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

Fiction Writing Exercises: Step Out of Your Shoes

fiction writing exercises

Step out of your shoes with these fiction writing exercises.

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

One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of being a writer is creating characters. It is an opportunity to step outside of your own reality and take on a completely different persona.

Unless you’re an actor, an undercover agent, or just plain crazy, you don’t get many chances in life to do that.

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.

Realistic Characters

For characters to truly resonate with readers, they must be vibrant and stir the audience’s emotions. Readers have to become attached to the characters, feel sympathy, compassion, even love (or hate) for them. It’s not easy to fabricate people (or other beings) that don’t really exist, have never existed, yet make them seem real. But it can be done.




So how do writers achieve this great feat?

Much credence has been given to the old adage write what you know. Base a character on a friend or family member or yourself. But what fun is that? If you’re an accountant by day, do you really want to play an accountant in your fantasy world too? Probably not. And when you create a character, that’s pretty much what you’re doing, playing a role. You have to get into the character’s mind, live the life, absorb the environment in which the character lives. You have to be your character, even if you have absolutely nothing in common with that character.

Fiction Writing Exercises

Each fiction writing exercise below encourages you to get into a mindset that opposes your own way of thinking or existing. Try one exercise or try them all–just make sure to have fun.

Exercise #1: Write a personal essay from the perspective of someone who is your polar opposite.

If you grew up in the big city, write as a country dweller. If you grew up on a farm or lived in a small town all your life, write about an army brat who was raised living in dozens of towns, going to different schools each year. Are you a stay-at-home, married parent? Write as a swinging single making it big in the big apple. If you’re a successful businessperson, write as a prison inmate who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

You can also write as your ideological opposite. If you’re Buddhist, write from the perspective of a Christian. If you’re Christian, write from the perspective of an atheist. Are you a political junkie? Write from the viewpoint of the political party you oppose.

For the essay, focus on something you have never experienced or that you disagree with. If you are from the city and you’re writing about the country, write a descriptive essay about a farm setting. If you’re a liberal writing as a conservative, choose an issue and write an essay arguing for the conservative position on that issue.

The idea is to get outside your comfort zone, and explore a different way of life or mode of thinking than the one you know. You can then use this exercise to develop a character who is wildly different from you.

Excercise #2: Write a scene with two characters who are opposites.

Create two characters: one who is just like you (write yourself into the scene if you want) and one who is not like you at all. Write a scene that explores their differences. Here are some suggestions:

  • An old-fashioned rancher and a highly successful, modern urban businesswoman are seated next to each other on a plane.
  • A Democratic state politician and a Republican lobbyist get stuck in an elevator together.
  • Someone who is devoutly religious gets into a deep conversation with an atheist at a party.

There is only one rule here: Both characters must be sympathetic. In other words, you cannot make the character who is your opposite into any kind of villain or antagonist, and neither character will change his or her views or lifestyle by the end of the scene. Your goal is to gain understanding, not make a statement.

Exercise #3: Live your dreams and realize your nightmares. 

A lot of people are terrified of public speaking. They may or may not have the desire to get up and talk to a crowd, but it doesn’t matter because their fear inhibits them from doing so. And we all have dreams–some are goals that we can or will pursue but other dreams are far-off fantasies that we know will never come to fruition.

For this exercise, you’ll write a short story or scene in first person. In the scene, you’ll do something that you’ve never done–something you may never do in reality but can certainly tackle in a piece of fiction.

Here are some examples:

  • Greatest fear: Either write a scene where you overcome your greatest fear and face the thing that terrifies you or write as a character who does not have this fear and therefore faces it with ease. For example, if you have a fear of flying, write as an airplane pilot.
  • Dreams and goals: Have you ever wanted to travel somewhere but haven’t gotten around to it? Do you hope to someday find the love of your life or become a star in your career field? Are you working toward your dreams and goals? Write as a character who is living the life you hope to live someday.
  • Fantasy: Did you ever want to be a rock star? An astronaut? A wizard? Write as a character who is living out your greatest fantasies.

The idea here is to do something in writing that you’ve never done in real life. It can be something you may still someday achieve or it could be something impossible or unlikely.

Fiction Writing Exercises for Fun and Focus

Fiction writing exercises like these will help you when you’re writing about characters who are not like you in significant ways. These exercises will also expand the types of characters you feel comfortable bringing into your stories.

If any of these exercises stick and you get really into it, write several pages, or try doing the exercise again with different characters. You might unveil a new side of yourself that you didn’t know you had. You might find it completely uncomfortable and decide to go back to writing what you know, but at least you will have tried something new.

Remember, fiction writing exercises are supposed to be fun, but their purpose is to challenge you to try new things and think in new ways, so be sure to truly step out of your shoes and go beyond your comfort zone.

Feel free to post comments about your character. Who or what will you become? What shoes are you going to step into when you step out of your own?

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

101 creative writing exercises