It has been said many times: practicing writing is like building up a muscle. That is why it is important to start small, build up your strength, and to sharpen your tools in your writerly tool kit.
Today I am going to give you the goodies, so that you can improve 7 aspects of your writing, using the following exercises…
This exercise will allow you to fall into a state that is far removed from the mindset you just came into the writing session with.
You can do as little as five minutes, but a good half an hour a day will help you with any writing ailments you might be facing, during that first (and most difficult) part of the writing session – the first ten seconds that you sit down.
If you’re suffering from writer’s block, this is one of the best ways to get over it. You can write ‘I don’t know what to write’ 85 times over, but at least you are writing.
Make a rule to never take your pen from the page for as long as you can manage and only allow your thoughts to seep onto the page, rather than just running through your head.
2. Use image inspiration
Try using external stimuli as inspiration. For example, look at someone’s portrait for ten seconds and consider what their story might be, how they are feeling, what is going on with their family and in their lives. This practice can help to ignite a new plot point in your story, to create a new character, or simply to get your creative juices flowing.
Another idea is to use a writing prompt generator, which will give you an idea for a scene that you can build upon.
You can also make a mood board on Canva or Pinterest, with images that remind you of certain characters, or places/settings you might want to build up in your mind’s eye, so that they can easily be described at the drop of a hat.
3. Develop a sense of place
Practice describing place by taking a trip. To the seaside, perhaps, or a graveyard. Somewhere that is interesting to write about.
Begin describing the place and see if any characters emerge from the ‘mood’ of the place. You can also imagine somewhere you loved from childhood. Describe it in as much detail as you possibly can.
For a twist, play with the mood, and use it to shade your descriptions. If it’s a romantic place, see how a shade of sadness increases the interest and the complexity of the scene. For example, desolation or despair might describe an orchard thus: ‘the apples hung like rotting corpses from the trees in the cool autumn light’.)
4. Write from someone else’s perspective
A large part of writing convincing and compelling characters is being able to empathize with them as a reader.
For this exercise, think of someone you know or a character you are building. It could be that woman you see at the bus stop every day, or your antagonist’s mother.
Next, write down how it might feel to wake up as them, to go through their day, how they feel about the people they interact with, where they are in relation to their life goals? How does their body feel? What do they see, smell, touch and taste?
Choose a few characters and pick a conflict. Write a quick outline of who they are, what they look like and why they are not seeing eye to eye.
Then pick some sort of action. This could be anything. Cooking a meal, rushing for a bus, riding a rollercoaster. What you want to do here is not mention the conflict, but instead, show the conflict through the way in which the two characters interact with the task at hand. Show it through their dialogue about the action, through their body language and through long silences. And watch the tension rise.
6. Plot a story
Plotting can be difficult at the best of times, so make things a little easier on yourself. Take a well-known story, say, Little Red Riding Hood, and plot it out. Yes, take each plot point down. This will help you to spot the difference between a moment that changes and drives the story forward, and how that fits in with the next part of the story.
Pulling apart a story will mean you can see the bones of a story much more easily. You can add your notes to a novel outline template.
Do this over with other stories that bear no resemblance to the first, so you can get a feel for how all stories are related and are essentially based upon the same principle.
7. Show don’t tell
Think about a time when you felt extreme emotion – joy, anger, shame, fear. Focus on each and write down how you feel in your body, your physical reaction to these feelings. Make a list of these sensations (e.g. fear could mean a tightness in your stomach, sweaty palms and taking short breaths).
Take a character and put them in a situation relevant to those feelings (for example, a man standing up in court may be feeling a great deal of fear). Use these sensations to describe his fearful state, without ever describing his emotions as fearful.
For a bonus point, add all the senses within the text, to get a real feeling of how it is to be in that situation. Watch the scene come alive before your eyes.