Sunday, 15 April 2012

Writing Exercises

I read recently that the aim of blogging is to regularly write things that other people want to read. It really is that simple, isn't it? I for one can't argue with that analysis. So it's a little embarassing that my blog has only one entry, written over a month ago, designed to direct people to other places on the internet. Clearly, I haven't got the hang of this yet.

I'm resolved, therefore, to be a better blogger! Starting now. Seeing as this is to be a blog about my progress as a writer, I  feel I should say something about the act of writing itself. Ideally, it should be of possible use to other writers. But I don't feel qualified to say too much on this score...

So I've decided to kick off by offering four exercises which have helped me in the past to beat writer's block. They haven't always produced great stories (in fact, I'll be honest, they rarely do!) and are almost all geared to the writing of speculative fiction, but they never fail to get me started when I've hit a wall. Two of them are exercises I designed for use with primary school writing groups, which makes them even more suitable for adults, who often stifle their creativity in a way children don't. Anyway, I'm hoping they might prove similarly helpful to someone else.

1) Take a character or creature from mythology, chosen at random from a list if you like, then write a real first person account of what you did yesterday and just slip them in as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world that they should be there. Let the account develop as it will, allowing the new element to change it in whatever way seems natural.

For example:

There were more minotaurs than usual on the Number 32 yesterday, so I sat up the front near the driver and kept my nose in my book until we got to the co-op.


When I got into work I found Beowulf stood already by the water cooler, fiddling with his tie.

Can a man's arm grow back?” he asked.

2) Picture a person from any place or period frozen in the middle of an everyday action. Walk around them in your mind as if you were looking at a statue then begin to describe them in absolute and obsessive detail. Work from the feet up, the head down or even the outside in. Scrutinise their clothes, hair, posture, expression. Root through their pockets, pat down their trouser legs and peek up their skirts. Try to let details of their personality reveal themselves naturally, simply through the physical description of their person. See if a story arises, even without movement.

On a couple of occasions, I've found a much longer piece of writing has grown out of this exercise.

3) Fan fiction! Choose some really popular characters and dump them in a completely different context then write about it. A good way to do this is to draw up a list of popular franchises (don't worry if you're only vaguely familiar with the characters – just write according to your assumptions!) and then a list of unusual environments. Pick one from each at random and force yourself to mash them together. Of course you'll never be able to publish the results but you might have fun writing them.

Unlikely sketches I've written using this technique include 'The Smurfs go to Rio' and 'Harry Potter in Space'. A notable failure was 'Eastenders at the Mountains of Madness'.

4) This is an old one, not one of my own, but one I've used successfully on a few occasions. Pick a board game or a video game then write a story which loosely follows the rules of that game using characters who reference those of the original. The presence of a set of rules, however arbitrary, can provide a structure that helps the writing to flow.

For example, the beginning of a story based on a game of chess:

Marjorie dashes through the crowds in the atrium, barking orders into her headset, up the stairs and through the doors to the orangery, back out again and down to the kitchens. She is so busy today that she feels as if she is moving in all directions at once.

1 comment:

  1. These are some good things. I aim to write shorter blog posts as longs ones are not necessarily better. My tactic has been to write a lot of what I like and see what sticks. I need to be more selective with what I write.