50 – Intro to Creative Writing: Exercises for Story Writers
Characters: There are two types of characters: well
rounded and flat.
Write the first 250 words of a short story,
but write them in ONE SENTENCE. Make sure that the sentence is grammatically
correct and punctuated correctly. This exercise is intended to increase
your powers in sentence writing.
Write a dramatic scene between two people
in which each has a secret and neither of them reveals the secret to the
other OR TO THE READER.
Write a narrative descriptive passage
in a vernacular other than your own. Listen to the way people speak in
a bar, restaurant, barber shop, or some other public place where folks
who speak differently ("He has an accent!") from you, and try to capture
that linguistic flavor on the page.
Play with sentences and paragraph structure: Find a
descriptive passage you admire, a paragraph or two or three, from published
material, and revise all the sentences. Write the passage using all simple
sentences (no coordination, no subordination); write the passage using all
complex-compound sentences; write the passage using varying sentence structure.
The more ways you can think to play with sentence structure, the more you will
become aware of how sentence structure helps to create pacing, alter rhythm,
Focus on verbs: Find a passage that you admire
(about a page of prose) and examine all of the verbs in each sentence. Are the
"active," "passive," "linking?" If they are
active, are they transitive or intransitive? Are they metaphorical (Mary floated
across the floor.)? What effects do verbs have on your reading of the passage?
Take a passage of your own writing and revise all of
the verbs in it. Do this once making all the verbs active, once making all the
verbs passive. Then try it by making as many verbs as possible metaphorical
- Create character sketches. This is a good
exercise to perform on a regular basis in your journal. Sometimes you can
just create characters as they occur to you, at other times it is good to
create characters of people you see or meet. Some of the best sketches are
inspired by people you don't really know but get a brief view of, like
someone sitting in a restaurant or standing by a car that has been in an
accident. Ask yourself who they are, what they are about. The fact that you
don't really know the person will free you up to make some calculated
guesses that ultimately have more to say about your own vision of the world
than they do about the real person who inspired the description. That's
okay, you are NOT a reporter, and ultimately the story you intend to tell is
- Write a character sketch strictly as narrative
description, telling your reader who the character is without having the
character do or say anything.
- Revise the above to deliver the character to
the reader strictly through the character's actions.
- Revise the above to deliver the character
strictly through the character's speech to another character.
- Revise the above to deliver the character
strictly through the words/actions of another character (the conversation at
the water fountain about the boss).
- Often when we call a character
"flat" we mean that the author has failed in some way; however,
many good stories require flat characters. Humor often relies on flat
characters, but often minor characters in non-humorous pieces are also flat.
These characters usually appear to help move the plot along in some way or
to reveal something about the main character. A flat character is one who
has only ONE characteristic. You can create whole lists of these and keep
them in your journal so that you can call upon them when you need a
character to fit into a scene.
- Young writers are prone to write
autobiographical pieces. Instead of writing about people like yourself, try
writing about someone who is drastically different in some way from you.
Writing about someone who is a good deal older or younger than you will
often free up your imagination. It helps to make sure you are delivering
enough information to your reader so that the reader can clearly see the
character and understand the character's motives.
- Write a scene of about five hundred words in
which a character does something while alone in a setting that is extremely
significant to that character. Have the character doing something (dishes,
laundry, filing taxes, playing a computer game, building a bird house) and
make sure that YOU are aware that the character has a problem or issue to
work out, but do NOT tell your reader what that is.
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This page created and maintained by Jim
Manis; last updated February 10, 2000.