Best Writing Exercises, Part II

Best Writing Exercises, Part II

Once again, whether it’s to warm-up, jumpstart, or let their imaginations wander, many of our authors/friends use a writing exercise. Being interested in what works for them, The Divining Wand asked: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

The following replies lead off with Eleanor Brown, 2011 Class Member of The Debutante Ball:

Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters coming February 17, 2011):

“I have a few character interviews, gleaned from books and workshops I’ve taken over time that generally prove useful to me, but the most important question in them is asking my characters, “What do you want?” The follow-up is then, “Well, what’s stopping you?”. With those two questions, I generally get a good idea of who the character is at her core and what kind of plot points are going to come along to disrupt her journey.”

Eileen Cook (Unpredictable, What Would Emma Do? YA, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood YA, The Education of Hailey Kendrick YA coming January 4, 2011, and Fourth Grade Fairy ages 9 – 11 coming April 19, 2011):

“One of the best exercises I’ve done is to take a book I really liked and for each chapter made a note with information such as:
– what characters are in this scene
– what is the conflict in the scene
– what happens in the scene/ what is the purpose of this chapter

It is interesting to see how another author structures a book, the choices they make and how that shapes the narrative. This also works if you do it with a book you really hated. It helps me sort out what exactly didn’t work for me.”

Jael McHenry (The Kitchen Daughter coming April 12, 2011):

“At last year’s The Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston, Anita Shreve walked us through a set of exercises that I’ve found very handy ever since. You take a scene you’re not happy with and rewrite it in several different ways. If it’s in the past tense, make it present. If it’s in third person, make it first. If the word choice is flowery and elegant, make it sharp and terse. I find the shift shakes something loose. You may or may not end up with text you can “‘use.'” in the book, but it’s a great way to break a stuck scene open.”

Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters):

“While I’ve not used writing exercises, when I am in the midst of a novel draft, one of the methods that suits me well for starting each day’s writing is to begin each day by smoothing over the previous days work. While I don’t consider this rewriting in any major way, it’s a method for reintegrating myself back into the world of my story and also a minor tool for revision.”

Wendy Tokunaga (Midori By Moonlight, Love in Translation):

“I like to talk out the storyline/plot of my novel-in-progress to a friend, explaining the motivations of the characters and what happens next. I have her ask questions when things don’t make sense or aren’t clear and I find this very helpful. And sometimes she comes up with suggestions I’ve never thought of. And we usually do this while taking a walk so this exercise also involves exercise. :-)”

Also there’s Wendy’s Good News – “I’ve been having a blast teaching an online course for the Writer’s Online Studio at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies called, So Not Chick Lit: Writing Novels About Women’s Lives, which filled up quickly. And I just found out that I’ll be teaching this course again in the Spring Quarter, which starts April 4. Since it’s online anyone anywhere in the world can take this class. If you want to plan ahead, start checking this website early next year:

“And if you’re interested, I did a recent blog post on why Mad Men inspires me as a novelist.”

To be continued….

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate are Suzanne and Dee. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and I’ll pre-order your book, releasing and shipping on Tuesday .

3 thoughts on “Best Writing Exercises, Part II

  1. I recently picked up both Randy and Wendy’s tricks on my own, and I do find them to be extremely helpful. I used to think that going back would make me obsess and nitpick and thus never progress, but it actually reassures me, and like Randy said, helps me get back into the right mindset to move forward. And I used to worry that talking about my ideas would deplete my store of passion for them, but actually other people’s excitement reinvigorates my own supply, and their suggestions often stimulate my own ideas. 🙂

  2. I love these! Such great ideas.

    There are so many novels that when I finish, I think, “Now that was super – an engrossing, engaging read.” Those are the ones where I can do what Kristin does, in taking apart a good book chapter by chapter. Excellent idea.

    Before I began writing my novel in progress, I did what Eleanor suggested and interviewed my main character. That was eye-opening.

    Thanks, Jael, for passing on the suggestion from Anita Shreve. I can see how that would help shake something loose, as you said.

    Great post.

  3. I really liked Eileen’s suggestion and I’m going to try it out. Jael’s suggestion sounds like a lot of fun, and a very creative brainstorming idea. Thanks for sharing!!

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