3 Fiction Writing Exercises

Three fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for story development.

Fiction writing exercises can help you discover storytelling techniques and provide ideas and inspiration for your fiction writing projects.

These exercises provide practice and experience for young or new writers. For more experienced writers, these exercises offer inspiration and can help you see a story from a fresh perspective.

Today’s fiction writing exercises are carefully chosen to help you develop some of the most critical components in a story. If you can create a few characters; identify a conflict, climax, and resolution; and choose a theme, you’re well on your way to writing a short story or novel that will resonate with readers.

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We often think of them as the bad guy and the good guy or the hero and the villain, but those terms are becoming outdated as modern storytelling increasingly embraces protagonists who are highly flawed and antagonists who aren’t a hundred percent evil.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.

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. The three acts are 1) Setup, 2) Confrontation, and 3) Resolution. 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 with Fiction Writing Exercises

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?


About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


9 Responses to “3 Fiction Writing Exercises”

  1. Suzanna Stinnett says:

    Thanks for a timely post, Melissa. I’m grappling with the thicket of characters, motif, and the story arc in my novella right now. I have a template similar to the one you linked to for building details of the characters. It’s quite a process, but I think it will pay off in getting to know them sooner rather than later.

    Plot is my least favorite thing to think about, but it seems to work out if I keep following the characters through their days. I like to make a map of the areas the story takes place in and trace the story around on the map, before and after I write scenes. That’s just how my brain works.

    Suzanna Stinnett

    • Plot is probably my least favorite thing to think about too. I like character, theme, and premise. After that, my eyes glaze over. It takes a lot of persistence. Best of luck with your novella!

  2. Leif G.S. Notae says:

    Thanks for this, Melissa! This is a great article to have for anyone as a quick reference. I know there are a few people who struggle with certain areas and need help in their weak spots. Mine is usually the right conflict. The characters talk my ears off at times and I have a good idea on the universal ideas but my characters can be a little more clandestine than normal.

    What do you usually recommend for note taking? I’m sure once the dam is broken for the two main characters that the others will want to jump at it like sharks in the water. Thanks for sharing this with us, I passed it along to others through Twitter! Good knowledge should never be withheld, right?

    • Hi Leif. Yes, I agree that good knowledge should not be withheld. For note taking, I recommend a notebook 😉 Actually, it depends on your style and the way you like to organize your papers. You can set up files and folders on your computer, use a binder, a notebook or journal, or a big box and just throw all your notes and ideas into it. Indeed, conflict is difficult to write. One technique is to figure out what the characters fear and then force them to face it. Best of luck in all your writing!

  3. Awesome post! I really love these ideas. It’s so hard to start from scratch on a new story, but this is a great outline for how to do it and how to do it well. Thanks for sharing, Melissa! I’m so glad you included, theme, too, for I feel that theme is one of the most overlooked aspects of story telling, but it’s so important if you want to make your story stand out.
    The theme of the novel I’m working on is having hope in the face of difficult circumstances 🙂

  4. Melissa, I had to laugh. I read the first prompt and thought, “I have a really busy day. I don’t have time for this.”

    But then I found myself with about 45 minutes to write and started playing around with a scene — a highschool principal and a mom, with a teen in the middle who is accused of doing something his mom finds unthinkable and the principal finds bewildering in this particular student.

    Well, if that doesn’t fit this, I don’t know what does! So thanks for the prompt! Back to my scene…


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