When I released my first novel, “Broken Promise Records,” there were a good amount of folks who were surprised that I had an interest in creative writing, because I never talked about it. That opened the conversation for some, who said “I’d like to write stories, but I don’t know where to start.” That always struck a chord with me because I remember that exact feeling. Because of that, I always tried to be encouraging to the people who wanted to write, but didn’t know where to start. When you see me encourage people to pick up the pen and take a leap, that’s why.
A while ago, I posted a blog about Exploring the W’s as a creative writing exercise. I had a lot of fun sharing that and so I wanted to continue on that line of thinking. The only sure-fire way to improve your writing is to write and write often. Writing exercises, like physical ones, stretch and strengthen your creative writing ability. You don’t just wake up, go to the gym for the first time, and start bench pressing 350. You have to work and build up to that. For this week’s blog, I wanted to share a few writing exercises that I’ve used, and may hopefully encourage you to pick up that pen and write.
Exercise 1: The Plot Thickens – This is a good one to do if you’re in a waiting room, or somewhere with uncomfortable silences. It helps if you have a pen and notebook to chart your thoughts, but unnecessary, as a lot of the work can be done in your head. It really helps your creative stretching if the room is full of people you don’t know.
Assume that everyone in the room is plotting to get you. What is their motive? Why are they trying to get you? Why do they feel that their motive is a righteous cause? No one thinks they are the villain, but they are so motivated to get you, so there must be something that is contradicting their core values (a set of beliefs that fundamentally define who they are as a person). Now, you can only be gotten once, right? All those people in the room now need to debate which of them has the best motive to get you.
The point of this exercise is to really explore what moral decisions and values drive your character. The moral dilemma and the moral constructs your character will abide by makes them relatable. In “A Law of Constants,” the Redeemer is a pretty thorough bastard …to everyone except him. His motivations and reasonings completely justify his wholesale bastardry.
Exercise 2: The Chemistry Test – Let’s be honest, not all of your characters are going to erupt from your brain and be immediately interesting. Heaven knows there have been more than a handful of characters that I wrote and I didn’t understand them — I wrote them there because the story needed their type. Most recently, I couldn’t relate to Derek Foster in “A Law of Constants,” because his personality is so guarded, but mine isn’t. I found an unconventional, but effective, exercise to learn about my flat character: a dating questionnaire. In the mindset of your character, fill out a dating questionnaire.
Much like Twitter, dating questionnaires make you get to the core essence of who someone is while cutting out the fluff, because your space to explain yourself is so narrow. In a limited amount of space, you have to identify what the character likes, what they dislike, what kind of people they are looking to be around, what they want to avoid, and even the small details that have big implications on the complexity and texture of their character.
Want to take it a step further? Write a dating profile for all of the characters in your W.I.P. (Work in Progress) and compare them. You will be able to identify secondary and passive conflicts between them that may make your story more interesting.
Exercise 3: Does Anyone Object to This Union? It’s no secret, I’m a little jaded on the concept of marriage, but my bias has nothing to do with this exercise. The point of this workout is to go from one emotional extreme to the other, in the most nuclear fashion possible. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a wedding either — it could be a birthday party, retirement celebration, birth announcement — anywhere were there are people surrounding your character to uplift them in their moment of triumph, only to have them torn down in front of an audience, going from the best day of their life to the worst.
Take your M.C. (Main Character) and come up with the ideal partner for them (you can refer back to the dating profile you may have put together). It doesn’t matter if all the attraction is superficial, an inaccurate pretext, your character just has to feel like they’ve won the lottery and are bullet-proof. Then, in the middle of the celebration, someone comes along and exposes your M.C., I mean really drags ALL of the skeletons out of the closet. It doesn’t matter what they say, but if creating that secret advances your character development, make it so. What secret could be such a nuclear bomb? How is the audience reacting? Is your M.C. visibly upset? Are they now plotting murder? Now that they’ve been completely humiliated, what are their next steps? How deep is their need to get even?
How far can you make the fall from top dog to rock bottom? The point of this exercise is to warm up your inner sadist and see just how much you can twist the knife in someone’s side. This skill is important when it comes to adding to the emotional involvement in conflict and adding tension to a scene you are writing.
In conclusion, if you are thinking about becoming a writer, then do it. If you need permission, or a sign, here it is. If you have a story to tell then it is your obligation to let it out, whether someone buys it or not. If you’re already a writer, I hope I’ve been helpful, and I would be honored if you’d share some of your favorite writing exercises with me.
Thank you for reading and I’ll see you on your next trip across the Millerverse!