I am currently seated in an overly air conditioned basement for the Minneapolis Young Writer’s Workshop. It’s exciting to meet famous authors (like Jay Asher, Ally Condie, Jennifer Nielsen, Jonathan Friesen), in addition to getting advice and learning new writing exercises. (If a group of teenagers, some no larger than the desks themselves, can do these, you can, too).
- Expand the Sentence
Take: A simple sentence, like “I saw Sam at school. She wore a t-shirt.”
Change it: Add descriptions that are pertinent. For example, describe her clothes so they give an indication of her personality. (Is it a bright pink shirt, or barely big enough to qualify as a shirt?) Try to make it into a paragraph.
Also consider: Make Sam do something to give the description more animation, as in having her be texting or reading or talking with someone.
2. Freeze the Moment
In order for the reader to grasp the surroundings of the book, like details and other characters, the story has to slow down. For example, when you are jumping off a cliff you’re probably not going to notice the color of the leaves, as you are more focused on getting out alive (even if the leaves’ color is really important to you as a leaf-ologist searching for a certain species of plant to save the world).
Choose: One scene with an important plot event.
Jot down: 3 things that make that scene different from other scenes, 3 things that make the place significant, and 3 things about the social constraints or 3 aspects of that society that are pertinent to the scene.
Write: A paragraph from your main character’s point of view, describing their opinion of the time, place, and society.
3. Before and After
To show a change, especially emotionally or internally, one must often compare the new situation to the old.
Choose: A tension point in your story, or one where a change occurs, that isn’t the climax.
Write: A paragraph of the character’s opinion of themselves before the change, one describing their opinion after, and one describing the contrasting of the two.
4. Character Mash-up
Sometimes tension and creativity can come from simply having characters that shouldn’t fit together but do (like a unicorn and a newspaper delivery man).
Write down: Descriptions for a variety of different characters, including quirks they may have, favorites, and other pertinent information. Make sure they have something unique about them.
Choose: Two or more cards and write a paragraph or more describing their interaction or how they meet.
What writing exercises do you use? Comment below.
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Note: This post was based heavily on a talk given by Jonathan Friesen. I don’t take credit for having come up with these exercises.