Get yourself writing, part five

As I mentioned last time, this will be the final part of this series. I’ve enjoyed sharing these great writing exercises with you, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed them – and that they’ve helped alleviate some boredom during this challenging time.

I’m giving us all a break, there’s a bunch of things to try from this series. There will be more, sure enough, but I don’t want to offer subpar ideas. Once I find a good one, or I’m shared a good one, you’ll have it here.

You can find parts one, two, three and four here, too.

So, let’s get to it!

Changing the medium

What you need: A story you’ve already written, or one you have permission to use for personal exercises.

This is an interesting, and sometimes challenging exercise, but it is a great way to try out different mediums of writing. It’s probably clear to everyone that I like prose. Constructing a story, describing events, scenery, characters and their interactions, developing plots – it’s what suits me the most.

There are plenty of other mediums, such as poetry and script, which have great histories in storytelling for different purposes. The way these stories are adapted for their needs is interesting, and can often lead to subtle differences, if not big ones to fit the medium.

Beyond that, new ways of telling a story have emerged. They might not be recognised by the literary critics but for the purpose of developing your skills and stretching your creativity, they can be great to explore. These include blogs, tweets/social media updates and even image-based updates.

Take a story you’ve written in one medium, or one you have the permissions to use in a personal capacity, and re-write it again in different medium, such as a poem, script or blog format. See what’s missed, or what’s needed, when you compare the two.

Mix it up: Tell the same story across multiple formats. Do it once as prose, again as poetry, and a series of blog posts. Once all are done, you’ll see exactly how the different styles work, and maybe how they can work together.

Retelling a story

What you need: A story told in a different form, a movie, TV show or stage performance.

A lot of films are based on, or released with, a book, which is a very long story to whittle down to a couple of hours or so. A lot of these are details which are present in scenery, characters, settings and items but dialogue and action are a different matter.

Whether you know a film or TV show inside out, even if you’ve read the accompanying book, a great exercise is to watch that film or episode and write it down on paper (or type it on screen). It’s a great way to recall details and events that matter, as well as find out what you miss. This can help you when writing original pieces as you have an idea what you might be missing.

I’m not suggesting you write a full novel here, but a couple of thousand words translating what you see or remember can reveal interesting details about your writing style and interests.

Mix it up: Watch the film or show first and do this task from memory, rather than at the time of watching. You can expand it to computer games, poetry readings and songs, too.

I wonder if there’s more to do with this, or an easier way to collate them. Let me think on it. If I come up with a better way to share these exercises, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Until next time.

Get yourself writing, part four

Anyone remember what ‘normal life’ was like before this started? Before lockdown? It’s beginning to fade for me, too, but there have been benefits. More time and less distractions have meant I’ve been doing more writing myself. Not on short stories, this time, but on my current project. You never know, by the time this is done, I might have the first draft done!

Anyway, back to why you’re here. We’ve had part one, part two and part three looking at different writing exercises, and it’ll continue here. Ready to get going?

Good.

Using words

What you need: A list of words, either from a word generator, a friend or that you’ve created yourself.

This is a relatively simple exercise, and the difficulty changes depending on you. You need a list of words to start, and these words must all feature in what you write – in the exact way you’ve recorded them. No changes, even to alter the tense or make it plural, are allowed.

You should set a word limit on this piece at the start, as that will help you decide how many words to add to your list. A shorter limit, like 500 or 1,000 words, with a list of 20 could be more challenging than a 2,000-word piece with the same list, for example.

The kind of story you create is up to you, but if the list is themed, that might help with genre or setting.

Mix it up: You can do this same exercise in reverse. Take the list of words, or a different set, and write without using them at all. It might sound easy, but that depends on the number of words you have and how long your story is. If it is easy, make the list longer and change the wordcount.

The interview

What you need: A fictional character.

This is an interesting exercise in that it allows you to explore a character more deeply. It can be a protagonist that you think you know well, or a more minor character you want to flesh out and understand better.

Take the role of an interviewer sitting down with this character and ask questions about a topic. This topic can be based on real news you’ve seen or something in their world, but I’ve always found the former to be more interesting.

Consider the tone of your interviewer; are they polite or aggressive, pushy or laidback, informed or misleading? This can change the tone of the piece, as your character will react differently.

If it helps, you can always ask a friend to sit down with you and act it out, getting a feel for the setting and take other parts of communication into account, like tone and body language, for example.

This exercise can be done in script and prose form, making it very versatile.

Mix it up: Add in another character, either from the same world as the first or a completely different one. You can have the two complement each other or go against each other but taking the view of the interviewer into account is important, too. Bias, attitudes and topics can bring a whole different side of these characters to life.

This is the fourth set of writing exercises, and I hope you’ve found them useful. I’d originally intended to finish the series here, but there’s been a good reception to these posts and plenty more exercises to share – maybe from you, too. What I will do, after next week, is take a little break. I don’t want anything to get repetitive, but when I find good ones, or suggestions come in, you can sure I’ll share them. Maybe I’ll collate them in an easier to find place.

Check back next week for the last batch (for now).

Until then.

Get yourself writing, part three

Is anyone else feeling the days blur? Are we going by days of the week or the number of days in lockdown? Does it matter?

What does matter is finding new ways to stave away boredom. For some, that’s work and for others, Netflix calls their name. For me, I’m trying to do more writing than normal, while I have the excuse of fewer distractions.

Hopefully you’ve read part one and part two of this series (but if not, use those links to take a look) and you’re ready for the third part, with more writing exercises you can try out. Maybe you’re sharing them with friends or changing them up for a different group or age range – as long as this is helping someone, I’ll keep it up!

Without further ado, let’s get on with it.

Out of place

What you need: A character from your favourite book, game, film or TV show.

This is a great exercise for exploring how characters react, grow and develop. At times, it can feel your characters don’t do much, or the importance is diminished by something else in your story. That could be an event or another character.

While not a bad thing, letting your character fall to the side is unsatisfying and unrealistic – even in the most fantastical stories. How your character deals with this, or anything else that happens, is important to the overall story.

To help with this, use a character you know well, from another book, game or movie, for example, and put them in a different situation. It might be something that happened to you, or a friend, or a news story. It could be the situation you’re writing about.

There will be problems. The worlds are different; the rules, attitudes, settings etc – but that’s part of the fun! This isn’t a serious project, it’s to develop your skills in an interesting, and probably quite funny, way.

Mix it up: Try using multiple characters from different sources and see how they react differently to the situation and each other.

What happens next?

What you need: A story that’s ended. It could a book, film, TV show or game or something else.

This is bordering on fan fiction, but it’s a very good way of tempering your storytelling.

The sky is the limit when it comes to the stories you want to tell but there should be a clear and logical progression. Too many stories fall apart when there are unexplained jumps that change settings, skills and attitudes, and that’s when audiences lose interest.

So, the goal here is to continue the story you’ve chosen. Use the existing characters and continue the story. You want to see if the story can keep going in a believable way. This is harder for some stories than others, as the endings can be definitive.

Remember this isn’t something to be published per say, unless you’re really interested in pushing the fan fiction, but a way to practise developments and scaling in a created story and world.

It would really help if a friend or fan of the story could offer feedback on your story and see if it is believable based on what’s come before.

Mix it up: While it’s easiest to carry on a story that’s just ended, try looking much further into the future. The temptation to jump too far is easiest here and will need extra thought to keep it realistic.

Set the scene

What you need: A picture of something.

This is one of my favourites. Take a picture of something. Some examples I’ve always gone back to are a lighthouse, a cemetery, an empty street, a forest path, a lone house, the rain and an empty lake.

The goal here is to write about it. Take that picture and put it onto paper (or screen).

Describe what you see. Start with the main object or focus of the picture and go into the smallest of details. Is there a chip in the wood? Is the water still? Is the wind blowing, and which direction? Once you’ve one this, I want to be able to form an image in my mind that is close to the original picture.

The next step is to describe the rest of the picture, using the same level of detail. After that, think about what’s beyond the picture, to the sides, behind and above. Your piece should almost act like a full tour of the scene you can see and are creating.

Add in how this scene makes you feel. Are you calm or creeped out? Happy or sad? Hot or cold? You can do this after the description or weave it in. You’ll find no action in this piece. Nothing happens, as such.

What it might do is give you a place to start another project based on, or set in, this world you’ve created.

At the beginning, 500 words might be a challenge but over time, writing more than 3,000 words in this way is more feasible and you’ll learn to construct these scenes instinctively when you see an image and when you need a place for your characters or story.

Mix it up: Combine two or more pictures to create a bigger scene. You can also work on editing this piece down to a succinct amount, which will help you include powerful scenes and settings in other projects without rambling or destroying your wordcount.

How are you getting on? Found an activity that you’ve enjoyed more than others, or have you started a project you’re excited about? Do let me know!

Until next time.

Get yourself writing, part two

Welcome back!

I hope you found the first part of this series useful, and that it gave you some inspiration to start creating your masterpieces. We’re going to push on this week, so if none of the exercises from the last post helped, or they didn’t appeal then maybe these will fare a little better for you.

Don’t despair, either way, as there’s still more to come next week, too!

One line at a time

What you need: A poem, either written or recorded one line at a time

If you’re looking for a little more direction, try writing a story from prompts. Take a poem and read one line at a time. You must then write at least a paragraph based on that line, although there’s nothing to stop you writing more if you feel the need.

This doesn’t mean your story has to be a retelling or adaptation of the poem. Take each line as its own entity and write freely from it. One light might focus on a sound or place, while the next on a person or event. It’s up to you to connect them in the way that makes most sense.

Don’t try and rush this exercise, or you’ll write yourself into a dead end where your project makes no sense. If it helps, record the poem a line at a time and play it to yourself, rather than reading. It also works as a group exercise if done this way. You’d be surprised at how different everyone’s response is.

You’ll get different results with poems of different lengths, as shorter poems require you to really let your imagination take over. You might want to save these for later.

Mix it up: You can do this with monologues, speeches and even songs. For the latter, having the music accompany the words can make a huge difference to the end result, so try it both ways to find what works for you.

These next two ideas come from Kat, a fellow writer and good friend of mine.

Newsworthy

What you need: A newspaper or two, or use an online news publication

Pick a page from the newspaper or website and find a headline that catches your attention. They don’t have to be the big stories – in fact, this exercise works better with the more random, slightly obscure headlines – but whether its funny, outrageous or just plain silly, write that headline at the top of your page.

You can then write the new story how you expect it to be written. This is a great exercise to stretch your imagination while writing in a different medium than you may be used to.

To take it a step further, read the real news story once your done and compare the differences. You might be in for a laugh or two!

Mix it up: Instead of writing a news story, use the headline as the title of a story. You’ll write in a different format and come up with a completely different story. Remember, news stories tend to be shorter than stories, so use that to your advantage.

‘What if’ stories

What you need: A bunch of scenarios that may or may not be plausible:

  • What if pilots were afraid of heights?
  • What if swimmers were scared of water?
  • What if we couldn’t laugh?
  • What if vampires couldn’t smell?

This is a great exercise for anyone, as the stories can be both short or long, for kids or for adults. All you need to do is start with a very innocent “what if” question and build a story around it. The crazier and funnier it is, the more likely it will hook readers.

Moral lessons are easy to include in such stories, which is why they’re great for younger readers, but the premise of some questions can open up a whole new world to explore – and you might find that world appeals to readers everywhere.

Mix it up: Take some existing stories and change it around, from fairy tales to big budget movies. Ideas like:

  • What if the three bears had let Goldilocks stay?
  • What if the big bad wolf was a vegetarian?
  • What if Anakin Skywalker didn’t become Darth Vader?
  • What if Frodo didn’t destroy the One Ring?

So, what do you think? Feel free to keep sharing your favourite exercises and activities. We all need to do our part to get through this phase of self-isolation, and these ideas will still be here in the future, too.

‘Till next time.

Get yourself writing, part one

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been thinking about what I can do over the next four weeks of isolation. I’m still working full-time but I’m using this chance to work more on my ongoing projects, since there’s nothing to distract me right now.

It made me think of all the times people have said to me they wish they could write something – a story, a book, a poem or anything else – and how I had little to offer them. It didn’t sit right with me. Now, given we have more time to try new things, I’ve compiled some of my favourite writing exercises. I hope you’ll find them useful.

Note: I’m not claiming credit for creating or naming these. I’ve come across them from writing groups, university and online sources. There are so many more than the ones I’ll share.

Freewriting

What you need: A timer

This is a deceptively simple task; all you need is a timer. Set a time limit and once it starts, begin writing. The goal is not to stop until the time runs out, regardless of where your mind takes you.

This sounds simple but it’s really not. We are trained to think about what we write, how to structure sentences and paragraphs, follow a lot thread etc. The goal here is to ignore all that. What you write doesn’t matter as much as doing it.

Freewriting is often used before working on something else as a way to get you in the mindset to write. That being said, the randomness and nonsensical logic can unleash brilliant ideas that can be included in other projects or become the starting point of something new.

Mix it up: Vary the length of time you write for to see what works best for you.

Picturesque inspiration

What you need: A picture, a photo, a painting – anything visual.

This is a great exercise, and it only requires one thing: something visual. This means you can do this task over and over with different things, whether a photograph, a painting or even the view from your window. Hell, watch a movie and pause it – then use that.

Set yourself a word count and write something based on what you see. It might be a descriptive exercise if you need inspiration for other projects, or it can blossom into something more. Ask yourself who would be in that scene and why. Ask yourself where it is and what’s around it. Use your other senses to flesh out the world.

If it’s a scene of action, think about what’s happening, or what happened before or after that moment. Who can you see? what are they doing? Even if you know, in detail, what is happening in that scene, let your imagination create something else.

You can do both of the above separately then combine later or evolve into different pieces. This is really two tasks in one and they can fit to your preferences.

Mix it up: Instead of using something visual to inspire you, use audio. A sound, a story, a poem or music. Think about what you hear, what it inspires in you, what the words tell you and do the same as above. You can also change the word count to add another level of depth to this task.

The senses task

What you need: Something you can see, something you can hold, something you can hear and something you can taste (you don’t actually have to eat or drink it, though).

A word count of up to 3,000 is ideal for this task, but you can make it more challenging by changing it, usually making it lower. You must include all of the items you’ve chosen in some way, either as a focus or as a passing comment.

With these building blocks, you can craft anything. Start with the sound or view and build up to why the objects are there, and who might be using, seeing or hearing them. Alternatively, do the opposite!

There’s a lot of freedom in this task and it relies on you to make decisions about the importance, order and reason behind each object. If you find it difficult, start with fewer objects and work up to it. In some cases, they’re integral to the piece while in others they add more depth to a character, location or situation.

This is also a great exercise to work on humour, as the random assortment can sometimes deny belief – especially if you don’t choose the objects.

Mix it up: The simplest way to mix it up is use different items/views/noises. This task literally becomes what you base it on and that means you have endless possibilities. Ask your friends to pick items for you, as they might surprise you with their selections. For a real challenge, ask a different friend for each one. Then you’ll have a completely random assortment.

This is only the first post of writing exercises. I’ve been talking to fellow writers and asking for their favourites, too, so expect to see some of those later in the series. Feel free to let me know how you get on, or if you have any writing exercises of your own!