Creative Writing: Exercises for Story Writers – from PSU

Creative Writing: Exercises for Story Writers – from PSU

SOURCE – Jim Manis – PSU

Short Story Exercises

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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, offer delight.
  5. 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?
  6. 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 (embedded metaphors).

Characters: There are two types of characters: well rounded and flat.

  1. 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 YOUR story.
  2. Write a character sketch strictly as narrative description, telling your reader who the character is without having the character do or say anything.
  3. Revise the above to deliver the character to the reader strictly through the character’s actions.
  4. Revise the above to deliver the character strictly through the character’s speech to another character.
  5. Revise the above to deliver the character strictly through the words/actions of another character (the conversation at the water fountain about the boss).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. 

This is a great one…..

The T.S. Eliot/John Gardner Killer Exercise: This exercise is quite possibly the most difficult, demanding and important exercise a writer can ever do. The poet and critic, T. S. Eliot, coined the phrase “objective correlative” to designate what he believed was the most important element in writing: Rendering the description of an object so that the emotional state of the character from whose point of view we receive the description is revealed WITHOUT ever telling the reader what that emotional state is or what has motivated it.

The late John Gardner, recognized in his lifetime as the leading creative writing teacher in the United States, developed the following exercise for students:

    A middle-age man is waiting at a bus stop. He has just learned that his son has died violently. Describe the setting from the man’s point of view WITHOUT telling your reader what has happened. How will the street look to this man? What are the sounds? Odors? Colors? That this man will notice? What will his clothes feel like? Write a 250 word description.

 

How about a couple CROWBAR KICK-STARTERS:::

Use one of these as a launching point for your story or for the exercise… Plop one right down in the middle of things….

  1.  …Stop biting your fingernails…
  2. …Its part of the foundations of society…
  3. …Missed lunch and it’s almost supper time…
  4. …It’s one thing to be talented, but add in being selfish…
  5. …We are all germ carriers…
  6. …What exactly were your expectations…
  7. …You have to take a firm stand…
  8. …Can I apologize for making such a scene…
  9. …I was smarter before the meeting…
  10. …Always saying nasty things about me…

Have a great day and keep on keeping on!……

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