100+ Creative Writing Exercises for Fiction Authors
This curated directory of creative writing exercises was conceived thanks to a collaboration between the top writing blogs of 2018. Use the filters to find and practice specific techniques — and show that blank page who’s boss!
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There’s one powerful motivator that led your reader to your book — curiosity. Our brain doesn’t stop asking questions because it knows that’s how it learns and evolves. Questions raise uncertainty. Unknowns. And if there’s an unknown, then humans want to make it known. There will be a big question that drives your story, so take a couple of minutes to consider the mother-question that propels your book from beginning to end.
Your manuscript also needs to be powered by lots of little questions. Your book will need a variety of whos, whens, whys, and wheres to keep your reader engaged. In fact, every scene in your book needs to have a question define it. It’s what will keep your reader turning those pages. Review each of your scenes and identify the question/s hanging over it, because once you nail that, their mind will be asking the most important question of all — what happens next?
Open a dictionary, close your eyes, pick a random word, and write about it. Go on, see how much you can write about one word in thirty seconds. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s great or silly or you think it’s a beautiful word that everyone should use in every conversation. Write it!
Memorable characters are ones that mirror real people: their feelings, experiences, needs, and goals. Challenge yourself to get real with your character by first getting real with yourself. Grab a notebook and answer the following questions as they pertain to you:
What emotion do you struggle with because you feel it so deeply?
What type of situation makes you feel vulnerable or inadequate?
What past mistake causes you the most regret?
What core moral belief is so ingrained that you live it every day?
These questions require a deep look within and put us in touch with our authentic selves. This is what readers come to the page for, so answer these again, this time as your protagonist. When you finish, think about how you can incorporate some of these vulnerable moments into your story to show readers the deeper side of your character.
When describing your setting, consider who’s looking at it as well as what they see. For example, an ex-con is likely to view (and describe) a restaurant hosting a police officer’s retirement party differently than the daughter of the retiring officer. Take the point-of-view-character’s world view and personal judgment into consideration. What details would they specifically notice? How would they feel about what they see? What emotions or thoughts might those details trigger? This allows you to craft richer settings that reflect both the character, and the world they live in.
At the root of all writer’s block? Fear. You’ll recognize it by the questions you ask yourself when you sit down to write: Can I really finish an entire story? Am I a good enough writer to pull this off? Will this story matter to anyone? Or am I wasting my time? And what if I sound dumb?
But the specific fear doesn’t matter if you know how to soothe it. Here’s what to do: Lie down. On the couch. In bed. In the tub (Hey, don’t knock it! Sometimes it’s the only place writers can find some time alone!). Lie down where it’s comfortable and quiet, and write fifty words.
Either the exercise helps you break through the anxiety, and you keep writing. Or you have fifty words more than you had yesterday, and you try again tomorrow. Either way, lie down and write fifty words.
Voice separates MEH stories from the ones that grab attention. Voice is the unique way a writer combines words and strings together sentences. It is a story’s personality, its manner of expression. A compelling voice is the difference between “Oh, shucks!” and “Oh, slippery slush!” (Little Red Gliding Hood). Between “Charmaine’s showing off” and “Charmaine’s strutting hard enough to shame a rooster” (The Quickest Kid in Clarksville). And between “Pancake escaped” and “Pancake rappelled down a rope of linguini” (Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast). Examine your story for common language — for example, circle blah verbs and insert something more unique.
Believe it or not, choosing the right setting is one of the most important decisions to make when planning a scene. The location can add mood, supply tension and conflict, steer the plot, characterize, foreshadow, and even provide a way to dribble in backstory. Going with the first thing that comes to mind is often easier but may rob the scene of added depth. Locations that are frequently used in books and film may also bore readers.
For your next important scene, make a list of twenty possible locations. Brainstorm some that have personal meaning to one or more characters as this can affect their emotional state in the scene. Play with weather elements, time, and the quality of light (and shadow) to further customize your setting. Challenge yourself to find the perfect fit and it will pay off by powering up the scene and offering readers a fresh experience.
Take 5-10 minutes to free-write about your project in new or strange way. Scrawl your thoughts on construction paper in purple marker, close your eyes and write outside the lines — or draw your plot in pictograms. When you're done, choose the bits that stand out most to you or were the most fun to jot down, and make them the central points of your outline or story.
Make a list of the things that make you feel guilty about your writing. (For example: "I haven't written in 10 days even though I could have made the time.") Call yourself out. Then, go through each point and write a goal or accomplishment to challenge that guilt. (For example: "I have already written more than I did last month", or "I will set aside 30 minutes to write today.")
The best way to learn is by reading, so pick up a book that had a plot twist that surprised you and yet felt right. Look for subtle foreshadowing in it. Start at the beginning of the book and find the clues that point towards the twist. Make a list of them. Include the wording, so that you can see why they weren’t obvious at first.
Almost An Author, Alyssa Hollingsworth, Anne R. Allen, Bang2Write, Christopher Fielden, Darcy Pattinson, Elizabeth S. Craig, Flogging The Quill, Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips, Helping Writers Become Authors, Katie McCoach, Lauren Carter, Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Mandy Wallace, NaNoWriMo, Nail Your Novel, Novel Publicity, One Stop For Writers, Pro Writing Aid, PsychWriter, re:Fiction, The Journal, The Writer’s Workshop, Well-Storied, Women On Writing, writing.ie, Writing-World.com!
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