook readers.
Each writer has to decide whether to use these techniques in storytelling. You might think they’re too formulaic or rob your story of its artfulness. Or maybe you like the exciting edge that a good twist or cliffhanger brings to a story.
Write an outline for a chapter that ends on a cliffhanger. You can also use a TV episode as your model or a serialized short story. Approach the cliffhanger by building tension to the moment:
Bad guys are chasing the good guys. The bad guys are gaining on them. They’re getting closer! One of bad guys draws his gun, lifts it, cocks it, and aims right at our hero. He pulls the trigger. See you next week!
You can also plant a cliffhanger that comes out of nowhere. The chapter is winding down, everything is moving along as expected and suddenly a character walks into a room and tells her ex-lover that she’s pregnant and he’s the father. Uh oh!
Both types of cliffhangers work equally well.
Tips: The best cliffhangers leave huge questions hanging in the air. Who did it? What just happened? Will they survive? How is that possible? What will happen next?
Variations: You can expand on this exercise by writing out a scene that ends on a cliffhanger. To expand further, write the follow-up scene and satisfy readers’ curiosity by answering the big questions raised by your cliffhanger.
Applications: If you want to be a commercially successful author, you will probably find that mastering the cliffhanger is a huge asset to your writing skills. The cliffhanger is almost mandatory in horror and mystery genres, so if that’s what you want to write, you’ll need to be able to execute a good clincher.
In honor of next week’s launch of the third and final book in the Adventures in Writing series, I’d like to share an entire chapter from the first book in the series, 101 Creative Writing Exercises. “Chapter One: Freewriting” includes instructions for freewriting plus several variations and applications that you can use to make freewriting work for you.
Freewriting is one of the simplest, fastest, and most flexible creative writing exercises you can do. Use it for daily writing practice, idea development, and problem solving. I encourage all writers to give it a try.
Chapter One: Freewriting
Freewriting is one of the most creative and liberating writing exercises you can do.
Also called stream-of-consciousness writing, freewriting allows you to let your thoughts and ideas flow onto the page without inhibition. Anything goes. Turn off your inner editor and allow your subconscious to take over. The results can be inspiring, enlightening, and thought provoking.
Freewriting is ideal for daily writing practice. A twenty-minute freewriting session in the morning is a great way to capture your dreams or record your ideas before your head becomes cluttered with the day’s activities. A nighttime session is perfect for clearing your mind of the day’s clutter and for noting new ideas that have occurred to you throughout the day.
Guided freewriting is a bit different. As you write, you focus your attention on a specific idea, topic, or image. There are a number of variations on guided freewriting, which are explained in the variations section after the exercise.
With any kind of freewriting, you write quickly and let your thoughts flow freely. Remember, anything goes, even if it doesn’t make sense. Thoughts that sound ridiculous as you’re writing may gain meaning or clarity when you read the piece back later.
The process is simple. First, set a limit. Your limit is the minimum amount that you will write. Limits can be set in time, word count, or pages. Then write whatever comes to mind, no matter how outrageous. You will write up to your limit and if you want, you can exceed it. In other words, if you set a limit of ten minutes, you must write for at least ten minutes, but you can write for longer if you want.
The first few times you try freewriting, you might find that your mind goes blank at different points throughout your writing session. When this happens, don’t stop writing. Your pen should always be moving. If nothing comes to mind, write the word nothing over and over until your thoughts start flowing again. Just keep writing.
What limits should you set? If you have a timer, try setting it for twenty minutes, which is a good amount of time for any writing session. Or, fill two pages in your notebook, writing in longhand. If you’ll be writing electronically, then aim for five hundred words. You may want to experiment with how you set allotments for your freewriting sessions. Some writers find that anything beyond thirty minutes of freewriting becomes garbled; others find they hit their stride after the ten-minute mark.
Experiment with different writing tools. Many writers like writing in longhand for better creativity. If you write primarily on a computer, then give paper and pen a whirl for a few of your freewriting sessions.
Also, don’t give up after your first attempt at freewriting. Most writers who are new to freewriting find that it takes a few tries to get the hang of it.
Below are a few examples of guided freewriting for creativity and problem solving:
Focused freewriting is writing around a certain idea or concept. If you’re working on a novel and your characters are stuck, a focused freewrite might help you break through the scene or move your characters to the next step. This is a bit like brainstorming except you write freely and continually, letting ideas stream instead of pondering them before committing them to the page.
Topical freewriting is writing about a specific topic or subject. If you’re working on an essay, you might engage in focused freewriting about the subject matter. This allows you to explore your thoughts and feelings and figure out which ideas and aspects of the subject you want to examine or address.
Words and imagery freewriting is great for poetry writing and useful if you’re writing nothing a lot in your general freewriting sessions. Choose a word or image and while you’re freewriting, keep your mind focused on it. If your mind goes blank during the freewrite, come back to the word and write it over and over (instead of nothing). Some examples: my body, apple tree, hummingbird, war, freedom, family, library, or museum.
Character freewriting helps you get to know your characters. There are two ways to do character freewrites. The first is to freewrite about the character. Write the character’s name across the top of the page, set your timer, and then write whatever comes to mind about the character. The second method for character freewriting is to write in first person as if you are the character. This brings you inside your character’s head to better understand his or her goals and motivations.
Solution freewriting is a technique for solving problems in your writing projects. Start by writing the problem across the top of the page. Try to form it into a question. Then write. Allow yourself to explore tangents and be emotional. You may find that you write yourself right into a solution. Some examples include the following: How can I explain the mystery I created for my story? What is missing from this poem? How can I better argue my position in this essay?
Freewrites are perhaps best known for generating raw material that can be harvested for poetry. The nature of stream-of-consciousness writing lends itself well to poetry because freewrites tend to produce unusual or vivid images and abstract ideas.
Freewrites are also perfect for daily writing practice, especially when you don’t have a larger project underway or need a break from your regular writing routine.
Looking for more creative writing writing exercises that will inspire you and sharpen your writing skills? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available at your favorite online bookstore.
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!
A lot of artists struggle with the desire to write original material. Of course we all want to be original, but is that even possible?
Some say there are no new stories, just remixed and rehashed versions of stories we’re all familiar with. When we say a piece of writing is original, a close examination will reveal that it has roots in creative works that preceded it.
Most of us writers have had ideas that we shunned because we thought they were too similar to other stories. But just because your story idea is similar to another story, perhaps a famous one, should you give up on it?
Look at this way: everything already exists. The ideas, plots, and characters—they’re already out there in someone else’s story. Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.
To test this theory, see if you can guess the following famous story:
A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger. This leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he receives training to learn superhuman skills. Along the way, he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves.
If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.
This shows how two stories that are extremely different from one another can share many similarities, including basic plot structure and character relationships, and it proves that writing ideas will manifest in different ways when executed by different writers.
If it’s true that originality is nothing more than putting together old concepts in new ways, then instead of giving up on a project that you think has been done before, you should simply try to make it your own by giving it a new twist.
Use the synopsis above to write your own short story. However, do not write a space opera or a tale about wizards.
Tips: One of the key differences between Star Wars and Harry Potter is the setting. One is set in a galaxy far, far away; the other in a magical school for wizards. One is science fiction; the other is fantasy. Start by choosing a completely different genre and setting and you’ll be off to a good start. For example, you could write a western or a romance.
Variations: Instead of writing a short story, write a detailed outline for a novel or novella.
Applications: This exercise is designed to demonstrate the following:
- It’s not unusual for two writers to come up with similar ideas.
- A vague premise or concept will be executed differently by different writers.
Instead of worrying about original characters and plots, focus on combining well-known elements in new ways.
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 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 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 superheros!
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.
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.