Exercises for the Week: 03/25

Week 4: Plot

This month we have talked about developing characters, perfecting dialogue and writing scenes.

This week, our exercises are geared towards putting all of this together and forming the plot. If you are like me and enjoy character driven or quiet stories, the plot can actually be the most difficult part "Where am I going with this?" is something I often ask myself, when I'm spending too much time within the characters emotions or feelings. Our stories need movement, they need action and a reaction, they need the use of time. 

Here are some prompts to help you this week if you are stuck. These are designed to keep you writing and to keep your plot rolling. I kept them brief because I don't want you to feel like you need to write pages and pages each day. Instead, take each prompt and commit to writing just a paragraph. If you want to keep going, great! If not, you still got something on the page!!

Day 1: Write a scene that contains foreshadowing for your main character 

Day 2:  Write about a success that actually causes a new problem 

Day 3: A character leaves and forces other characters to fill the (narrative or physical) space they vacated.

Day 4: A character or group of characters struggle to avoid conflict. 

Day 5: Show time passing 

Exercises for the Week: 03/18

Week 3: Writing Scene 

A scene is defined by the presence of more real-time momentum than an interior monologue or expository explanation.

Real-time momentum is a combination of action, dialogue, and character interaction with his or her surroundings and other characters. Scenes sparkle with energy and rhythms that make readers feel as though they are right beside (or inside) the character as they experience any number of situations and scenarios. In contrast, narrative summary—lecturing, explaining, or describing—can put readers to sleep after too long.

Your scenes can end on a high note (a small victory for your character) or a low note (a moment of cliff-hanging suspense or uncertainty). It doesn’t matter which way it goes so long as each scene concludes by setting up future conflicts for the character(s) and creating in readers a yearning to know what happens next.

According to Jane Friedman, “scenes are not

  • An opportunity to take your character on a long, leisurely detour into situations with characters that have nothing to do with the protagonist’s dramatic action goals (that’s a character profile or vignette).

  • A place to explain something or to lecture to your reader (that’s a pace killer).

  • Long histories of people and places (that’s dull backstory).

This week, we will focus on creating compelling scenes. Instead of giving you a prompt each day, I highly recommend reading this article from Writer’s Digest. Spend your week focusing on launching the action and narrative that is discussed within.

Be sure to log in to the discussion forum on your dashboard to discuss anything you have learned or anything you have written throughout the week that you wish to share!

Exercises for the Week: 03/11

March Writing Exercises: Week of 03/11

Week 2: Dialogue

As March continues and we focus on what we can learn from short stories, this week will be all about dialogue.

People don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say. That’s true in real life and in fiction. Dialogue is not only about what is being said, but also about what is left unsaid. That is the playing field of narration: it shows us how people interact nonverbally. So, how do you strike a perfect balance between the two? While there isn’t a perfect formula, as writers we can explore the functions of dialogue and narration in a scene, so that we can find the mix that’s right for story or novel.

For this week’s writing exercises, I’m switching up the format a bit. Each day contains a theme which has been created to set your focus when working in your dialogue. Read each little blurb and get writing!

Day 1: Relationships

In a dialogue, at least two people interact. They exchange information, ask questions, answer them, comment, fight, tease… whatever. Today, write a conversation between two characters that reveals something about their relationship

Day 2: Vehicle for Character Development

Much like what we spoke of in yesterday's prompt, dialogue reveals something about your characters. The way people speak and interact in a conversation says a whole lot about them. The words a character chooses can and should expose the character’s background, personality, and emotional status. The CEO of a multibillion-dollar company would choose different words than a military general, a stay-at-home mom, or a teenage girl. No need for lengthy character descriptions, if you choose the right words to put in your characters’ mouths.

Write a scene using dialogue that explores this today.

Day 3: Revealing Tension

We all know this: small talk and happy talk—conversations where nothing goes wrong—are boring and have no place in fiction.
When two or more people talk, tensions are bound to arise. The tension may be caused by conflicting motivations, by unspoken desires, by a difference in opinion, by hidden agendas. But it is there—and it is one of the most important functions of dialogue to reveal it. That’s what makes a scene sizzle and the sizzle is what ultimately moves the plot forward.
Create some dialogue today that explores this.

Day 4: Creating Atmosphere

Conversations should never take place in a vacuum. The narration needs to firmly ground your reader in time and space. But this does not mean that you should drown out your characters’ words with lengthy background information, scene descriptions, summaries, and commentary. Just like your dialogue cannot be a place to dump information, your narration can’t be either. Instead, your narration must support and enhance the spoken words of your characters. Narration anchors the reader and creates the atmosphere of the setting and the specific circumstance of the scene.

Day 5: Revealing Underlying Emotions

Bringing in the reaction of people other than the two dialogue partners, allows the reader to sense the ambiance of the setting, supporting the now even more obvious tension. The scene becomes a palpable. The reader is right there, watching, able to draw his or her own conclusions. Add some dialogue from someone other than your main characters today. See if this creates some more setting or reveals more emotion.

Exercises for the Week: 03/03

Character Driven Writing Exercises or the Week

This month on Write or Die Tribe we will be focusing on what we can learn from the short story. No matter what type of writer you are, good writing involves movement, pace, climax, development - all aspects we can learn from short prose.

Short stories are great for helping develop plot and pacing since the writer has to get this done in 20 pages, as apposed to a 300 page within a novel. This allows the writer to focus on the important parts of a story, only telling the reader what they need to know in order to move the story along.

Reading short stories is just as important as writing them if you want to try and develop your writing. Every piece of writing advice ever will tell you that you need to read to become a better writer. Sometimes short stories are even better than novels to help develop your skills. Just as with writing short stories, reading them can help you get a feel for pacing and plot development. You can see how the writers weave together complete characters in such small spaces.

For week 1, this is exactly what we will be focusing on: characters. And in my opinion, the fun part. I will also be including some suggested reading to keep you inspired and learning. These exercises are designed to keep you writing, of course, but the goal is also to help you develop memorable characters, especially if you are writing a character-driven story as opposed to a plot driven one.  

Each prompt is made to help you get the know them, explore their emotional states, their surroundings, their home lives, their desires, their opinions.

Character is a type of action as people are defined by what they do. We learn about characters by the choices they make. A great story is often one where the characters make defining choices that move the plot forward. A plot point that happens because someone we care about has decided something is usually superior to one where a random thing drops out of the sky.

Day 1: Opinions

You might feel reluctant to give your characters strong opinions. You might see strong opinions as a flaw, but remember, flaws in fiction are good.

I came across a popular example to explain this point further: “ In the opening pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the protagonist, Jake Barnes, does nothing but tell all about another character, Robert Cohn, giving opinion after opinion. From the way Jake describes Robert and his accomplishments, we learn some things about Robert, but we learn a lot more about the way Jake thinks. He clearly despises Robert, yet we soon see that the men are also friends, at least of a sort. We sense that they may become rivals. Why? We want to keep reading to find out.”

 For this exercise, write about your characters fatal flaws. What do they feel strongly about? What do they love with passion, or hate with an equal amount of fire?

 Try writing just a paragraph today. Just get something on the page!

Day 2: Love Triangle

Our emotions are not rational, and our relationships aren’t, either. This is why romantic obsession is a terrifically handy tool for the writer. If you aren’t interested in romance, remember that sexual attraction is a great motivator of millions of bad decisions. Or it can also be a salvation of sorts.

Consider adding a love triangle of sorts to your two main characters and see what happens.

The third party doesn’t even have to be human; it can be an animal, a career, an addiction, a call to adventure, an obligation...anything that gets in the way of the cozy picture you began with.

Day 3: Introspection and Ambiguity

Every story needs some kind of suspense and introspection can be just that. It is also the easiest way to develop your character’s relationships.

But instead of having your character lay everything they think out on the table, consider creating a little ambiguity.

Everybody instinctively understands there’s more than meets the eye. In every adult, there’s a bit of a child. In every cop, there’s a bit of a criminal. In every sadist, there’s a bit of a masochist. And in every human, there’s a bit of a beast—and a bit of a god. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

Explore this today. Write about your character’s inner thought but leave some of the juicy bits out. See if this creates suspense. See if it could leave your reader thirsty for more.

Day 4: Connective Tissue

Connective tissue refers to the small moments that you hardly notice, that help you see how the characters are progressing on their way to the next big stand-out moment. Remember, big moments have to feel earned.

Use what you wrote yesterday, on introspection, and find the bits of connective tissue that can drive your plot.

Or if you did not write yesterday, try to work on some small moments now that will lead to your climax later.

Day 5: Interactions

Let your characters approach others, glance off them, then continue on different trajectories. After all, this is what happens in real life. It’s all in the relationships.

When crafting your characters’ relationships, let the yin-yang symbol be your guide. No relationships are clear-cut, nor are any one-sided. Love can have a little fear within it, or even hate.

If you spend some time thinking about relationships in this way, you’ll see opportunities to develop your characters further. Because characters are people, just like us.

Relationships reveal the various roles we play, the ever-changing masks we all wear, and the yearnings that expose our hearts.

Day 6: Bonus

I came across a prompt on Poets & Writers that I thought it would be fun to rework to align with our character exercises. You’ve done a lot of work this week so this is your fun prompt.

Think of a color that you would associate with one of your main or favorite characters. Write series of short vignettes dedicated to this specific hue.

What memories or emotions come to them when they see this color?

Is there a theme?

Consider Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Theory of Colors for inspiration.