Sneak Peek at Story Drills: Character Arcs

fiction writing exercise character arcs

Fiction writing exercise: character arcs.

Today’s post offers a sneak peek at my forthcoming book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This exercise examines character arcs. Enjoy!

Character Arcs

In storytelling, an arc is a path of transformation. A character arc is the journey that a character experiences throughout the course of a story, which leads to a significant change.

Changes can occur internally or externally. Characters can acquire or lose knowledge, skills, or emotional strength—or they can gain or lose relationships, material possessions, or status. Some of the best character arcs are a combination of both internal and external transformations. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises: Step Out of Your Shoes

fiction writing exercises

Step out of your shoes with these fiction writing exercises.

I recently shared a writing exercise that encouraged you to get into a character’s head. Today’s exercise asks you to go a step further and explore characters and ideas that are your polar opposites.

One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of being a writer is creating characters. It is an opportunity to step outside of your own reality and take on a completely different persona. Unless you’re an actor, an undercover agent, or just plain crazy, you don’t get many chances in life to do that. Read More

Getting Into Character: Fiction Writing Exercises

character fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for developing characters.

Writers are not actors, but sometimes we need to get into character.

To truly understand the nature of a character, a writer must step into that character’s shoes. You can use character sketches and descriptions while you’re creating a character, but the character will remain two dimensional until you can get into the character’s head and understand what makes them tick. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises for Stimulating Creativity

fiction writing exercises

Stimulate your creativity with these fiction writing exercises.

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.

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 storytelling from fresh angles. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises: The Power of Prose

fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for crafting strong prose.

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 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

Fiction Writing Exercises for Creating Characters

fiction writing exercises

Create characters with these fiction writing exercises.

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, so 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. Read More

3 Fiction Writing Exercises

Three fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for story development.

Fiction writing exercises can help you discover storytelling techniques and provide ideas and inspiration for your fiction writing projects.

These exercises provide practice and experience for young or new writers. For more experienced writers, these exercises offer inspiration and can help you see a story from a fresh perspective.

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. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises for Developing Setting

fiction writing exercises for developing setting

Develop setting with these fiction writing exercises.

Setting is one of the most important elements in fiction writing. If your readers don’t know where the story is taking place, they’ll get lost and confused, and it will be hard for them to enjoy your tale.

Some stories have simple settings based on real places. You can use your hometown or a major city. A setting can also be completely dreamed up, which is often necessary in speculative fiction writing (Wonderland and Never Land, for example). You can keep a setting in the background, referring to it only when necessary, or you can bring it to the forefront and allow it to function as a character in your story.

Some authors go to great lengths to take the reader through a story’s setting. Just last year, I read a book in which the character drove around Los Angeles. The author took us down L.A. streets, past parks, and into real neighborhoods and establishments. It was a bit much, but I’m pretty sure if I were a resident of L.A., I would have gotten a little thrill out of the familiarity.

Today, we’ll take a deeper look at setting with a few fiction writing exercises designed to help you establish the settings in your story.




Fiction Writing Exercises: Place and Time

There are two sides to setting: place and time. If you’re writing a contemporary novel, the time in which your story is set is relatively straightforward. However, if you’re writing historical fiction, futuristic fiction, or a story that includes time travel, you’ll need to make sure readers always know what time it is.

Setting it Up

For this exercise, you will choose several settings and write short, opening descriptions that tell the reader when and where the action is taking place. Contemporary readers aren’t crazy about lengthy descriptions, so keep it simple: a couple of sentences or a short paragraph of description will suffice. Here are a few prompts to help you get started:

  • A ghost town in the wild old west.
  • A contemporary metropolis.
  • A medieval household.
  • A made-up fantasy land.
  • Aboard a vessel, such as a spaceship, in the far-off future.

Setting as Backdrop: Too Much vs. Not Enough

For this exercise, you’ll write a short scene that kicks off the story and establishes the setting. Instead of presenting a snapshot of the landscape before moving into your story, you can bring readers right into the setting by combining the setting’s description with action and by using active language rather than passive:

  • Instead of describing busy streets packed with shoppers, show readers that shoppers coursed through the streets like rats in a maze.
  • You can bring characters into the setting: Kate craned her neck and spied a tiny patch of sky amidst the towering skyscrapers.  
  • In establishing time, you can simply state the date (the year was 2012) or you can place something in the setting that identifies the era: A brand new 2012 Porche sped by and Kate whirled on her heels just in time to see it disappear around the corner of Lexington.

Setting as Character

Places that have a life of their own are hugely popular. Many science fiction and fantasy stories are set in places that function as characters: the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek and Pandora from Avatar are two good examples. But cities, towns, and rural landscapes can also have personality. For example, New York has been called the fifth main character in Sex and the City. Houses, vehicles, cities, planets, nations, and rooms can all have personalities of their own.

For this exercise, write a character sketch for a place. Make a list of its traits: personality, style, attitude, class, and philosophy. Is it relaxed and laid back or dark and dangerous? Does it swallow people or lift them up? Is it friendly to newcomers or is it exclusive?

If you’re inclined, go ahead and write a scene or outline to show off your setting’s personality. Remember: just because the setting is functioning as a character doesn’t mean it’s the protagonist or antagonist. It can be a minor character and still largely function as the story’s backdrop (rather than forefront). Make sure you keep the focus of the story on the plot and characters.

How Do You Approach Setting?

Some writers don’t think much about setting. They know exactly where their story takes place, and the setting emerges naturally through the writing. But sometimes, a poorly established setting is unclear or confusing. Do you pay heed to setting? Do you work it out before you start your first draft? If you know of any other great fiction writing exercises that focus on setting, be sure to share them in the comments. And keep writing!

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Fiction Writing Exercises: A Story for a Song

fiction writing exercises - story for a song

Fiction writing exercises: story and song.

Art Begets Art

A compelling story speaks to us much the same way music does, communicating thoughts, feelings, and ideas in ways that go beyond concrete language.

The result?

Something clicks. When you hear a song or read a story that resonates in this manner, you connect with it on a deep level. It almost feels like the author or songwriter was speaking for you, about you, or to you.

Some say that truly great art communicates directly with the subconscious. That’s why the arts coexist so naturally. Where you find a buzzing music scene, you can be sure a booming literary crowd is nearby. And where filmmakers toil with scripts and cameras, you can bet dancers aren’t too far off.

Creativity breeds creativity, and we are like magnets, drawn not just into our own passion, but those that complement and support our passions. Music, film, and art all enrich and inform one another. So do the musicians, filmmakers, artists, and of course, writers.




Fiction Writing Exercises

Some people say that everything has been written, every story told. But that’s not true. There’s always another angle, a different perspective that can be explored. And writers have all the tools they need to grab that perspective and run with it. You just need a starting point, and these fiction writing exercises can help you find it. Try starting with a song.

Before you get started, here are a couple of tips to help you work through these exercises:

  • Make sure you aren’t familiar with the song’s video.
  • Pick a song you like, something you can tolerate listening to several times. In fact the more you enjoy the song, the greater the chance you’ll have fun with this experiment.
  • Bonus if you know the lyrics by heart.

Exercise 1: A Story for a Song

Some of the greatest stories of all time have been told through song. Remember Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee?” John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane?” What about Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff?” Each of these songs tells a clear and distinct story.

Choose a song that tells a story and write the story behind it. This is kind of like traveling backward and trying to find those one thousand words that represent the value of a picture.

Exercise 2: Ambiguous Tales

On the flip side, we have ambiguous lyrics, like “Hotel California,” by the Eagles or “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. Tunes like these have inspired lively debates that ask, what are these songs about, anyway? And if we don’t know what the songs are about, why do they succeed at speaking to us? How do they become enormous hits?

Choose a song that tells a vague story and write about what really happened. Your goal is to take a hazy story and make it clear.

Exercise 3: Who Needs Lyrics?

This is the biggest challenge of all: choose a piece of instrumental music (with no lyrics) and find the story in the melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Music and Fiction Writing Exercises

Throughout history, great artists have collaborated and mixed media to come up with fresh takes on ancient truths. These fiction writing exercises provide a new source for inspiration, get you working in collaboration with other artists (musicians), and give you creative license to put a new spin on something that’s been around for a while.

You can write a paragraph, a few pages, or an entire novel. You could also write a script for film or stage. If you’re strapped for time, just write an outline or a few character sketches. And if you don’t feel like writing it down, just work it out in your head. Find the connection between music and storytelling and let it capture your imagination.

If you have any fiction writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.

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Flash Fiction Writing Exercises

flash fiction writing exercises

Try these flash fiction writing exercises.

These fiction writing exercises are designed to help fiction writers shave away the fluff and reveal the bare bones of a piece of fiction.

We’ll start with one exercise that will help you assess the core structure of a story and then explore a few bonus flash fiction writing exercises that are good for developing concise writing.

What is Flash Fiction?

Flash fiction is a short story that is extremely brief. There is no official word limit, but generally, stories of fewer than 1000-2000 words would fall under the flash category.

Fiction Writing Exercises and Flash Fiction

Many writers have a habit of using gratuitous words and phrases in order to meet a word count, make a piece sound more rhythmic, or enhance descriptive passages. Often, such words hinder a story because they leave less to the reader’s imagination. Other times, there is so much description that the plot and characters get lost in the fray.




Fiction writing exercises like the one below will help you pinpoint areas where excessive wording is creating a problem. In addition, it will peel away the layers of your story, revealing its core. Plus, it’s a very simple exercise and can be completed rather quickly.

Flash Your Fiction

Select a short story you’ve written that is either completed or near completion. Try to choose one that is about ten pages long. You can do this exercise with an entire manuscript, or with a story that is just a couple of pages long, but ten pages is ideal.

First, save the file with a new name so you don’t lose your original work.

Then go through the piece and remove every single adjective and adverb.

Next, remove words, phrases, and sentences that do not move the action of the story forward, especially if they are solely there for description.

Finally, go through the story one last time removing as much as you can without making the piece unintelligible. A traditional example is: Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wins girl back.

Of course, this is an oversimplified example, but it gives you an idea of just how much a story can be stripped to reveal its core movements.

More Flash Fiction Writing Exercises

If you don’t have any pieces that you feel are appropriate for this exercise, if you want to try something a little different, or if you want to do more flash fiction writing exercises, here are a few projects you can tackle:

  • Write a piece of flash fiction from scratch and try to keep it under 1000 words. If you really want to push yourself, aim for fewer than 500 words. Remember, the story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it has to have a central conflict. It’s harder than it sounds!
  • Instead of rewriting an entire piece, turn a scene or a chapter into a flash fiction story.
  • Turn movies, novels, and other story sources into flash fiction writing exercises. Take the plot from a favorite book or movie and write it as a piece of flash fiction.

This exercise can be a lot of fun, and it’s extremely eye-opening when you realize just how many unnecessary words we pack into our writing. It’s also interesting to see the skeleton of a story after stripping away its excess.

Are You Up For It?

Have you ever written flash fiction? Do you aim for concise writing? Got any fiction writing exercises of your own to share? Leave a comment, and keep writing.

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