Today I’d like to share a selection of fiction writing prompts from my book, 1200 Creative Writing Prompts, which includes 500 fiction prompts plus prompts for writing poetry and creative nonfiction.
Writing prompts are ideal for when you’re feeling uninspired because they provide you with ideas for fresh projects.
But prompts are also useful for those times when you’re not motivated to write. I’ve found that the sheer act of reading through a few good fiction writing prompts gives me the impetus to stop procrastinating and start writing.
These fiction writing prompts cover a range of genres, including literary, suspense, thriller, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, historical, humor, satire, children’s, and young adult. Read more
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.
Writing also lets us explore ideas and share our thoughts, opinions, and feelings on a wide range of topics. To Kill a Mockingbird addressed racism, The Da Vinci Code critically explored religious doctrine, and The Hunger Games examined troublesome aspects of our society, particularly glam culture, class systems, war, and violence among teenagers.
As a fiction writer, there will be times when you need to get into the head of a character who is your polar opposite. You’ll need to have a deep comprehension of ideologies that are not aligned with your own. If you can’t do that, then your story will lack believability.
Today’s fiction writing exercises give you practice in stepping out of your shoes so you can walk in someone else’s. Read more
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 him or her tick.
It’s harder than it sounds. Your first impulse might be to act like a puppet master, pulling the character’s strings and controlling every action and line of dialogue. But what you really need to do is scoot over and get in the passenger’s seat. Let your character do the driving and ride along as an observer. And that’s exactly what today’s fiction writing exercises will help you do. Read more
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. Perhaps you need to practice storytelling?
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 story from fresh angles.
Stimulate Your Creativity with These Fiction Writing Exercises
Below, you’ll find a list of simple scenarios. Each one could form the basis for a story. Your job is to come up with three story premises for each scenario. Be creative and try to avoid the most obvious premises.
Let’s use the following scenario as an example:
While hiking alone in the woods, a character comes face to face with a bear.
The obvious premise might show the hiker getting attacked by the bear or dropping and rolling to avoid getting attacked by the bear, but how could you put an unexpected twist on this scenario? Maybe the bear and the hiker strike up a conversation (fantasy or children’s literature). Maybe the bear is sick and weak, so the hiker decides to nurse it back to health. Maybe the bear isn’t a bear at all. Could it be someone in a bear suit?
For each scenario below, come up with three different premises that could be used to build a story. Try to stretch your story premises across a range of genres, including literary fiction, mystery, thriller, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, horror, romance, historical, humor, satire, children’s, and young adult.
- A cruise ship gets caught in a storm, veers off course, and then sinks far from the mainland, but many of the passengers survive and make it to a deserted island.
- A man and a woman are sitting across from each other at a small table in a dimly lit restaurant.
- A family watches as their cat gives birth to a litter of nine kittens.
- Moments after arriving home from a long and difficult day at work, a character is shocked when the police show up with an arrest warrant.
- In a mid-sized town, somebody is dressing in disguise and fighting crime–a real-life superhero or a masked vigilante?
Feel free to change these scenarios or mix them up. Maybe instead of a cat having kittens, the family’s dog is having puppies. Maybe the character who is served with an arrest warrant is either the man or woman who was dining in the dimly lit restaurant.
If you try any of these fiction writing exercises, come back and tell us how they worked for you.
Please welcome guest author Joshua Danton Boyd with a post on character development in fiction writing.
For writers, characters can be very personal creations. Despite being taken from the ether, we can become attached to them, especially if we’ve been working on their story for years. With all the time and effort put into crafting their fictional lives, it’s understandable that we become overly sympathetic to them. We practically treat them like children. This, unfortunately, can be a one-way road to bland and uninteresting character development and plot lines. Just because you’re happy with your precious hero doesn’t mean your readers will be.
We want to read about characters going on journeys, be they physical or mental. This means there needs to be change in some way or another. We want to see characters that end up different from how they started. This is why the famous trope of the reluctant hero is so popular. Take Han Solo in Star Wars for example. He starts out as a man only interested in money and his own safety and then ends up risking his life for the Rebellion.
These kinds of transformations are pleasing–even the ones where a character goes the other way and becomes evil. The point is that things can’t just stay the same, and one of the best plot devices for moving a character forward and making them interesting is to treat them badly. Put them through hell.
We shouldn’t give our heroes unfair advantages so that any problems they come up against are easily overcome. Even superheroes have their supervillains to ensure they are properly challenged. Imagine how terrible Superman comics would be if his adversaries were regular humans mugging old ladies.
Make things difficult for your characters. If you don’t, your readers already know how it’ll end. The stronger you make your character, the stronger you should make their enemies. This stresses your characters, which enables readers to get a fuller understanding of their mindsets. Stress, and how someone responds to it, tells us a lot of about people. It’s when we lose our cool that we are at our most honest.
Avoid making characters that are perfect, as though they could do no wrong in the world. This is generally boring. We do not want to read about people like that because we have no way to relate to them. All of us have one flaw or another and so should your characters. Make them selfish or ignorant or weak or arrogant or whatever. There’s no depth in characters that have nothing wrong with them. Flaws also give you scope for character development.
It’s important to remember that our characters do not belong to us. Once the story is out there, they belong to your readers. They’re the ones who will become truly attached to your characters, and for that to happen characters need to resonate with readers. Few people have a perfect life, so when things get tough, they want someone they can relate to. Make it the characters in your book. Even in books set in fantastical fictional universes, characters must be realistic. Put that realism into your heroes.
About the Author: Joshua Danton Boyd is a writer based in Brighton. He currently works full time as a copywriter and on the side is putting together a music and science site called The Scientist Conductor.
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 writing–and that’s true of any form of writing, including 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.
Fiction Writing Exercises: Practice in Prose
These fiction writing exercises encourage you to dig into the marrow of your writing–the language. You’ll need a few pieces of your own writing; they can be drafts or polished pieces. Choose one exercise below or tackle all of them.
Exercise One: Modifier Madness
Start with a short story or a scene you’ve completed. Use about five pages of narrative. Go through the piece and highlight all adjectives and adverbs. Now read it back without those modifiers. Did it lose meaning? Did some sentences gain strength because they weren’t weighed down with unnecessary detail? Look for adjective-noun and adverb-verb combinations that you can replace with more vivid nouns and verbs. For example, running quickly becomes sprinting. If you’re struggling to replace words that aren’t working, use the thesaurus.
Exercise Two: Dialogue Diversions
Find a dialogue scene in a story you’ve written. Make a copy of the scene and strip away the action and description, leaving only the dialogue. Use a different color of highlighting for each character’s dialogue so you can easily distinguish them from each other (for example, yellow for character A, green for character B, etc.).
- Read one character’s dialogue aloud, skipping the other characters’ lines. Is the character’s manner of speech consistent? Does the character use any dialect or catch phrases that make his or her speech patterns distinguishable? Is the dialogue peppered with filler words like um and well? Does it sound like natural speech? Does it reflect the character’s background, education, and social status?
- Read all of the characters’ dialogue aloud (better yet, get a friend to help so each of you can read different characters’ lines). Is each character’s dialogue distinct from the other characters? Does the conversation flow? Does it stay on topic or go off on tangents? Do the characters refer to each by name too often (people don’t usually refer to each other by name in real life)?
Exercise Three: Rhythm and Pacing
Pull one to three pages of narrative from a story that’s in progress or completed. Make a copy of it and format it with double line spacing so you have plenty of room to work between the lines. Print it out. Now go through and count the words in each sentence and make a note of the word count at the beginning of each sentence. Then go through and count the syllables in each sentence and make a note of the syllable count at the end of each sentence. Use different color pens for word count and syllable count or use highlighters so you can easily tell the difference.
Do you tend to write short or long sentences? Do your sentences vary in length or does the rhythm drone in a repetitive manner? Could you link two short sentences together to make a single, longer sentence? Can you break up any long sentences into two or more shorter sentences?
Did these fiction writing exercises help you view your prose in a new light? Which exercise did you tackle? Do you have any tips for crafting compelling prose? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Most authors agree that fiction is primarily driven by characters. Successful authors talk about characters who take over the story, who have their own separate and independent consciousnesses. Outlines and plans for plot go out the window as characters insist on moving the story in a direction of their own design.
Because characters are central to most stories and because their primary function is to explore the human condition, it’s essential for characters to be believable. In other words, characters may not be real, but they most certainly should feel real.
It’s not easy to write believable and realistic characters. People (and therefore characters) are highly complex and layered, full of contradictions and flaws. Because writing imposes space-time limitations, we can never craft a character that is as complicated as a real person, but we can certainly try.
Today’s creative writing prompts encourage you to explore the characters in your writing. By working outside of your project on a series of exercises that force you to explore and engage with your characters, you will get to know them better. You’ll also get to use techniques for creating characters that have depth and dimension.
Creative Writing Prompts
These creative writing prompts are broken into various categories. You can mix and match the prompts according to which ones are most attractive to you or choose the ones you think will help resolve character problems that you’re struggling with.
Feel free to let these character-related writing prompts inspire new prompts–in other words, you don’t have to write exactly what the prompt says. One set of prompts deals with character fears and flaws. These might inspire you to write about your character’s strengths and virtues.
Be creative, have fun, and keep writing!
Background and Family
- Unearth your character’s roots. What is the character’s ancestry or cultural background? How does ancestry shape your character? Is the character at odds with family traditions?
- Write a series of short paragraphical biographies of each of the character’s closest family members: spouse, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, close friends, etc.
- Write a monologue in which your character summarizes his or her life story; be sure to write it in the character’s voice.
Motivations and Goals
- What motivates your character? Money? Love? Truth? Power? Justice?
- What does your character want more than anything else in the world? What is he or she searching for?
- What other characters or events are interfering with your character’s goals? What obstacles are in the way?
Flaws and Fears
- What is your character’s single greatest fear? How did your character acquire his or her fears?
- What are your character’s flaws and weaknesses?
- How does the character’s fears and flaws prevent them from reaching their goals?
- What does your character look like? Make a list and include the following: hair, eyes, height, weight, build, etc.
- Now choose one aspect of the character’s appearance, a detail (bitten nails, frizzy hair, a scar) and elaborate on it.
- Write a short scene in which your character is looking in the mirror or write a short scene in which another character first sees your character.
- How does your character feel on the inside? What kind of person is your character and what does the character’s internal landscape look like?
- We don’t always present ourselves to others in a way that accurately reflects how we feel inside. We might be shy or insecure but come across as stuck-up and aloof. How do others perceive your character?
- Write a scene with dialogue that reveals your character’s external and internal personalities. Good settings for this dialogue would be an interview, appointment with a therapist, or a conversation with a romantic interest or close friend. Write the scene in third-person omniscient so you can get inside your character’s head as well as the other character’s head; this will allow you explore how your character feels and how he or she is perceived.
If you tackle these creative writing prompts, come back and tell us how they worked for you. What did you write? Did you learn anything new about your character or how to write about your character? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Please welcome guest authors Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett with a post about indie publishing and the many benefits it offers fiction writers.
A number of clients of Evan’s literary agency have begun to self-publish, or indie-publish, as a supplement to traditional publishing. For some of these authors, an activity that was meant as a promotional sideline has turned into the main event, with the indie-published books outselling the traditionally published ones.
These authors have discovered that indie publishing offers a number of advantages over traditional publishing. Here’s our advice for making the most of these advantages.
Traditionally published authors are all too aware of publishers’ demands in terms of category. A book must fit cleanly into one of a small set of genres on a publisher’s list: thriller, romance, mystery, and so on. Creativity is of course encouraged, but only within the realm of plotting; too much experimentation that results in a book straddling two genres is strongly discouraged. So for years, authors who wanted to get published and keep getting published played by these rules, some happily, some not so happily.
The not-so-happy authors yearned to experiment further. They wanted to meld their favorite genres in the interest of telling a better story, genre be damned. In today’s indie publishing, this is not only possible, it’s smart. This is because readers of indie-published fiction expect something different. They’re browsing the indie-published racks to find the kinds of books they’ve never been able to get from the traditional houses.
Some of the most successful indie fiction authors are stretching the boundaries in amazing ways. They’re coining new genres that, when successful, are plucked up by the traditional publishers and added to their list of genres.
Ciara Knight describes having to come up with a genre for her novel Weighted: ultimately she ended up with “post-apocalyptic, futuristic, Biopunk, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, romantic elements, fantasy, paranormal.” Frustrated by discouragement from a New York editor, and realizing that some of her favorite books were genre blends, she decided to go the indie route. From her sales, it’s safe to surmise she’s glad she did.
Linda Gillard went the indie route after being dropped by her publisher because of disappointing sales. She describes her first indie-published novel, House of Silence, as “mixed-genre. It’s a country house mystery and a family drama, with an element of romantic comedy–in other words, it’s a marketing nightmare. I decided to promote the genre mix and marketed the book as ‘Rebecca meets Cold Comfort Farm.’ That seemed to hit the spot with readers, who clearly don’t have a problem with mixing genres.” Gillard says, “I market myself, not a genre.” House of Silence sold 10,000 downloads in less than four months, and Amazon UK selected it for its Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category.
This trend makes us smile because it reminds us of the old “midlist” where traditional publishers used to put novels that didn’t necessarily fit into an established genre but were great stories. Today’s tightly slotted marketing has killed this midlist. Now, ironically, those books that are simply great stories are back with a vengeance.
When you’re in the brainstorming and plotting stages of a novel intended for indie publication, throw all the category brainwashing to the wind and just write what excites you. Remember, it was never the readers who demanded rigid categorization; it was the publishers, who needed categorization to sell books to the retailers, who in turn needed some way to organize their stock. Readers…just wanna have fun.
A Book a Day?
Authors on traditional publishers’ lists are lucky if they can get two novels published within a calendar year. Once in a while, as a special event, a publisher might publish connected books in two consecutive months, or the books of a series a few months apart; but these are the exceptions. The reality is that a publisher’s list is by necessity large, and a large list means everyone must get a turn.
Not so in the indie world. If you’re an indie author, your list is just you, and you can publish a book a week if you feel like it. Contrary to what many readers would like to believe, some of the best books are written quickly–like in-a-few-weeks quickly. In the past, traditionally published authors who wrote fast would hold back their manuscripts, afraid that if they turned them in too soon, their editors would question the books’ quality. But the truth is that some writers are both good and fast, so why not get these books into readers’ hands as quickly as possible? You know those readers who read a book a week, a book a day, or several books a day? They will devour a series—have a “marathon”—much the way TV viewers are using their on-demand services or Netflix to watch TV marathons of their favorite programs.
Barbara Freethy was a veteran of the traditional publishing world when she ventured into indie publishing. “I’m a self-starter,” she says, “and I’ve always wanted to put out series books close together. While writing for traditional publishers, I was never able to do that, but on my own, I can, so I love writing and I love putting out connected books that keep the readers happy!” In the past two years, the record-breaking Freethy has sold more than 3 million e-books.
Are you a fast writer? Without an editor breathing down your neck, you may be able to produce a quality manuscript faster than you think. Conduct an experiment: Produce several connected novels of perhaps 55,000 to 60,000 words and self-publish them as close together as you can. We guarantee your readers will ask for more…quickly.
Shake the Long Tail
Traditional publishers must market their books to the common denominator because they are not really equipped to market to niches. Granted, many of these publishers have special marketing departments that try to reach the more specialized audiences for their books, but even so, most books are sold through mainstream, general-audience channels.
Because the traditional publishers must publish books intended for mass consumption, they turn down many of the books that go on to successful indie publication. This is because indie publishing is perfectly suited to specialized marketing. Unlike a traditional publisher, you can afford to put all of your efforts, before and after publication, into reaching your niche readers. You can also keep your book in print as long as you like—something else the traditional publishers can’t do. A more specialized book needs more time to reach its readers, and you have that time. Many an author has been frustrated by how quickly the traditional publishers take their books out of print.
There are even guides for authors seeking to niche-market their books as effectively as possible. One example is Get Rich in a Niche: The Insider’s Guide to Self-Publishing in a Specialized Market by Jeffrey Bennett, who self-publishes under his own Red Bike imprint.
Kill the Editor
Veterans of traditional publishing know there are editors who tread lightly on a manuscript, and others who stomp all over it. Often the stomping is part of the editor’s effort to make a novel conform to her publisher’s idea of what sells to the mass audience mentioned above. Other times (and we know this from having been editors ourselves), perfectly good books must be shortened in order to lower production costs and meet certain price points.
Indie-published authors must contend with no such interference—no watering down or cutting. Their books may contain whatever content they deem appropriate for their readers; the books may also be as long as the authors like.
Take advantage of this fact. Think hard about what your readers like and give it to them without worrying that anyone will try to stop you. “Writing outside the ‘marketable’ trends can give my novels depth they wouldn’t otherwise reach,” says Karen Rose Smith, a popular writer of romances and mysteries for traditional publishers who has recently delved into self-publishing to make her older, out-of-print titles available again. Often she rewrites the books to reflect her growth as a writer and to appeal to current readers’ tastes. “Writing without rules is a huge responsibility but a welcome one. Because of this freedom, a new edge is creeping into my traditionally published work that strengthens it.”
That said, every manuscript does need a good copy-edit—the kind of spit and polish traditional publishers excel at. All indie authors are advised to invest in this phase, in order to avoid putting out the kind of rough material that has been associated with self-publishing in the past.
The Price is Right
Traditional publishers must charge a minimum amount for their books, especially in the case of print books. Even with e-books, traditional publishers are able to venture into free and promo pricing only for short periods. Indie authors can create entire novels to give away or sell at a very low price indefinitely. These promotional strategies bring excellent returns.
V.K. Sykes (the pen name of traditionally published author Vanessa Kelly and her husband Randy Sykes) is an indie author of sexy contemporary romances and romantic suspense. Through aggressive promotional pricing, Kelly and Sykes have steadily increased their sales and landed on the USA Today bestseller list. According to Kelly and Sykes, “The ability to set and quickly adjust the price of a book or a series of books is the most important weapon in the independent publisher’s promotional toolkit. Promotional pricing can boost sales like nothing else, and readers who opt for a bargain book and like it will often buy your other books at full price.”
Strength in Numbers
Indie authors can band together, especially in the case of e-books, to create anthologies or “boxed sets,” and then price these packages aggressively. Traditional publishers could do the same with authors on their lists, but rarely do. What they will never do is enter into bundling arrangements with other publishers.
Indie authors have no such limitations. They can work together to bundle books and achieve cross-readership. They can also join forces to create anthologies linked to their full-length books, as a promotional device.
Alexandra Ivy and Laura Wright, both New York Times bestselling authors of paranormal romances for traditional publishers (Ivy for Kensington, Wright for Signet), have collaborated on three indie-published double volumes in their Bayou Heat series; all three volumes are now available in a boxed set. Ivy and Wright have also joined forces with Cynthia Eden, Elisabeth Naughton, Katie Reus and Joan Swan on Wicked Firsts, a boxed set of six sexy suspense novellas. The set enjoyed four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, reaching the #2 spot on the e-book fiction list, in addition to hitting a number of other major bestseller lists.
Says Ivy: “Working in collaboration with other writers is the best of both worlds. You still have the freedom of self-pubbing that includes choosing what you want to write, when you want the book released, and how you want it priced, but you also have the support of other authors and their fans that can help get a buzz going that’s vital to push a book past the avalanche of self-pubs and get noticed by readers.”
Kelly and Sykes are another example of indie authors who have joined forces with other indie authors—and the result is greater than the sum of its parts. Sykes and 16 other traditionally published authors who also indie publish formed a self-publishing initiative called Rock*It Reads, which lately has received extensive online and print publicity. This exposure led Barnes & Noble to invite the group to contribute a regular column, “Rock*It Reads Love Rocks,” in its newsletter, for which Kelly and Sykes are regular reviewers.
Is the Edge for You?
Indie publishing isn’t right for everyone, but many authors find that it offers creative and promotional freedom the traditional houses can’t provide. If you write the kind of novel you think will have a hard time making it past the majors or the kind of novel the majors would have a hard time marketing, consider indie publishing. It’s not your mother’s “vanity publishing” anymore. It’s an exciting, major new industry development that savvy authors are already using to great advantage. You could get in on the ground floor—and that’s not something we can say very often these days.
Evan Marshall is a fiction expert, mystery author, and former editor. For 30 years he has been a literary agent specializing in fiction. The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, co-authored with Martha Jewett, is based on his bestseller The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing.
Martha Jewett is a memoir advocate, editorial expert, and co-author of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software. She has worked as an editor, editorial consultant, ghost writer, and literary agent.
When it comes to writing fiction, we each have our own unique challenges. For some of us, it’s a struggle to come up with names for our characters. For others, it’s hard to write realistic dialogue.
Maybe you’re like me, and find it difficult to write a really good villain–I mean–a really bad villain.
The funny thing about our writing weaknesses is that sometimes all we have to do is identify them and suddenly we start coming up with tons of solutions.
That’s what happened to me a few years ago when I realized I was having trouble writing a nemesis for my main character. Time and time again, it was one of the key elements that was missing from the stories I wrote. I was struggling to create a villain that would give my story the conflict it needed.
Once I noticed this pattern, I started seeing villains all around me–as if merely noticing their absence from my writing made them suddenly appear everywhere in my everyday life.
Villains Are Everywhere
Customer service would forget to return my phone call, and I’d imagine a self-absorbed boss who overworked employees and neglected customers. I’d see a story on the news about road rage and I’d imagine a crazed, angry egomaniac. Dirty politicians, people who committed heinous crimes, and generally creepy individuals all became infinitely more interesting once I stopped viewing them as a consumer of the news and started looking at them through the lens of story.
I would notice people’s flaws, mistakes, and bad moods, and think about what people would be like if those flaws were embellished and magnified to outweigh the person’s good qualities and positive traits. Suddenly, my villains were born, one after another, like a little herd of evil trolls.
Film, television, and books also became sources of villainous inspiration. Instead of cringing at them, I started examining them closer. I found some villains were bland and shallow. A villain driven to power for power’s sake lacked depth. A villain driven to power out of revenge for something terrible that happened to his or her family was compelling. Villains whose motivations were understandable, even if they weren’t acceptable, were the most interesting and the most believable.
Tips and Ideas for Creating Villains
I make up characters in my head all the time. Sometimes I write down my ideas, drafting character sketches. Most of them never make it to a story, but the really compelling ones do. Now that I’ve found a surefire way to harvest villains from the world around me, the character sketches have really started to pile up.
If you want to write good fiction, you need a character who creates tension and who is at odds with the forces of good. Even for poets and nonfiction writers, the ability to write a complex villain will improve your writing and help you better understand the subjects you write about.
Here are some tips and ideas for creating complex villains for your stories:
- Choose a model for your villain: an ordinary person, a celebrity, or a notorious criminal from the news; examine that person’s flaws and weaknesses. How have they wronged others? Discard their positive traits, magnify their negative traits, and write a brief character sketch. What’s the character’s name? What does he or she look like? What is going on in the character’s head that allows him or her to treat others with disregard?
- Give your villain a shady past: what terrible things has your villain done throughout his or her life? What terrible things were done to him or her? Some villains are just trouble makers; others are deranged psychopaths. How extreme is your villain?
- Identify the source: what happened to your villain to turn him or her so evil? Was your villain born that way?
- The most interesting villains are not completely evil. They have a soft spot for puppies or they write cheesy love poems. Contrary personality traits add depth and realism to all characters. Describe your villain’s positive traits.
- Put your villain in a scene: make sure you include dialogue so you can work out how the character speaks. Give your villain a distinct voice. Is your villain disguised as a benevolent character? Does he or she spend every waking minute committing evil deeds?
Most importantly, have fun! That’s what fiction writing is all about. Villains are the characters we love to hate because they are the harbingers of obstacles and challenges through which the heroes of our stories prove themselves. Whether you write totalitarian villains like Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter fame or more subtle, complex nemeses like Catwoman from the Batman comics, give your villains plenty of color, character, and complexity.
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.
Please welcome author K.M. Weiland with a guest post on structuring your novel.
Take moment to think of some of the most significant scenes in your favorite stories.
More than likely, the scenes that pop to mind are those in which major events occur: Jane meets Mr. Rochester, the Titanic hits the iceberg, Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan. These are some of the most dramatic scenes in film and literature. They’re scenes that move their respective plots forward by leaps and bounds.
These are called plot points.
As we’ve already noticed, plot points are significant events. They’re game changers within your story. They’re turning points.
How many plot points are in a story?
Depending on the length and pacing of your story, you could have any number of plot points. In some sense, every single scene offers the potential for a plot point. Whenever something happens that changes your protagonist’s understanding of the conflict and his or her understanding of how to react to it, you’ve got yourself a plot point.
But speaking more specifically, every story has three major plot points that must be given special attention. We find these plot points at roughly the 25%, 50%, and 75% marks (I discuss the flexibility of the plot points’ timing in more depth in my book Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys to Writing an Outstanding Story).
The first major plot point
Our first plot point, which lands roundabout the first quarter mark, signifies the end of the first act. Although all sorts of exciting things have no doubt happened already, this plot point, more than all the previous ones, signals a change of pace for the protagonist. In one sense or another, everything up to this point has been setup.
But when the first major plot point hits at the end of the first act, everything changes. Your character can no longer walk away from the conflict. Whatever happens at the first plot point will invest your protagonist so deeply in the plot that he or she has no choice but to spend the first half of the second act trying to react to it.
When Jane meets Mr. Rochester at the quarter mark of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, her world is effectively changed forever. As the new governess at Thornfield, she can’t go back to the person she was before. From the very first moment she meets Rochester, her world begins to change.
Halfway through your book (and halfway through the second act), we find the second of our major plot points. Like the first major plot point, this one is going to rattle your character’s world all over again. But the major difference here is that this plot point is going to shake your character out of the reactionary stage that followed the first plot point. From here on, the protagonist is going to start taking deliberate action against the antagonistic force.
In James Cameron’s film, when the iceberg hits the Titanic, Rose is unequivocally forced out of her reactions to having met Jack Dawson. She, and everyone else on the ship, is compelled to start taking action in order to save their lives. This is a particularly great example of how big a midpoint can be. Legendary director Sam Peckinpah calls the midpoint the centerpiece of your story—so make it shine!
The third plot point
At the 75% mark in your story, your second act will end and your third act will begin with your third and final major plot point. This will almost always be a low point for your character. All of his or her actions since the midpoint will seem to have led to tragedy. Allies will have died, people will have betrayed your character, or he will have messed up so badly he fears he can never be redeemed. But from these ashes, the protagonist will rise into a new series of actions, even more determined than before. This new determination will carry him right on up to the climax.
In the third plot point of George Lucas’s Star Wars: A New Hope, we find the heroes escaping the Death Star—but at the tremendous cost of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s life. Luke must rise from his own grief and confusion with a final resolve to do whatever is necessary to protect the rebel base on Yavin IV.
Always plan your major plot points carefully—and then double check them. What’s happening at the quarter marks in your story? Are your plot points firmly in place? What could you do to strengthen them even further? The more solid your plot points, the stronger your story’s entire foundation will be.
About the author: K.M. Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. You can find her novels here. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her website Helping Writers Become Authors and her books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. Find her on Twitter: @KMWeiland.
These 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.
In addition to antagonists, we should be writing characters who are unique and complex, not characters who are all cardboard cutouts of ourselves. That means we have to get into the heads of people who are strikingly different from ourselves.
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 and to get inside the head of someone who is not like you.
Fiction Writing Exercises
Fiction writing exercises are a great way to work your writing muscles, especially when you’re feeling uninspired. Like all good fiction writing exercises, these are great for aspiring novelists and folks who enjoy penning short stories. Characters are the heart and soul of any story, and to make them real and vivid, you have to be able to get inside their heads. And that’s a challenge–especially when dealing with antagonists and characters whom you have little in common with.
By stepping into a villain’s shoes or writing from a viewpoint that contradicts our own, we can learn to generate characters that are more realistic. For these writing exercises, you will select a person, position, or belief with which you are at odds. Do you have a neighbor who argues that he should not pay his share for the fencing on your shared property line? Are you for or against the death penalty? What’s it like to be the villain?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Think of a person who constantly makes you grit your teeth. It could be someone close to you, perhaps a relative. Or it could be someone in the media–a politician, celebrity, or sports star. It could even be a character from a book or movie. It needs to be someone with whom you feel inner conflict and who possibly makes you uncomfortable.
When you sit down to write, you will write as if you are this individual. Write an essay, in first person, from this individual’s perspective, and make a concentrated effort to address those things that bother you.
Many of us have very strong positions on various issues. Some are serious and others aren’t very important in the grand scheme of things. Do you eat meat or are you a vegetarian? Are you a conservative or a liberal? Do you support stem cell research? Are you for or against the war? Look at some of the top news stories this week for more ideas. For a more lighthearted approach, look to lifestyle differences. Do people outside the mainstream intrigue or offend you? How important are table manners? Mac or PC?
Whatever your personal stance is, write as if you held the opposite position. Argue against your own arguments and discover what the other side is thinking. This can build empathy and lead to discovery and insight.
What religion or philosophy do you adhere to? Chances are, whatever it is you believe with regard to ethics and spirituality, there are a whole bunch of people out there who see things in quite a different light. Are you an atheist? Write as a Catholic. Do you believe in evolution or intelligent design? Write as an agnostic.
Use this exercise to better understand the similarities and differences between contrary ways of thinking and believing.
Tips for Tackling These Fiction Writing Exercises
In tackling these exercises, write at least 1000 words. The piece can take the form of a letter, an opinion editorial, or personal essay written in the voice of a character who significantly different from you. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Try writing a monologue or a poem (great approach if you’ve chosen to write about beliefs).
This is a great writing exercise to revisit, especially if you get stuck with one of your fictional characters. Can’t figure out what your villain would do next? Write a short piece in first person point of view from your villain’s perspective.
Remember, you’re not mimicking the character, you are stepping into his or her head. Try to relate to the way the character thinks and feels, and remember that each of us is shaped by our life experiences.
Good luck and have fun with these and other fiction writing exercises!
If you have any fiction writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.
Are you looking for more fiction writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.