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What are the Best Writing Exercises?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devor, Jan 22, 2018.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Hey all,

    This is a pretty basic question, but what are the best writing exercises for becoming a better writer? I'm looking for exercises that both help you to develop your skills and to develop the specific story you may be working on.

    I'm hoping to put together a series of about six high-quality writing exercises and to look for ways to encourage and reward members for completing them. What have you found useful? What would you recommend to other writers?

    Don't worry about repeating exercises from published materials, but please say so if that's what you're doing - if something will help make a better 6-step program, I'm willing to reach out for permission to use them.
     
  2. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    The only writing exercise I know that works is writing daily. I haven't found anything else that does the trick quite like that one.
     
  3. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    One writing exercise I tried that paid off for me was to rewrite existing material (a scene or chapter, or more) in the POV of a supporting character who is present throughout the material. It has to be someone different from the POV character (if any) of the original material. If you wrote the original material in first person, now write it in limited third person. If the original material was written in third person, write the new version in first person. Bring out the new POV character's emotions and thoughts about what's happening. If you want, write the new version in a different tense. When you're done, contrast the new material with the original material. Did you gain any new insights? Did anything pop up in the rewritten version of the material that could be incorporated into the original version to improve the original version?
     
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  4. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Here are a few we did in creative writing in university which I found helpful:

    1) A mundane ending that should evoke emotion. So I had a professor, who, for a writing challenge, would give a mundane sentence like He tied his shoes.

    The rules of the challenge was that this sentence HAD to be used as the final sentence of the short story. Whoever could give that sentence the most emotional impact was the winner. So you had to think, how could tying shoes have an emotional impact? Maybe if the guy lost a leg and this was his first time walking on his own since an accident? Maybe this is a new pair of shoes he has purchased for a first date after his wife passing away? Who knows.

    It was a fantastic exercise and could work as a challenge prompt.

    2) What makes an event big in a novel is not the size of the event, but the scope of it's effect. Another fun exercise we did was take a mundane event... a leaf falling off a tree... and brainstorm how that could be a novel's major event. How it could have a massive scope of effect. Is there an ant on that leaf who now has to make the journey back to the top of the tree? Did a hungry spider have a web attached to that leaf, and perhaps a whole nest of eggs? Could it be a children's story about the journey of the ant or the spider and all the challenges they face trying to get home?

    3) Loglines. I know a lot of people don't like writing loglines. Hands down I find them THE MOST valuable strategy for prewriting. Even if I don't keep it, or use it for anything, a logline always helps me to define the shape, conflict, and stakes of the story.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Disclaimor: I’ve never actually done this, but if I were a young writer I would try it, and I’ve heard of people who’ve learned from it.

    Pick one or more chapters that exemplify not simply great story telling in your mind, but great writing. Now, type or hand write those verbatim while considering the word choice, the rhythm, the structure of paragraphs, up to the structure of the chapter as a whole. This should provide an additional level of learning over simply reading a ton. And of course, one could also consider how you might improve said sample.
     
  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    ^^^^^ once you’ve done that, then repeat, but now substitute your own material but keep the basic sentence structure.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
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  7. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    The only real exercise I do on occasion is I look at stories and break them down into their structural components.

    For the main plot, I identify the inciting incident, the midpoint climax, the act breaks, etc. For scenes, I try to identify if it's a scene or sequel, what the very specific goals, are and what plot threads are being advanced.

    Identifying each of these things, gives me a examples that I can maybe learn from. I can tell when I'm bored with a movie when I find myself breaking it down on the fly.
     
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  8. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    After being told my characters all sound similar in dialogue, time & time again, I researched character voice techniques.

    One I settled on, and still use, comes from The Power of Voice by James Scott Bell. In it, he teaches how you can use a stream-of-conscious rant about anything the character is passionate about (negative or positive passion). Writing about emotionally charged topics particular to that character helped me create distinct dialogue.

    I go back to those rants and read through them, adding on a bit at the end, grounding me in their voice whenever that character’s dialogue renters the story.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    These are really good and most are not at all what I would've come up with myself. Keep them coming!
     
  10. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    DevorDevor I usually don't do 'writing exercises' so much as just generalized 'brainstorming' personally... but... I thought about what you asked, and remembered/ thought of something that might be interesting.

    Disclaimer: this is probably something I did back in school ( in the long, long ago ) and totally forgot the name of the technique or whatever.

    The Scene:
    A family sits down to dinner/meal.
    A chair (or cushion, place setting etc.) is empty.
    Why is the chair empty?

    1. Decide on who the family members are. (Nuclear family, extended family, # of children, pets, etc.)

    Now, write the different scenarios...
    A. A sad version of why the chair is empty.
    B. A funny version of why the chair is empty.
    C. A version where one member knows the real reason why the chair is empty (while the family only speculates.)
    D. A frightening/scary reason why the chair is empty.

    2. Take one (or all) of A-D and write the scene in a...
    I. different culture and geographic location
    II. in a time a few centuries in the past.
    III. in the distant future.
    IV. in a different socio-economic status.

    3. To any scenario in Steps 1 through 2, add
    A. An unexpected guest
    B. A welcomed, invited guest asking about why the seat is empty.

    4. You can then swap out a 'family' for any other group of people that need to dine together. It could be friends, co-workers, warriors, allies, strangers, etc. Swap out a home for a tavern/ public space, a royal court, etc.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2018
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I don't do this as an exercise, but I think it would make for a really good one. I was going to use it the basis for an article on scene design, but since I haven't been all that active with articles, maybe this would be a good place to get it out there.

    Take a bunch of random plot, character, and world building elements and design a scene that introduces them all in a natural way. The person doesn't even have to even write the scene, just designing it.

    For example,

    -comic shop owner
    -has trouble with his supplier
    -has girlfriend troubles
    -gremlins are real
    -Vampires are not
    -hates Superman
    -loves Wolverine
    -forgot to pay his rent for his shop
    -has heart of gold
    -after work he's going to play DnD.

    So how do you design a scene that covers all that?

    We could start the scene with the comic shop owner, let's call him Bob, behind the counter and on a land-line phone with his supplier. He's been on hold for 15 minutes. He knows they're not busy and are just F-ing with him. A goth-kid walks in dress ups as a vampire. Make up to the nines with fake-blood dripping fangs to match.

    Bob's iPhone rings. It's his girlfriend. He presses ignore. He thinks to himself, he's got to save his fight for the supplier, if and when they pick-up his call again. He notices the goth-kid slipping comic books into their trench coat. A second later the goth-kid makes for the door, but Bob doesn't move.

    As soon as the goth-kid grabs the door handle, poof, a guard gremlin appears and jumps on his face. Bob says to the goth-kid, "You either leave here with your face or the comics. Your move." The kid stumbles to Bob and dumps a pile of Superman comics onto the counter. Bob tells the kid if you going to steal, at least steal something good. Not books about that big, blue, wussy. Take a real comic, Wolverine. He hands the kid a stack of old Wolverine comics as well as some old Superman ones and tells them they're on the house.

    The goth-kid looks at him stunned and says, "You ain't going to call the cops?"

    Bob says, "No. But don't do that again. Else the real monster--" Bob points to the guard gremlin "--will eat the boy dressed as a fake one." Bob jerks his thumb at the door. "You can go now. It's closing time, and I got a DnD game to get to."

    The goth-kid leaves, but the landlord comes in and hands Bob an eviction notice.
     
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  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Here’s a writing exercise I developed (and by developed I mean stole from multiple sources & compiled into a worksheet) that I use often to improve the quality and uniqueness of metaphors/similes & symbolism.

    I’ll use an example from my NIP that’s in the middle of a rewrite.

    First, I write down what I’m trying to describe:
    Second, what is the tone of this scene?
    Next, I list defining characteristics of the emotion, character, object, or setting that I’m trying to describe through metaphor. (I usually aim for 10, but for brevity I’ll keep the lists shorter.):
    The worksheet then has spaces to fill in other objects that share common characteristics & tone with each of the descriptors listed in the previous step. I usually do 3-4 for each. The key is to ensure these match in tone. Again, limited for brevity in this example:

    Typically, at this point, I have a list of 30-40 words. I then attempt to string them together in basic metaphorical sentences using my original goal as the qualifier. Like this:
    I’ll do that for 10 of the 30-40 that strike my fancy and then try to combine two or three concepts for a greater effect. Sometimes one concept word leads to another. In this case, dangerous lead me to think of things that are dangerous. Angry people can be dangerous.

    Combining concept words like this, basically through association, lead me to the following sentence:

    Making yourself a worksheet is a powerful creative tool for this exercise. It’s a way to get your mind thinking in different, but connected ways.

    Hope this helps.
     
  13. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    Disclaimer - I don't own the exersise below.

    Convey as much information about a particular character by discribing their room/home/etc.
    Share as much information as posible abouth the character - their apearence, age, ocupation, backstory, hiden motivtion etc, without showing the chareter, show only their room.
     
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  14. Something i did once was rewrite the same passage using different variations of style. Like i would try to be really purple and flowery in one version, and clipped and terse in the next, and weird and poetic and metaphorical in the next...as many as I could think of.

    Also, bookmarked
     
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  15. Ouberos

    Ouberos Acolyte

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    Some of these are really useful ideas.

    The things I have done in the past include writing something every day. It doesn't have to be related to the thing I am working on but I figure writing is a skill based around practice and experience, so it can't hurt.

    I also like to write multiple viewpoints of the same scene. They often don't work very well but occasionally I have really found a really interesting voice for an otherwise silent character.
     
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  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I have the beginnings of an idea for what I want to do with these, which I would start focusing on in March. I'm thinking that I would start two threads in Writers Work (which is members' only), one for discussing the exercises, and regularly adding new ones, and one for people to post their actual efforts at them. Then we could do a raffle at, say, every 20 posts in the thread, and generate a random number and whoever has a post with that number wins a prize. I'm not sure what would be a good prize - I was thinking character art, but we'd need an artist to volunteer. So, if that's how it comes together, it would mean at 20 posts, we'd roll a random number (say, 9), and whoever has their exercise in post 9 wins a piece of character art from our volunteer artist. At 40 posts, we'd do it again, 21-40, and pick a new winner.

    Does this sound kinda cool? Like I said, I won't do anything on this before March.

    Regardless, in the meantime, keep posting your exercises.
     
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  17. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    For me, the best writing exercise is reading. Not reading for pleasure, but reading and studying how other authors 'did it.'. I put little clips of paper with notes in books, marking the pages with examples of dialogue, description, combat, transitions between scenes, etc. When I get stuck or am having trouble with a scene or part of a scene that isn't working just right, I can then go to those examples, see how those authors accomplished it, and then apply it to my story and writing style.

    This isn't necessarily a 'writing exercise' but it has helped me greatly improve my writing and stories.
     
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  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Back in High School, I remember having to read a book and the assignment was to keep a journal of my reactions to the story. For the purpose of coming up with a writing exercise that people could post, we could do something similar, read a book and write down a few points where the author did something you feel like you could learn from.
     
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