I was trying to collect a bunch of exercises I'd done in school, and there are some that are well worth their salt.
I had a poetry teacher who would tell you to look through the table of contents of a poetry anthology, pick out a title to a poem you'd never read, and then write your own poem with that title as the first line. It's pretty simple, but I think it's a great starter, especially if you're having one of those days where it's hard to get the first few words down.
What else have you all seen?
I like making two characters have a conversation that will never make it into a book so you can get to know them better.
I learned more about my character Leon Wertman when I realized his name is an anagram of "rental women".
The most difficult was writing a story with zero passive verbs (thanks, Craig Clevenger). If you read the resulting story without knowing that, you get this sort of overwhelming—almost claustrophobic—feeling you can't quite put your finger on. It's extremely visceral, but too much so. So of course I edited it to taste later, but a great starting point.
The best one … hmm … I'm a fan of image prompts. Pictures painting a thousand words and whatnot. A lot of my ideas do spring from titles (my own, usually), so I like Snowman's a lot. Playing with POV is fun, so taking an existing story, even a popular one, and repositioning the "camera" can generate some fresh ideas.
Ooo, that's a good one to learn! Such a difference in tone between something that happens passively (which can be appropriate) and something doing something. I like that.
How about writing a story with all passive verbs? That sounds terrible...
heh, yikes. "It is what it was."
The POV shift exercise is also good for your own existing work, especially when it comes to giving the opposing character(s) in a scene more defined motivation, so that they're not just a foil for the protag, but actively pursuing their own agendas.
Yeah, I agree. Even if you don't write it out, I've found that asking myself "what's so-and-so doing right now?" has sometimes forced me to change things for the better. Because sometimes other characters are doing really stupid shit and you don't realize it. I almost think it should be standard practice to at least bullet point out what everyone else is thinking/doing when not POV or on screen.
My day job is directing videos, and cliché as it sounds, actors are always asking about their motivation and whatnot, which is of course annoying but a very useful reminder for a writer. That stuff isn't usually on the page (I don't write the scripts), so I have to make something up, often with the actor's input, because they've invested way more in character than I have. Especially secondary characters, because otherwise they're just standing there looking like an asshole. So I find some "business" for them. Even the protag. Just something for them to do with their hands or preoccupy themselves while the scene's happening, for more realism. And that's helped me to think more about these things when writing fiction, imagining it on screen and all the mise-en-scène that influences the viewer's/reader's experience.
What kind of videos?
Ha ha, I just imagined my non POV characters breaking the 4th wall and asking me "what's my motivation in this scene?" That could be a good way to imagine it...
Hey, at least they're talking to you. heh heh
I've made every kind of video at some point. But the past 15 years they've been for a Very Large Corporation: training, product promos, customer education, social media, whatever they need, constantly evolving with shorter and shorter deadlines and dwindling budgets. We recently brought all of our agency TV commercial production in-house, so I'll probably be involved there soonishly, too. I try not to interfere with the writers too much, but it's tough to hold my tongue sometimes.
This thread just reminded me of the time I was given the challenge of writing a short story in the first person. I had been watching a TV series Being Human at the time and the song Animal I have Become by Three Day's Grace popped up on my playlist and I suddenly had this inspiration about a reluctant werewolf who eventually just accepts what he is.
I wish I still had the story, I had it on a flash drive that wasn't backed up and it got dropped in a coffee cup .... :/ anyway I wonder if I could remember it.
Might I suggest OneNote... It's the one thing Microsoft got (pretty much) right. You drag a file into your notebook, and boom, saved in the cloud.
@Thuggish, If only I could go back in time ....
This exercise rules. Great, unexpected short stories can arise from this, stuff that will even surprise you, as you write them:
1. Select a line from a poem that resonates with you. Feel free to substitute a line from anything really: a biography, a speech, a song, etc.
2. Next, consider a recent (perhaps troubling) dream.
3. Then, recall a problem you're having with another person.
4. Now, once you've got these items firmly in mind, write a fictional account that weaves these three disparate strands together, following the steps below:
1. Line from poem or whatever: write two paragraphs based on the line.
2. Dream: write two paragraphs using fragments or themes from your dream.
3. Problem: write two paragraphs concerning the conflict you had with another person.
4. Put it all together: weave the elements together any way you'd like. Follow your impulses. Something is probably already occurring to you.
And that's it! I find that this works best for short stories. The first time I tried it, the end story bore no resemblance to the paragraphs I started with and it felt like magic. Play loose with the rules; this isn't a strict exercise; do what works and what feels right.
p.s. The above exercise comes from "The Portable MFA In Creative Writing" from The New York Writers Workshop.
@ubik, I'm going to have to try that!
It's a lot of fun, Sue. I recommend using it loosely; do whatever works; follow your instincts. You should be surprised with what results from this exercise. I wouldn't mind writing an entire collection of stories using it for each one, just to see what comes out.
If any of you try the exercise I posted, let me know how they came out. Trust me, it's a lot of fun.