Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Exercise Your Fiction Writing Skills

By NCW member Michelle Mach

The other day I had an unexpected 15 minutes of free time. I wanted to write, but as often happens when I get a gift of time, my mind went blank. What to write about? Luckily, I'd bookmarked some writing exercise websites. I picked one and started writing until my time was up.

I'm a fan of writing exercises as a way to keep in shape for longer writing sessions. Writing exercises can be a way to experiment with techniques or simply a low-risk way to begin. Sometimes I'll feel anxious about writing A Story, but if it's "just an exercise," I can relax and do it.

There are many websites and books dedicated to writing exercises. While most are geared towards fiction, you'll find that some also work for poetry, memoirs, or essays. Here are three of my favorites:

Writing Fiction Step by Step by Josip Novakovich
More than 200 exercises focused on specific story elements such as voice, setting, and plot.

Every Photo Tells a Story
Photos are especially helpful in developing descriptive skills.

One Word
Click the “Go” button, view the prompt, and type for one minute. You have the option to sign your name to your work and see what other people wrote.

A writing exercise can be just that--a practice piece--or you can develop it into a complete short story or part of a novel. It’s also fun to ask several friends use the same prompt. You’ll be amazed at how something as simple as “two men argue about a woman” can lead in many different directions. In any case, claiming that you have no ideas is no longer an excuse not to write!

Do you have websites or books to recommend for writing prompts?

Michelle Mach's mystery short story "The Bronze Flamingo" won an honorable mention in the children's/young adult category of Writer's Digest's annual competition. She got the idea for the story from a photo of a synchronized swimming team. Visit her website at www.michellemach.com.


Carol Kilgore said...

Great links, Michelle. Thanks!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

One of the writing groups I belong to has a writing challenge as part of the meeting - it's fun to see the different approaches that writers take on the same idea. I enjoy writing prompts so thanks for the links.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I used to resist writing prompts. In a class situation, the prompt would make me freeze and no ideas would come at all. Blogging has helped me a lot, because many times I have to create my own prompt and then write fast to finish a post. The nice thing is, prompts are recyclable, and the next post will be very different.

Michelle Mach said...

Hi Carol, Jane, & Pat--Thanks for the comments!

Prompts are definitely recyclable and fun to share with a group. I was in an online writing group years ago and every morning we'd get a new prompt in our inbox. That was fun, but dangerous. I had to make sure I didn't open that email until my other work was done!

Anonymous said...

Great links, thanks!

Terri Tiffany said...

I haven't used writing prompts much but I do have a book with them that I have used occasionally. Thank you for the links!

Joanne said...

I like that idea of writing exercises to keep us in "shape" for longer sessions. I do find that photographs work well, inspiring many of my blog posts!

Michelle Mach said...

Hi Carolyn, Terri, and Joanne,
Glad you like the links. It's amazing how many websites have writing prompts!

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