Exercises and Tips for Fiction Writers (Part One)
So you've decided to start writing. You've got your pencil, paper, and plenty of erasers ready and waiting. Or maybe you have your favorite word processing program up and that flashing cursor is staring you in the face, blinking away. Either way you've accomplished the first step on the path to becoming a writer: you're ready to try.
So what do you want to write about? The possibilities are almost endless, and story after story has probably come to you and then flitted away almost as fast.
Do you see brave dragons rescuing blushing knights from fearsome damsels, or the next great Star Wars epic horror thriller?
Maybe you've already got your story, but you've hit that proverbial wall called Writer's Block (which doesn't exist, by the way), and you need an umph to get back on the wagon.
Or maybe you just want some ideas on how to spice up your ideas with new twists and turns.
If any of the above applies to you, read on. In part one of this three part article, I'll go into exercises for improving your writing. Join me later for parts two and three, where I'll cover exercises to create new ideas and expand on old ones, as well as advice on getting over that annoying writer's block.
But for now, on to the exercises!
Improving Your Writing
There isn't a one step catch-all for great writing, unless you happen to have your own personal Muse behind you 24/7. Writing a good piece takes a lot of work between planning, writing, editing, and rewriting. Many stories and poems will undergo that process half a dozen times before the final product emerges.
Ever wondered why it takes authors months or even years to finish off a single book? This process would be why! I've seen many beginning authors produce a short story for workshops and get discouraged or even angry when other writers don't think it's the best thing since War and Peace. In those cases it's easy to see that they failed to grasp the revise-rewrite paradigm.
For any author, their writing can always improve, and with improved technical and stylistic skills your stories will improve too. What follows is a few exercises you can do in your down time between projects, or when you need a break from whatever story has you stumped, to improve your technical skills and style.
Exercise 1: Grammar, grammar, grammar
Kids today are not being taught good grammar and their writing shows it. Your goal in this exercise is to prevent yourself from writing poorly by practicing the basics of good grammar. For this, you're going to produce the following types of sentences in the orders presented for each paragraph. The trick is, you need to create a short story in the small amount of space given. If you don't know what a certain type of sentence looks like, google it or pick up your favorite grammar guide.
Paragraph 1: simple, simple, compound, simple, compound, simple.
Paragraph 2: simple, compound, simple, compound, simple, complex.
Paragraph 3: compound, simple, compound, complex, simple, compound-complex.
Exercise 2: Developing Your Own Style
When I say "style" I mean, very simply, the way you write. How your sentences flow together, your words alliterate to one another, and the way your stories flow. Style is the tone of voice your writing takes when it becomes a complete piece, and the way the reader hears the words in their minds. Style can be a major make-or-break for all writers and it's important to develop yours to the fullest.
In this exercise I'm going to have you form a cohesive paragraph by playing on the words and ideas used in individual sentences. I'll give you the first sentence for a few paragraphs and you'll continue them logically. Feel free to write as long as you want, but try to keep each paragraph to 5-8 sentences.
The trick to this exercise is cohesion. Every sentence should follow upon the one before it. This can be achieved by repeating the same idea that ends the first sentence in the first part of the second sentence, then linking the second and third sentences in the same way. An idea can be emphasized the same way, where the word that ends a sentence repeats as the first or second word of the next sentence.
Sentence 1: That's when I saw Tiffany, jewels glittering, from across the room.
Sentence 2: Hunting dragons is hard enough without having to worry about vicious goblins too.
Sentence 3: I heard a sound from the sky like the clouds themselves had just detonated.
You can use this exercise another way too. Instead of just writing paragraphs based on those sentences, write an entire story. Use those sentences to start each paragraph and link them into a whole. This will help you get the brain stirring as well for idea creation. There's nothing like a little non sequitor to amp up the creative flow. You'll get major points if you can add in this sentence to your story as well and have it make sense:
Bonus: And all I ever learned from the experience is this: never sell your sister just to pay for your ferret cage.
Until next time!
That's it for part one. Come back soon for more ideas on creating ideas and getting past writer's block!
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