Write a list of random, free-association words. For creative writing, list ten words across ten columns. Then go to each column and add nine more words so that the result is ten columns and ten rows, a total of one hundred words. Just reading the list and noticing the creative leaps your mind has made may surprise you. If you like, continue the exercise by using all one hundred words in a short fiction piece. For poetry, select the words that suggest a common theme.
Select a scene that involves 2-3 characters. Write a paragraph from the point of one character. Now write the same interaction from another character’s point of view. For example: your paragraph could involve the point of view of a convenience store clerk contrasted with a customer’s point of view of the same incident.
Sometimes writers think up a character and jump straight into writing, without fully fleshing out the concept at a foundational level. This then means they falter and end up writing a very confused draft. I call this ‘The Story Swamp.’
Avoid The Story Swamp by writing a ‘logline’ or ‘pitch’ of approximately 25-60 words. This logline should cover what B2W calls The 3 Cs:
Character: Who is your protagonist? What does s/he need or want? Conflict: Who is the antagonist? Why does s/he want to stop or counter your protagonist? What other obstacles are in your protagonist’s way? Clarity: Do we know what genre or type of story this is? Are you using familiar or clichéd language? Are your word choices too vague?
What does your character want most? Now consider what he needs most. Is what he wants preventing him from gaining what he needs? Or will he have to find what he wants before he can achieve what he needs?
Elegant writers use their material with economy. If they write a scene that introduces a character, they might slip in many other things that are also important, whether it’s a detail about Character A’s birthday, Character A’s relationship with Character B, or the weather. In this exercise, write a paragraph of no more than 300 words and try to fit in ten subtle facts about your character into it, without being obvious about it.
Have you read a book you couldn’t put down? A good writer knows how to keep the reader’s attention — and the secret of that is pacing. Take a page-turner and analyse how it kept you gripped. Usually it’s because each scene introduced something new, which might be a major revelation or a tiny shift in the way the reader perceives a character. Run through the entire book and write down the purpose of every major scene and turning point.
Our subconscious minds combine items in unexpected, sometimes whimsical ways. Set a timer for twenty minutes and use at least three of these words in your draft. Write without stopping: a red scarf, windshield wiper, chrome, doily, blowtorch, spatula, CD-ROM, postage stamp, frittering, static cling, radio silence, kismet, calamity, heartburn, bandage.
Here is your challenge: for the next week, collect fun names. I’ve collected them for years in a little notebook — from obituaries, news stories, random lists, and spam. Spam is great for funny names. Then go through your notebook, choose a name, and write a short character sketch based off that name. It’s amazing how the names make the characters come to life and start moving the story in fun directions you never expected.
“There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don’t talk at all, ’cause they walkin’. Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin’ for them,” said Key in the 2005 film Hustle and Flow. Which of these two types are your characters? Write down an exchange between two of your characters that confronts this very difference between them.