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.

The Trials of Redrafting

As a writer, I find the process of redrafting tedious at best. This is something that not even university has been able to make me enjoy, and when I delivered workshops, it was the hardest thing to get people to do. Writing can be fun and interesting but redrafting, while necessary, can be dull – especially on your own or working on your own piece.

The myths and barriers of a full redraft

In a workshop environment, a redraft can be engaging; it can spark a conversation or debate and it can bring out more ideas and thoughts that you never even considered. The problem is, for much longer pieces of writing, it’s not practical to be in a large group. Even if you have time to read it all, either in the session or in advance, it’s not fair on everyone.

That being said, they are incredibly useful and if you return the favour outside of a workshop environment, you can get some great insight into your work and even your plans for it going forward.

Now, I have nothing against e-readers and kindles. The world is going digital and people like the access. I much prefer reading paper (but I am definitely a fan of typing electronically – it saves me on paper and makes it easier to make changes or fix mistakes) and this includes m redrafting process. I do the best work after printing the piece, annotating in pen or pencil and making the changes electronically.

Running workshops with students and school groups is fun and challenging but the redrafting stage is one of the hardest ones to deal with successfully. Younger groups get bored easily but workshops can also be difficult because not everyone will feel comfortable speaking up or giving their work to someone else – and friends aren’t always honest (or are sometimes honest without tact). So what do you do in this situation?

With a school group, speak to the teacher in question. They know the group better and can give you some advice on how they think and work. If there is an end goal or event for them, give them examples of what others have done – or even your own redrafting efforts – to let them know what they should be looking for but it should be appropriate for the age group you are working with. Older groups will do it because you ask, mostly, but in the end, this process will go beyond your workshop and it is down to each participant to do it and get the most out of you, your session and your experience.

The risk of refinement

One thing that I commonly find is that a redraft, of any length or depth, can dramatically alter the piece of writing – hopefully for the better. The problem is that any amends can change the flow of the story, and that’s something I value highly in all my writing. I’ve given up on too many books because they don’t flow and I don’t want my writing to suffer the same fate, so if something doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t get saved or is reverted to the previous version that worked.

Now, in the moment, the story or piece flows because it came straight from your flow of thoughts. It might not make much sense at first but it can also be crystal clear at times. You can improve the sentence structure, tone, style or plot later but that will alter the flow. It takes a long time to get used to it, and no matter how much experience you have, we’ve all come to that infamous wall that takes us an age to climb over.

Once you make it over, not only does it get easier to redraft and refine the piece, but the results are better. Your confidence grows and that makes your work better. Giving yourself a break from the piece will help you see it with fresh eyes – not that there’s always time for a break, especially if you are studying or working to tight deadlines.

A blast from the past

It’s been over ten years since one of the most important pieces I’ve ever produced was “finished.” Over the next few months, I’m going to redraft the piece titled The Honour of Dying is No Honour At All and see how it compares to my younger self. While I fully expect to improve on the use of language, tone and setting, I’m very curious as to the flow of the story. How will I change it after all this time? I’ve always said I wouldn’t but I think that enough time has passed for me to give it a shot. Maybe I’ll do it again in another ten years – it could prove to be a good way to measure my skills and abilities. Watch this space to see how it goes!