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: Becoming the Antagonist

fiction writing exercises antagonist

Fiction writing exercises for crafting an antagonist.

 

Today’s 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.

The most effective characters are unique and complex, not cardboard cutouts of ourselves. That means we have to get into the heads of people who are strikingly different from us.

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. 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!

Are you looking for more fiction writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

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.

101 creative writing exercises

Fiction Writing Exercises: Composing a Logline

fiction writing exercises

Write a logline to figure out what your story’s about!

In his book, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder recommends writing a logline for your story before you tackle the first draft. Today we’re going to apply this concept with fiction writing exercises that force you to dig into your story and unearth its core, so you can find out what it’s really about and whether it’s a compelling concept.

A logline is a one- or two-sentence description of your story, similar to an elevator pitch. The idea is to write a logline that inspires interest in your story. Because loglines are primarily used to market books and movies, it may seem like you should write your logline after your book is completed. However, writing your logline in advance has several benefits.

Through the process of fine-tuning and polishing the logline for a story you’re working on, you will pare the story down to its core by identifying what makes it interesting and why people should want to read it. Since you only have one or two sentences to work within, you end up with a crystallized description of your story.

While your logline can be used later for marketing, you can also use it during story development to tweak your story and improve it, since you may find flaws in your ideas while crafting the logline. You can also use your logline to test your story idea on other people to see if you can drum up any interest. If nobody’s biting, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Finally, a logline identifies the heart of the story and can help you stay focused so your story doesn’t stray too far from the main plot.

Examples of Loglines

Before starting, be sure to read through some successful loglines to get a sense of what works. The examples below came from the Internet Movie Database (IMDB):

  • Titanic (1997): A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind, but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
  • The Avengers (2012): Earth’s mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.
  • Trainwreck (2015): Having thought that monogamy was never possible, a commitment-phobic career woman may have to face her fears when she meets a good guy.

What do these loglines have in common? Each one tells you who the story is about (the protagonist), what they’re up against (the antagonist), and offers a hook, something that makes it interesting.

Fiction Writing Exercises: Logline Pre-Production

Ideally you’ll develop your logline between brainstorming and outlining (or writing the first draft). You can, of course, craft a logline after you’ve written a draft, but if you do it in advance, it may help you pinpoint story problems that you could have otherwise avoided, and this will mean fewer revisions. Choose a story idea you’ve been working on, or work with a draft or manuscript that’s in progress. You can also do it with a finished book.

To get started, identify some key elements of your story:

  • Find a descriptive noun for your protagonist. This should not be a broad noun like person, woman, or boy. It should offer the clearest and most concise description of your protagonist in relation to the main plot. Note the strongest nouns in the loglines above (aristocrat and artist).
  • Choose an adjective for your protagonist. Your protagonist is probably a complex character, but choosing just one adjective forces you to focus on the character’s trait that is most relevant to the plot. Surely the protagonist in Trainwreck could be described with lots of adjectives, but in a plot about monogamy, the fact that she’s commitment-phobic is what makes this story interesting.
  • Find the hook: Something about your story should raise an eyebrow and garner interest. A rich girl falling in love with a poor boy (Titanic) is ironic and therefore compelling. Build the hook around the central conflict and the protagonist’s inner struggle.
  • Identify the antagonist: We like to think of antagonists as classic villains (like Lokie in The Avengers). But in Trainwreck, the antagonist is fear. The antagonist is whatever is stopping the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. It can be a person, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • If the antagonist is a character, find a descriptive noun and an adjective for them as you did for the protagonist.

As you work through this process, you may discover things about your story that you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe you’ll find that you have made a clever connection between your characters and the hook. Or maybe you’ll realize that your protagonist is ill-suited for the plot you’ve got in mind. Maybe your story is missing a hook or the premise is vague. Keep working at these elements until they are clear, and then you can start crafting them into a cohesive logline.

Crafting the Logline

Now that you have all the elements for your logline, you can do what writers do, which is form them into sentences. If you can connect these elements in a single sentence, do it, but don’t exceed two sentences. Aim for good, strong writing; in other words, don’t cheat by writing super long run-on sentences in order to squeeze in a bunch of unnecessary details about your story. Stick with the highlights!

When you’re done, shop your logline around to a few friends (especially avid readers and fellow writers) and ask for their honest opinions. Use their feedback to further polish your logline and fine-tune your story.

Tips and Variations

  • Visit IMDB and read through the loglines for some of your favorite movies. Do the loglines do the movies justice? Could you write a better one?
  • Instead of writing a logline for a story you’re working on, make a list of loglines (or jot them down on note cards), and add to it regularly. This is your new story idea warehouse, and you can turn to it whenever you need a new project.
  • Try writing loglines with your writing group. This is a great way to get quick feedback on your story ideas.

Have you ever written a logline for a story? Do you write your logline before or after you draft the manuscript? Did you find this helpful as a fiction writing exercise? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

101 creative writing exercises

Fiction Writing Exercises for Exploring and Developing Theme

fiction writing exercises

Develop themes in your stories with these fiction writing exercises.

Good fiction is comprised of many parts: plot, characters, setting, scenes, and dialogue. But we rarely talk about theme, even though it’s critical to good storytelling.

There’s no clear and easy way to define theme. It has been called the worldview, philosophy, message, moral, and lesson within a story. However, these labels, taken alone or together, don’t quite explain theme in fiction.

We can think of a theme as an underlying principle or concept. It’s usually universal in nature. Some common themes include redemption, sacrifice, betrayal, loyalty, greed, justice, oppression, revenge, and love.

Themes can be philosophical; they can ask questions or pit two ideas against each other: science vs. faith, good vs. evil, why are we here and what happens when we die?

Themes in Storytelling

You need look no further than some of your favorite stories to explore and identify themes. Keep in mind that most stories have multiple themes. For example, in Harry Potter, I would say the most significant themes are good vs. evil and the power of love. However, there are also themes of friendship, sacrifice, and redemption. One theme might stretch across an entire series while other themes appear at the novel or chapter level.

And themes are not unique to fictional literature. Any form of storytelling can (and should) contain thematic elements, including movies, television shows, songs, and poetry. Themes will also be present in nonfiction, and in some cases themes will drive a work of nonfiction, whether it is a memoir or documentary. For example, a documentary about the lives of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton will focus on the theme of justice in the context of a woman’s right to vote. Such a documentary won’t look closely at their personal lives but will focus on their founding of the women’s suffrage movement, keeping to the theme.

Today’s fiction writing exercises encourage you to explore themes by identifying them in some of your favorite stories.

Fiction Writing Exercises: Exploring and Developing Theme

Once you understand theme and have learned to identify it, you can start bringing it into your own work. There’s a good chance that themes will manifest even if you don’t put any special effort into theme development. Themes are so closely tied to human nature that it’s almost impossible to tell a story without a theme of some kind. But if you approach theme with intent (even vague intent), your work might have greater depth and meaning.

Exercise 1: Study in Themes

If you and I both watch the film Titanic, we might identify different themes in the film. I might identify wealth disparity or materialism as a theme, and you might say liberty is a theme. In this case, we’d both be right. For this exercise, you will choose one of your favorite stories and identify its themes.

  1. Choose a favorite book, movie, or television show (for a TV show, you should just choose one episode). Make a list of all the themes you can identify in the story. Try to find three to five themes. Go over your list a few times to make sure you’re identifying themes (big, sweeping concepts) rather than conflicts or plot twists.
  2. Next, determine one key theme that is woven through the entire story. You might find there are two or three major themes. List them all but choose just one to explore in the next step.
  3. Finally, explain how the storyteller presented this theme through plot, character, and scenes. Make a list of events and situations from the story that embody the theme.

I found an example that identifies a theme in Catcher in the Rye.

As an alternative, choose one of your completed poems, stories, or essays. The exercise will work better with a story, but poetry and essays will do. Now go through the steps above to list all the themes in your piece, identify the main theme(s), and examine how you executed the themes. If you’re already working on a story, try to identify a few themes that are appearing in your work and elaborate on them. Look for ways to integrate the theme with your plot, and ask how your main conflict can be connected with a primary theme.

Exercise 2: Starting from Theme

Choose three themes and for each, sketch ideas for how you could make the theme manifest through character, plot, or scenes. Here’s an example using revenge as a theme: A thieving woman is fired because a co-worker reported her for stealing. Instead of accepting responsibility, she blames the co-worker and frames him so he gets fired too, even though he is innocent.

Exercise 3: Theme Master

Now that you’ve learned how to identify themes and integrate theme in your own work, make a master list of themes that can be used in storytelling. Whenever you come across an interesting theme, add it to the list. You can refer back to your list whenever you need a theme for one of your writing projects.

A Few Final Tips for Bringing Themes into Your Writing

Theme is not cut and dry, and it shouldn’t be overly obvious. If you’re working on a theme involving sacrifice, you don’t want to show your characters making sacrifices in every chapter. Theme works best when it’s subtle.

Since themes can contain messages and morals, make a conscious effort not to force your personal beliefs and values onto your readers. There’s a difference between making a statement and being preachy. Most readers don’t like novels that preach at them. In fact, some themes work best when they work as questions and the reader gets to experience contrary viewpoints. For example, we all accept that stealing is wrong, but we feel differently about it when it’s done by a small child who is starving.

Finally, have fun with theme. You can go through your outline and make notes about where themes are addressed. Or you can look for opportunities in your story where theme could be expanded. You can do these exercises over and over for various stories until you get a good handle on theme, and then you can use theme to enrich your own writing. You might also use the Internet to look for other people’s ideas about theme for any given story.

Let’s Talk About Themes

How do you approach themes in storytelling? Do you purposefully develop themes, or do you let them happen naturally? Did you find today’s fiction writing exercises helpful in understanding and exploring themes? Got any theme-related resources or ideas to share? Leave a comment!

And keep writing.

Are you looking for more fiction writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

Fiction Writing Exercises: Change the Tail

Fiction writing exercises: change the tail

Change the tail on these fiction writing exercises.

Fiction writing exercises improve your writing by challenging you, providing you with fresh ideas, and forcing you to approach fiction writing from new angles.

This is a flexible writing exercise that could also be called Change the Tale. But in this exercise, we’re going to change the tale by changing the tail.

The idea is to take an existing plot and change the ending to make it completely different. This will help you understand the basics of story structure, particularly the part where you bring the story to a close.

Take the tail end off a story, right after the climax, and change it to something else. Choose a story from a book, magazine, newspaper, or film, and change the ending!

Changing the Tails on Tales

Here are a few idea starters:

Gone with the Wind – What if Rhett Butler hadn’t walked away?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Without the lobotomy?

Titanic (movie) – What if the opposite characters had lived and died?




Try this with any of the Star Wars movies (I dare you!), or a Shakespeare play. Try it with a Dr. Seuss book or try it with War and Peace. Dip into nonfiction and try it with world history. What would life be like if World War II had gone the other way? What if a different candidate had won a major election?

Or just try it with the last book you read.

Variations

  • You can flesh out a completely new ending for the story you chose by writing a polished piece or you can simply jot down some notes or an outline that explain how your new ending will differ from the original.
  • Write a few sentences about how your new ending might affect the integrity of the piece or how a different ending might have changed the world. Would Romeo and Juliet be the classic that it is today if the two star-crossed lovers had lived? How would that have changed our culture, the literary canon, or the way the most compelling and moving stories throughout history have been viewed and received?
  • Turn this exercise on its head and change the opening of the story. Make the hero and villain switch places. Tell the story from a different character’s point of view.

Which story ending will you change? You can pick one that you didn’t like much and fix it by giving it a better ending or choose a story with an ending you loved — just to see what a different outcome would have been like.

Fiction writing exercises are supposed to be fun and challenging, so tackle this with a light heart and a focused mind. And keep writing!

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

101 creative writing exercises

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.

101 creative writing exercises