From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Symbols and Symbolism

symbolism in fiction

Symbolism and symbolism in fiction writing.

Today’s post comes from my book 101 Creative Writing Exercises. This is from “Chapter 5: Fiction.” Let’s take a look at symbolism in 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. Read More

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Everyone Has an Opinion

opinion writing

How can opinion writing benefit your work?

Today’s creative writing exercise comes from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes you on a adventure through various forms of creative writing: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.

This exercise is called “Everyone Has an Opinion,” and it’s from “Chapter 9: Philosophy, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving.”

Enjoy! Read More

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: People Are People

writing about people

Writing about people.

101 Creative Writing Exercises takes you on an adventure through the world of creative writing. You get to experiment with fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction while learning useful writing techniques.

Today I’d like to share one of the exercises from the book. This is from “Chapter 3: People and Characters.” The exercise is titled “People are People,” and it offers tips and ideas for writing about people — real or imagined.

Enjoy!

Writing About People

People and characters are among the most important elements in a piece of writing. In nonfiction, you need to treat subjects fairly, and in fiction, you need to make your characters believable.


To create the effect that a character, a made-up person, is real, a writer must have a deep understanding of people. What motivates them? What are their fears? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Writing about real people presents its own set of challenges. If you’re writing about someone whom you adore or respect, how do you deal with their flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses? If you are writing about someone you despise, how do you treat them fairly or objectively?

When you’re telling someone else’s story, you take on a huge responsibility. Whether the people you write about are real or imagined, it’s a tough job.

The Exercise

Choose a real person and write a short story from that person’s life. This piece will be nonfiction, written in third person. Your mission is to tell a story rather than write a biographical piece. Use the prompts below if you need ideas:

  1. Some relationships are complicated: siblings who don’t speak to each other, couples who sleep in separate rooms, exes who still come to holiday dinners.
  2. Choose a celebrity or historical figure to write about. It can be someone living or dead. Do a little research about the person and then write a short piece telling a part of his or her story.
  3. There’s always a bad apple in the barrel: the bully on the playground, the snitch in the office, and the drama queen who stirs up trouble at every opportunity. They have stories, too!
  4. Authority figures: parents, bosses, and government officials. You know them; they’re in charge of the world. What’s their story?
  5. Bonus: for this prompt, you get to mix in a little fiction. Everybody loves a mysterious stranger. The cute barista. The handsome doctor. The eccentric woman who sits on the park bench every Thursday afternoon. Think of an interesting stranger you’ve seen around and concoct his or her story.

Tips: To add realism to your story, use dialogue, mannerisms, and gestures. Don’t spend too much time on physical descriptions; a few, choice details will suffice. Focus on revealing the inner conflict and struggles of your subjects through their words and actions.

Variations: Instead of writing a nonfiction piece, write fiction, but use a real person as inspiration for your main character.

Applications: If you can tell a good story about someone, you can probably get it published, whether it’s fiction or not.

101 creative writing exercises

Writing Exercises: Writer, Know Thyself

creative writing exercises

Creative writing exercises: writers, know thyself.

Today’s writing exercise is an excerpt from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, a book packed with creative writing exercises and ideas. This exercise comes from chapter 2, “It’s Personal,” and it’s called “Writer, Know Thyself.” Enjoy!

Writer, Know Thyself

This exercise asks you to look in the mirror and ask yourself a critical question:

Why do I write?

There are many forces that drive writers to the page. Some do it for love, for creative expression, or because writing is simply something they must do, a compulsion. Others do it for riches, prestige, or to make a living.

It’s not easy to succeed as a writer. Most writers have day jobs and write during their free time, chipping away at novels, drafting essays, or penning articles, short stories, and poems. They spend their evenings polishing their work, and they spend their weekends submitting it to agents and editors. Some plan to self-publish. Many already have.

Writing professionally requires an immense amount of self-discipline, because in the early years, you’re hustling. Trying to land gigs. Building up clips.


On top of self-discipline, writers are competing in a field that’s saturated with dreamers and overrun with talent. Creativity is fleeting; gigs are scarce. Far too many novels end up half-finished and buried in a bottom drawer.

For those who intend to succeed, finish that novel, get that poem published, or earn a living wage as a freelance writer, staying focused is imperative.

Those who succeed are not the most talented or the smartest. They are the ones who refuse to give up. They have good writing habits; they are focused and motivated and consistently work toward their goals.

As a writer, it’s important to know where you are in relation to your goals.

The Exercise

This exercise presents a series of questions about your goals and motivations as a writer. Your job is simple: Write a short paragraph to answer each question. Keep your answers concise and try not to go off on tangents.

You can revisit this exercise at least once a year to see how you’re progressing, to stay focused and motivated, and to remember why you write.

  • What do you write, or what do you want to write? Think about form (fiction, poetry, memoir, etc.) and genre (literary, speculative, romance). Be specific.
  • How often and how much do you write? Ask yourself whether you have enough time to write and whether you could make more time for your writing.
  • What are your top three goals as a writer?
  • Why are these three goals important to you?
  • What is your five-year career plan as a writer? What do you need to do over the next five years to achieve one (or all) of your top three goals?
  • In the past year, what have you accomplished in working toward your goals?
  • What can you do over the next year to move closer to your top three goals and your five-year career plan?

Tips: Keep your goals separate and specific. If you want to publish a novel through legacy (traditional) publishing, you don’t need an additional goal of getting an agent. Getting an agent is implied in the greater goal of legacy publishing.

If you have more than three goals, then list up to ten, but highlight your top three priorities.

If you’re not sure what your goals are, then make goal-setting a goal. Give yourself some time to set goals (a few weeks or months).

Variations: Instead of answering all the questions in a single session, you can spread them out and answer one question a day. While concise answers will be the clearest, the first time you do this exercise, you might want to write a full-page response to each question. You can also use these questions as journal prompts and write your answers in your daily journal.

Applications: These questions help you clarify your intentions. When you know what you want to accomplish, it becomes easier to attain. In addition, articulating your goals ensures that you can discuss them intelligibly, which comes in handy when submitting query letters, in meetings and interviews, and in discussions with other writers and professionals in the publishing industry.

 

101 creative writing exercises

 

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: You’re the Expert

creative writing exercises

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: You’re the Expert.

Here’s an excerpt 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 10: 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 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.

The Exercise




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.

101 creative writing exercises

 

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Haiku

101 creative writing exercises - haiku

Haiku, from 101 Creative Writing Exercises.

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 7: Form Poetry” with a poetry exercise simply called “Haiku.” Enjoy!

Haiku

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).

Contemporary Haiku

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.

The Exercise

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.

101 Creative Writing Exercises

 

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: What’s Your Superpower?

creative writing exercises

Discover your superpower by doing creative writing exercises.

Today, I’d like to share a fun exercise from my book 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which 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!

The Exercise

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

 

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Body Language

101 creative writing exercises - Body Language

Take a peek at “Body Language” from 101 Creative Writing Exercises.

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 4: Speak Up,” which focuses on dialogue and scripts. The exercise is called “Body Language.” Enjoy!

Body Language

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.

The Exercise

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.

101 creative writing exercises

 

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Couplets and Quatrains

Couplets and quatrains

Couplets and quatrains, a poetry writing exercise.

Today’s writing exercise comes from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes writers on an adventure through different forms and genres while offering tools, techniques, and inspiration for writers.

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 7: Form Poetry” with a poetry exercise called “Couplets and Quatrains.” Enjoy!

Couplets and Quatrains, a Poetry Writing Exercise

Poetry may not be the most widely read or published form of writing these days, but it’s probably the most widely written.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm for the form among readers and publishers, poetry still has a traditional place in our culture. You’ll hear poetry read at most significant events, such as weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies, and presidential inaugurations. Poetry is the foundation for most children’s books, and it’s so closely related to songwriting that in many cases, it’s hard to tell the difference between a poem and a song lyric.

Couplets and quatrains are two of the most basic building blocks of poetry.

Couplets

A couplet is a pair of lines in a poem. The lines usually rhyme and have the same meter or syllable count. Contemporary couplets may not rhyme; some of them use a pause or white space where a rhyme would occur.

Couplets can be used in a number of ways. Some poems are simply a couplet. Other poems are composed of a series of couplets. Stanzas can end with a couplet, or an entire poem can end with a couplet.

Quatrains

A quatrain is either a four-line stanza within a poem or a poem that consists of four lines. Many modern song lyrics are composed of quatrains.

A quatrain may contain one or two couplets. The nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” is a quatrain of two couplets:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

The Exercise

This is a three-part exercise. First write a couplet (two rhyming lines with the same meter or number of syllables). Then write a quatrain (it doesn’t have to include meter or rhymes). Finally, write a quatrain that consists of two couplets.

Tips: Keep your language and subject matter simple. Aim for catchy language and vivid imagery.

Variations: Mix it up—write a poem that consists of a couplet followed by a quatrain and then another couplet. Try using couplets and quatrains to write a song lyric.

Applications: Couplets and quatrains have an infinite number of practical applications for a writer. Couplets are ideal for writing a children’s story, because kids gravitate to simple language and rhythmic rhymes. You can also use couplets and quatrains in songwriting and greeting-card poetry.

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Rock and Rhyme (Poetry)

101 creative writing exercises - Rock and Rhyme

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: Rock and Rhyme Poetry.

Today’s post features an exercise from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which is filled with exercises for various forms of writing, including fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It will inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.

This exercise comes from “Chapter 8: Free Verse.” The creative writing exercises in this chapter focus on free-form poetry writing.

I chose this exercise because it’s fun and inspiring. It asks you to use a song as a foundation for writing a poem. Many song lyrics are poems in their own right. This exercise focuses on rhyming, but it also shows you how to look at your writing’s musicality and encourages you to think about rhythm and meter in your work.

Give it a try, then come back and tell us what you learned. Feel free to share the poems or lyrics that you write from this exercise in the comments section.

Rock and Rhyme Poetry Writing Exercise

Rhyming poetry goes in and out of vogue all the time, except when it comes to children’s poetry, which is almost always packed with fun and clever rhymes.

Some poets take to rhyming rather easily, and sound-a-like words roll off their tongues like butter. Other poets struggle, dancing through the alphabet and flipping through rhyming dictionaries just to find a rhyme as simple as bat and cat.




Poems that rhyme may be a challenge for some, but they’re still fun to write and a blast to read (they are especially fun to read out loud). Rhyming is good practice for exploring musicality in language and experimenting with word play.

The Exercise

All you need is a song. A rhythmic and rhyme-y song without a lot of fancy runs. You’ll want a relatively simple tune. A short pop song will work well. Forget about classical music because most of it doesn’t have lyrics, and what we’re doing requires words. We’re writers, right?

Rewrite the lyrics but keep the rhythm and rhyme scheme intact. You don’t have to replace the rhyme ring and sing with a rhyme like thing and bling. But you do need to find another rhyming pair (like dance and pants). Your rhymes can be as strict or as loose as you want.

If you do just a few of these, rhyming will start to come more naturally to you, and your rhymes will flow with greater ease.

Try to rewrite the song on your own, but if you’re really struggling, hit up a rhyming dictionary or a thesaurus.

Tips: You might want to start with a short, three-chord pop song. Then, graduate yourself to longer and more complex tunes. If you know all the lyrics to your song, that will be immensely helpful. If not, do an online search to find the lyrics to the song you want to work with.

Variations: Here are a few variations that you can use for this exercise:

  • Try it with nursery rhymes: Hey diddle diddle.
  • Try it with a famous poem: Shakespeare anyone?
  • Try it using a song without lyrics: You’re on your own!

Applications: Working with rhyme helps you think more carefully about word choice and points your focus to the sound and rhythm of a piece of writing. This is also an excellent exercise for anyone who has thought about writing song lyrics or children’s poems and stories.

I Rocked Some Poetry

Here’s my attempt with the first chorus from 80s one-hit wonder “99 Red Balloons” by Nena.

The Original Verse
You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got
Set them free at the break of dawn
Till one by one they were gone
Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message: something’s out there
Floating in the summer sky
Ninety-nine red balloons go by

My Attempt to Catch the Rhyme
Shoes untied at a little bus stop
Sigh and whistle a tune ’cause it’s all you’ve got
Set your feet on the tired green lawn
Tie your shoe, stretch and yawn
Five o’clock, the bus should be here
Time is precious, the deadline is near
Waiting till the bus comes by
Ninety-nine cents just for a ride

Are You Ready to Get Down?

Try it for yourself and post a verse or a chorus in the comments! If you’re looking for a song lyric resource, then check out 99 Red Balloons and 100 Other All-Time Great One-Hit Wonders, which is packed with awesome song lyrics that are ideal for this exercise.

101 Creative Writing Exercises