Writing Exercises – Five of the Best


In Cambridge, the weather has been like this:

Everything is dripping… 
Nice weather for ducks, snails and slugs, and also for staying indoors, reading and writing. 

I’ve been battening down the hatches and eating blackberry and apple crumble. Then, feeling shifty and unproductive, I decided to get focussed and revisit some writing prompts, ready to spring into action. Here are five of my personal favourites, along with their sources: 

On Characterisation – Emma Darwin’s exercise here, on Characterisation-in-action, has to be one of my very favourites. She starts with the premise that a character without action isn’t a story, it’s a portrait. She suggests coming up with verbs for a character’s characteristic physical, mental and emotional actions. The post poses a whole range of interesting questions you can ask about your characters, which I find spark ideas far more easily than the standard character checklists that are sometimes advocated.

That particular post forms part of Darwin’s Tool Kit – a series of articles on her blog covering a whole range of topics, from writing techniques, to courses and software.
On Place and Atmosphere – I’m fond of the exercise included in The Guardian’s How to Write Fiction pamphlet, part of the How to Write series. The series has now been pulled together as a paperback and can be bought here
The exercise advocates homing in on a precise scene from your story; a specific room, for instance. Go on to describe something big (the largest bit of furniture if indoors, the sky, perhaps, if outside); then include something tiny; and finally, add in something that’s odd or strange about the setting.
Character and Setting CombinedThe Creative Writing Coursebook advocates using a photo of an unknown person from a newspaper and juxtaposing it with an image of a room from a magazine or brochure. Your job is to write them into that setting, and show how they feel and react.
General Writing Prompts – Mslexia’s regular section “The Creative Mix” gives umpteen little nudges to get the creative juices going. Elements include “What we do”, a short piece from a writers’ group passing on an exercise they find helpful; New Writing Exercises, a snappy steer on a given theme, and a tiny column called Tea Break, which, as you might expect, gives a quick exercise you can follow in the time it takes to down a cuppa. I love all of these; they’re so manageable, even if you haven’t got long. An example from Tea Break is to home in on something broken or out of place in your immediate surroundings and to use that as the inspiration for a piece of creative writing. Either describe what you see in great detail, or use it to imagine what might have led to the damage, and the story behind it. You can subscribe to Mslexia here.
Novelicious’ Pinterest Prompt – This is a new development and is inspiration and a competition rolled into one. Once a month a picture is posted on the site and entrants are invited to use it to spark 200 – 400 words of fiction, which they post in the comments section below the image. September’s competition, here, is just about to close, so keep an eye out for the October edition. (And congratulations to August’s winner, Anita Chapman!)
If you have writing exercises to recommend, do please leave a comment.
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