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.”
Titles and Headlines
A title or headline is the first point of contact that a reader will have with your writing. It’s your introduction, a chance to entice and intrigue readers so they want to buy your book or read your article. An effective title piques a reader’s curiosity and provides some idea of what the piece is about.
Some authors use titles as part of their brand. Sue Grafton is working her way through the alphabet with her Kinsey Millhone series (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc.). Many romance novelists use words like kiss, love, or dance in their titles. In the sci-fi realm, anything associated with space is fair game: galaxy, universe, Mars, and stars. And a well placed mythological term, such as dragon or wizard clearly marks a fantasy novel.
In addition to book titles, many authors have a separate title for a series. This allows the author to use two different titles on a single piece of work. New readers will be drawn in by the book title while existing fans will gravitate toward the series title.
In poetry, titles can be more abstract. A poem’s title may seem irrelevant to the poem. Many poets take a word or phrase from the poem and use it as a title. Others will use a title that functions as part of the poem. The best poem titles evoke an image and give the reader an indication of what the poem will feel like.
Magazines use headlines prominently displayed on the front cover to entice customers. Newspapers use them to draw readers into a story, and bloggers, as many of you know, use headlines to generate buzz, links, and tweets.
Choose one of your writing projects or ideas and make a list of possible titles. Don’t run off a quick list. Take some time to contemplate each title and consider how it will resonate with readers and impact your project’s success. Make sure the titles and headlines you write represent the piece accurately. Avoid labels, words, and phrases that are misleading.
Tips: Look to some successful works by authors you admire to get ideas for titles. Peruse magazines, newspapers, and blogs for headline ideas.
Variations: If you don’t have any writing projects that need titles, then make a list of alternative titles for some of your favorite books, magazines, movies, TV shows, articles, and poems.
Applications: Every piece of writing has to be titled, and a title or headline is essential in selling the piece to its audience. Developing catchy, intriguing titles is an essential writing skill.
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 Writing Forward’s fifth anniversary, which happened earlier this month, I’d like to share an entire chapter from 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 it 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.
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.
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, explain 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 a write a scene or outline to show off your setting’s personality. Remember, however, that just because the setting is functioning as a character doesn’t mean it is the protagonist or antagonist. It can be a minor character and still be largely the 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 may not 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.
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 and 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 love and good vs. evil. 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, 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 theme by identifying it 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 will 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 social class as a theme and you might say that freedom 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.
- 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 5-10 themes. Go over your list a few times to make sure you’re identifying themes (big, sweeping concepts) rather than conflicts or plot twists.
- 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.
- Now, 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.
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. Example: 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. (The theme is revenge.)
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. Then, you can refer back to it when 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 have 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 would be appropriate. You can do these exercises over and over for various stories in order to get a good handle on theme so that you can use it 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 Theme
How do you approach theme 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 theme? 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.
Fiction writing exercises can help you discover storytelling techniques and provide ideas and inspiration for your fiction writing projects.
For writers who are young or just starting out with fiction, these exercises provide practice and experience. For more experienced writers, these exercises offer inspiration and can help you see a story from new angles.
Today’s fiction writing exercises are carefully chosen to help you develop some of the most critical components in a story. If you can create a few characters; identify a conflict, climax, and resolution; and choose a theme, you’re well on your way to writing a short story or novel that will resonate with readers.
These exercises are similar to assignments you would complete in a college-level fiction writing class, exercises that push you in the direction of writing material that can be published. You can tackle these exercises separately, but I recommend using them to develop ideas around a single story.
1. Character Exercise: Sketching a Protagonist and an Antagonist
We often think of them as the bad guy and the good guy or the hero and the villain, but those terms are becoming outdated as modern storytelling increasingly embraces protagonists who are highly flawed and antagonists who aren’t 100% evil.
The Exercise: Sketch two characters who are in conflict with each other.
Do not identify a protagonist or antagonist, just create two characters. Both characters should have the potential to be good or evil. Start with physical descriptions, then get inside the characters’ heads to establish their inner landscapes, and finally, work up a bit of backstory for each of them. Remember, these two characters have a fundamental conflict with each other. What is it? The core of this exercise is identifying that conflict.
If you’ve never done a character sketch or have trouble coming up with details for your character, check out this character development worksheet.
2. Plot Exercise: Conflict, Climax, and Resolution
The three-act structure is one of the simplest and most effective way to break down a story. Often, the acts are 1) Setup, 2) Confrontation, and 3) Resolution. I think of the three-act structure as 1) Conflict, 2) Climax, and 3) Resolution because those are the three pinnacles in each of the three acts. In the first part of a story, we learn what the conflict is. The second (and largest portion) of the story builds up to a climax in which the conflict hits boiling point. Finally, the third act resolves the conflict.
The Exercise: Determine a conflict, climax, and resolution for a story. You can use the two characters you created in the first exercise for this.
Conflict examples: Two people vying for the same job, a natural disaster, people-eating aliens landing on Earth.
Climax examples: In a big showdown, one job candidate smears the other and knocks the opponent out of the race. A natural disaster claims the lives of half of Earth’s population. Humans engage in a final battle with people-eating aliens.
Resolution examples: The job candidate who got smeared makes a comeback and gets the job. Earth’s survivors rebuild after a planet-wide natural disaster. Against all odds, humans win the battle against aliens with superior technology.
3. Theme Exercise: Universal Ideas
Theme is difficult to explain, but Wikipedia does a good job:
A theme is a broad idea, message, or moral of a story. The message may be about life, society, or human nature. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and are almost always implied rather than stated explicitly. Along with plot, character, setting, and style, theme is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.
I usually think of theme as the big questions that a story asks or its underlying philosophies.
The exercise: Choose a theme and write a list of ways in which a theme can be executed through the course of a story.
You can choose a theme for the characters you sketched in the first exercise or for the three-act structure you developed in the second exercise. For example, in a story where two characters are vying for the same job, the theme might be dream fulfillment (if it’s one or both of the characters’ dream job).
As an alternative, try to identify themes in other stories. Think about your favorite books, movies, and TV shows and make lists of some themes you’ve found in storytelling.
Get Busy Writing Fiction
Do you think about character, plot, and theme when you’re working on a story? Do you plan these elements in advance or let them unfold through discovery writing? Who are some of your favorite characters? Can you think of a truly original plot in modern storytelling? What themes in fiction appeal to you the most? And finally, do you use fiction writing exercises and if you do, how have they helped you improve your writing?
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
If you’re going to exercise, it’s a good idea to warm up first. That way, you’ll get your body geared up to do the heavy lifting, the hard running, and the strenuous workout.
Writing’s no different.
Poetry writing exercises are ideal when you’re feeling uninspired or lazy, or maybe your poetry is getting stale and you need to take it in a fresh direction. Perhaps you’re getting ready to embark on a big, long writing project and want to warm up first.
Today’s poetry writing exercises are good starters and don’t require you to know anything about poetry or have any experience writing poems. In fact, some of these exercises are just that — exercises — no poetry writing required.
Poetry Writing Exercises
These poetry writing exercises are designed to get you thinking about rhythm, language, and imagery in your writing. Let’s jump right in!
1. Alliteration and Assonance Lists
Create a list of word pairs and phrases that are built around alliteration or assonance. Remember, alliteration is when words in close proximity start with (or contain) the same consonant sound (as in pretty picture). Assonance is when words in close proximity echo vowel sounds (bent pen). Try to come up with at least ten of each. The more, the better.
Bonus exercise: Use the words from your lists to write a poem.
2. Metaphors and Similes for Life
Make a list of significant life events: birth, death, graduation, marriage, having children, starting your own business. Next, come up with one metaphor and one simile for each of these events. Remember: a metaphor is when we say one thing is another thing. A simile is when we say one thing is like another thing.
Metaphor: Life is a dance.
Simile: Life is like a box of chocolates (as a metaphor, this would be life is a box of chocolates)
Tip: Choose metaphors that are visually interesting. Metaphors for life as a dance or box of chocolates are both easy for readers to visualize.
Bonus exercise: Write a poem about one of your life events using only the metaphor or simile you have chosen. When it’s done, your poem should be a bit ambiguous; a reader will wonder whether the poem is literally about the metaphor or metaphorically about the life event.
3. Lyrics and Musicality
Choose a catchy song that you enjoy and rewrite the lyrics, but stick to the rhythm and meter. Try to go way off topic from what the original lyrics were about. You can play the song while you work on the exercise or search for the lyrics online and use those as your baseline. The idea is to get your mind on the musicality in your writing.
Have Fun with These Poetry Writing Exercises!
These poetry writing exercises are meant to be helpful and fun. If you tried any of these exercises, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Did you learn anything? Did you end up writing a poem?
Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Have any special requests for exercises that deal with specific areas of writing? Leave a comment!
Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
Art Begets Art
A compelling story speaks to us much the same way that music does, communicating thoughts, feelings, and ideas in ways that go beyond concrete language.
A click takes place within the psyche. 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 taken. 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 or that you don’t rewrite the video treatment.
- Pick a song you like, something you can tolerate listening to several times over. In fact the more you enjoy the song, the greater the chance you’ll have fun with this experiment.
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 clear 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 that cross genre lines?
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 mediums and 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.