Today’s creative writing exercise comes from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes you on a adventure through various forms of creative writing: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
This exercise is called “Everyone Has an Opinion,” and it’s from “Chapter 9: Philosophy, Critical Thinking, and Problem Solving.”
Everyone Has an Opinion
All good pieces of writing have a central conflict. The entire narrative builds up to the moment when the conflict reaches its final climax.
In addition to a central conflict, several smaller conflicts along the way build tension.
One way to create light conflict is through opposing opinions. After all, everybody has an opinion, and we constantly disagree with each other. That doesn’t mean we’re always fighting, but it does mean there is a bit of abrasion in our daily dealings.
Real people think differently from one another and so must characters. Think about your favorite books, movies, TV shows, and music. Do your friends and family all agree with you on who should have won last year’s award for best new artist? Of course not. It’s unlikely that everyone you know belongs to the same political party, attends the same church, or even favors the same restaurants.
Opinions and personal beliefs often seem unimportant, but sometimes they affect the course of events. Here’s a scenario:
Someone breaks in to a chemical plant and is tinkering with the equipment. The two guards on duty apprehend the suspect, who turns out to be a former employee. He insists that there’s a major chemical leak, which will cause a massive explosion, killing hundreds of nearby residents if they don’t let him fix it. One guard thinks the suspect is telling the truth. But the other guard believes he is lying and is actually trying to set off the explosion rather than render it inert. Neither knows for sure, and the clock is ticking.
The entire scene balances on these two characters’ opinions about the third character. Which guard will win the argument?
Characters might engage in debates over anything—from which superhero can run the fastest to whether or not there is an afterlife.
The Exercise: Opinion Writing
Nothing makes your characters seem real like giving them their own beliefs and opinions. From which fast-food restaurant has the best fries to who was the greatest leader in history, character opinions can run the gamut.
Write a scene in which characters reveal their opinions about a variety of things. Include three (or more) characters and at least six different opinions (two for each character) through the course of the scene. Try to reveal one insignificant opinion and one serious belief for each character.
Tips: Write a scene that flows smoothly. Don’t make it obvious that the point of the scene is to reveal the characters’ opinions and beliefs. To do this, you’ll need to develop a context in which the scene takes place: a court hearing, a classroom, or a newsroom are all settings where debate might arise.
Variations: If you’re already working on a narrative writing project, then feel free to engage in this exercise within that project. Work the characters’ opinions into the conversation in an existing scene or in the next scene you write.
Applications: This exercise gets you thinking about your characters in new ways. What do they think or believe about insignificant and important matters? It also requires you to create smaller conflicts, instead of relying solely on a central conflict. This adds depth, complexity, and realism to your writing.