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10 Creative Writing Exercises to Progress Your Story

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17 January 2024

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Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, we all know what it feels like to lose motivation. Or perhaps you’re a seasoned writer looking to break through a block. Wherever you are in your writing journey, creative writing exercises can help you untap your creativity.

What’s a Creative Writing Exercise?

They’re activities designed to stretch your creativity muscles, helping you to think outside the box and improve your writing skills. Creative writing exercises could involve anything from writing a poem based on a random prompt, to crafting a short story with a specific character in an unusual scenario, or even rewriting a well-known tale from a different perspective. The goal isn’t to produce a masterpiece, but rather to get your creative juices flowing and explore new ways of expressing ideas.

10 Creative Writing Exercises

Ready to dive in? Great! Let’s tackle the creative slump and progress any story with these 10 powerful writing exercises.

1. CONSTRUCT A SETTING

The first exercise that I recommend is the setting exercise. Pick a town or city anywhere in the world and research the location. What smells might exist there? What is the weather like? Research images of your chosen location and describe the sights and textures you see. This creative writing exercise will help you build a list of rich and engaging details to draw from as you write.

Let’s take Edinburgh as an example. I picture a crowded city, filled with breweries and distilleries. In winter winds, a hint of malt hangs in the air. Snow coats the roof tops, with temperatures averaging around 0°C. A white coating of frost blankets the ground and the trees…you get the idea.

The goal of this writing exercise is to build a list of rich and engaging details to draw from as you write. Plus, if you’re creating a new world, this exercise will help ground your setting.

2. USE LISTS TO ORGANISE YOUR PLOT

If you’re stuck on how to progress your story, start making lists. Use sticky notes, notebooks or go digital. List your chapters, then list the scenes you have in each chapter. From there, inspiration might clickis there a gap in the story or a link between one scene and another?

A tip when using sticky notes: Move them around and change up your narrative. Insert more sticky notes. Throw away the ones that aren’t working.

3. THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER

A stranger enters your character’s life. Who is the stranger, what do they want and what will they do to get it?

Let’s say, a woman moves in next door. She has sinister motives and is willing to do anything, even murder, to get what she wants.

This creative writing exercise helps you to start thinking about how you might pitch your novel. It also can help you find the essence of your story.

4. Beyond the page

Reveal a secret that sends your protagonist on a very different path. How do you reveal the secret? What will your character do to hide their secret for as long as possible?

Let’s imagine a bankrupt lawyer is forced to take a loan from a local gang, he hides it from his family, friends and colleagues. But his lies soon pile up, and desperate to hide his financial woes, he descends into a dark criminal world to pay back his creditors.

5. Three act structure

In John Yorke’s Into The Woods, Yorke states: “Everything must have a beginning, middle and end.” And so, he introduces the three act structure, which is identified in most modern narratives. Take a look below:

  • Act one – the inciting incident
  • Act two – the journey
  • Act three – the crisis, climax and resolution

Using the three act structure, start planning your novel. When you find a gap, it’s time to pause and assess. For instance, if there’s no clear inciting incident, then it’s time to create one. No climax? Build more excitement towards the final resolution of your story.

This writing exercise will help you diagnose problems within your story.

For more information, pick up Yorke’s book which explains the three act structure in detail, and the five act structure, too.

6. Links through time

Choose three time periods, and create a character or setting which links them all.

For example, a town’s infamous haunted house is occupied by three different families for a brief period during three different decades.

This writing exercise is a great place to start when you’re working through new concepts for your novel.

7. Bucket list

Create a list of twenty things that would appear on your protagonist’s bucket list. Make sure each entry on the list reveals character in some way. Not everyone wants to jump out of an aeroplane, nor does everyone want to get married. So, a bucket list can be quite telling.

For example, my protagonist might include “visit every continent” on their bucket list as they’ve never ventured further than the next town.

This writing exercise will help you flesh out your characters.

8. Hobbyist

Developing personalities that are complex and multidimensional can be a daunting task. This is where the art of assigning hobbies to characters come into play. This exercise not only helps flesh out your characters but also reveals their unique quirks and motivations.

Hobbies can serve as a subtle but effective way to build an engaging character. It can provide the readers with a glimpse into a character’s personality and interests. It goes without saying that the hobbies you choose should complement your character’s traits. For example, a shy or introverted character might find solace in activities such as painting, knitting, or reading. On the other hand, an outgoing and adventurous character may be drawn to outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing or surfing.

While the purpose of this exercise is to give your characters depth, it’s important to not get carried away. Many writers make the mistake of including too many details, intending to make their characters more interesting. Sadly, this can distract readers from the main story and shift focus to the characters. Not all information about your characters needs to be included in your novel. Keep your characters’ hobbies in mind but only reveal them when it benefits the story.

9. USe all five senses

One excellent technique you can use to include all five senses in your writing is to identify a scene in your work that you feel might need some improvement. Establish the setting and use it as a canvas to paint a world rich and vibrant with sensory details that will help readers experience the scene as realistically as possible.

For instance, if you’re writing about an abandoned hotel, you might focus on describing the musty smell of the building and the creaking sound of the wooden floorboards beneath your character’s feet. Describe the texture of the peeling wallpaper and the coolness of the metal doorknobs. Mention the taste of the dust that has collected in the corners of the room and the eerie silence that hangs in the air in the otherwise empty building.

If you’re ready to go even further with this exercise, look to develop your sensory writing skills and consider how you can use more expressive language in your work. For example, instead of using the word “cold,” you might write “biting cold,” “freezing cold” or “bone-chilling cold.” Instead of describing a texture as “rough,” you can use the words “gritty,” “jagged,” or “abrasive.” Small changes like this have the power to bring your writing to life.

10. There's a shark behind you

Picture one of your characters standing in the ocean, the water up to their waist. But right in front of them, there’s a sign warning about the dangers of sharks. Then, suddenly, you, as the writer, shout, “There’s a shark behind you!”. What does your character do? How do they react? How does their fear take control of their actions?

This is where the magic happens in writing. As the author, you must watch your characters struggle with their fears and weaknesses. When readers see their favourite protagonist struggling with something as simple as arachnophobia, they feel connected to them. It makes the character feel more real, more flawed, and most importantly, more relatable.

Now for the next step in the exercise. Write down each of your character’s main fears. These fears could be anything from spiders to sharks, closed spaces, or even the dark! Once you’ve identified and written down each character’s fear, you can begin incorporating it into your storytelling.

GET MORE INSPIRATION

Creative writing exercises are a great way to overcome writer’s block and fuel your imagination. Whether you’re feeling stuck or just want to push yourself to try new things, exercises can help you develop as a writer and reach your full potential.

Want more writing inspiration? Find tips, tricks and ideas over on the blog.

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Written By Eira Edwards

Eira is a writer and editor from the South of England with over five years of experience as a Content Manager, helping clients perfect their copy.

She has a degree in English Literature and Language, which she loves putting to work by working closely with fiction authors.

When she’s not working on manuscripts, you can find her in the woods with her partner and dog, or curling up with a good book.

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