Fiction writing exercise: setting your story in time.
Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, which imparts lessons and techniques on the craft of storytelling and provides practical exercises for study and practice. This exercise focuses on setting and more specifically, making sure readers know where every scene in a story takes place. Enjoy!
Setting in Time
An aspect of setting that is often overlooked is time—when a story takes place. This is an element of setting that historical authors pay close attention to, often conducting deep research to get every detail right—the clothes, the methods of transportation, and the society and culture as it existed at a particular moment in history.
But even authors of contemporary fiction must remain cognizant of a story’s timeline. When do the story events occur? What year? What season? What time of day?
In addition to establishing when a story takes place, we need to make sure readers always know where they are in a story’s timeline. If there’s a scene jump, did an hour pass? A day? A month? How do readers know?
Amateur authors often mark time by repeatedly stating when each scene takes place. It’s Monday or Wednesday, ten a.m. or six p.m. These repeated mentions of time can make readers feel like they should be keeping track of the timeline on a calendar. Establishing the time is best done subtly, unless the story requires concrete statements of time, as might be the case in a detective story or spy thriller.
Keeping readers in a story’s timeline without constantly reminding them of the day, month, year, or hour can be tricky. In most cases, all that matters is when the scene occurs in relation to a story’s timeline. So once the base timeline is established (hopefully at the beginning of the story), we can use various cues to help the reader understand how time is passing. Common techniques include phrases such as “a month later,” “the next day,” and “later that evening.” However, descriptions of the setting can also provide cues to inform readers about the time: the sun is rising, the moon is in the sky, the harvest has begun.
Find a story that spans a lengthy timeline, such as a generational saga. Make a list of ten significant time jumps in the story, with the first item on your list being when the story starts. For each time jump, find the sentence, paragraph, or phrase that establishes when the scene is set. Jot down a few words about the technique the author used to keep readers informed about the story’s location in its own timeline.
Spend a few minutes developing a rough timeline for a story of your own. Make sure it spans at least three years and jumps to at least seven different points in time. Each time marker will denote when a scene takes place. Example: June 1977, evening; August 1977, afternoon; January 1978, morning. For each of these time markers, write a few sentences that establish a scene within the timeline.
Have you ever become confused about a story’s timeline? This might be expected if you’re reading a time travel story, but what about other types of stories? Have you ever been reading a story and grown tired of the narrative constantly telling you what day, month, year, or hour it was in each scene?
Almost every great story is about people. Plot, setting, theme, and other elements of fiction are secondary to realistic characters that an audience can connect with on an intellectual or emotional level.
There are exceptions, of course. Some readers enjoy plot-driven stories, but they never seem to achieve the massive popularity that stories with rich, layered characters achieve. Why do fans adore Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen? Because they feel like real people.
We connect with characters in fiction for any number of reasons. Maybe the character reminds us a little of ourselves. We might love her because she represents who we want to be, or we might hate her because she reminds us of the parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of. Some characters feel like friends; others remind us of our enemies. We might admire a character’s heroism and relate to his philosophy, or we might admonish his acts of destruction and hate.
Some writers argue that it’s not necessary for readers to connect or identify with characters in a story. That might be true to some extent, but the most beloved stories throughout the history of literature are populated with characters we love and characters we love to hate. There’s something to be said for making readers care.
Character Writing Tips
Readers won’t care about characters unless they are believable. So how do we make our characters realistic? Why do the most celebrated characters seem so real even though they are made up? How have some writers managed to render animals, aliens, and even inanimate objects into characters that we embrace emotionally?
The answer is simple: the best characters come with all the flaws, quirks, and baggage that real people possess. They are not just names on a page. They have pasts and personalities, and they are unique.
Here are some character writing tips to help you develop characters that feel like real people:
Backstory: We are born a certain way, but our life experiences continually mold and shape us. Each character has a life before the story begins. What is it?
Dialogue: The way we talk depends on the language we speak and where we live (or grew up) but there’s also something unique to each person’s style of speaking. We repeat certain words and phrases, inflect certain syllables, and make certain gestures while we speak.
Physical Description: Our primary method of identifying each other is the way we look; hair and eye color, height and weight, scars and tattoos, and the style of clothing we wear are all part of our physical descriptions.
Name: Esmerelda doesn’t sound like a soccer mom, and Joe doesn’t sound like an evil sorcerer. Make sure the names you choose for your characters match their personalities and the roles they play in the story.
Goals: Some say that a character’s goals drive the entire story. He wants to slay the dragon; she wants to overthrow the evil empire. Goals can be small (the character wants a specific job) or big (the character is trying to save the world). Come up with a mix of small and large goals for each character.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Villains sometimes do nice things and heroes occasionally take the low road. What are your character’s most positive and negative behaviors and personality traits?
Friends and Family: These are the people in our inner circles, and they have played important roles in shaping our personalities and our lives. Who are your characters’ friends and family before the story starts? What new friends will they meet once the story begins?
Nemesis: A nemesis is someone with whom we are at odds. This character doesn’t have to be a villain, but the goals of the nemesis definitely interfere with your main character’s goals.
Position in the World: What do your characters do for a living? What are their daily lives like? Where do they live? What is a character’s role or position among his or her friends, family, or coworkers?
Skills and Abilities: A character’s skills and abilities can get them out of a tight spot or prevent them from being able to get out of a tight spot. Skills can be useless or they can come in handy. Does your character have an education or special training? What can they do?
Gestures, Mannerisms, and Quirks: One character chews her nails while watching movies. Another runs his hand through his hair when he’s trying to figure something out. Give your characters identifiable quirks and behaviors, like real people.
Fears: An old fiction writing trick is to figure out what your character is most afraid of, and then make the character face it. We all have fears; characters should, too.
How to Put These Character Writing Tips into Practice
Characters need to be detailed and complicated in order to seem real. These character tips give you a lot to consider, but how do you put them into practice?
You could tackle each idea as a separate exercise. Write your character’s backstory one day. The next day, do a page of dialogue to see how the character speaks. Then spend some time looking for the perfect name for your character. If you work through all these tips as separate exercises, you’ll end up with a robust character sketch, and your character will be ready to enter the plot of your story.
Character sketches are by no means mandatory. You could also start writing the draft of your manuscript and see how each of these elements develops organically for each character. During revisions, you can check your narrative against this list to make sure the characters are consistent and have all the depth of real people.
How do you create characters? Do you start with a character sketch or do you just start writing? Do you have a checklist (like the one above) to help you know and understand your characters? Got any character writing tips to add to this list? Leave a comment, and keep writing.
Poetry is the most artistic and liberating form of creative writing. You can write in the abstract or the concrete. Images can be vague or subtle, brilliant or dull. Write in form, using patterns, or write freely, letting your conscience (or subconscious) be your guide.
You can do just about anything in a poem. That’s why poetry writing is so wild and free; there are no rules. Poets have complete liberty to build something out of nothing simply by stringing words together.
All of this makes poetry writing alluring to writers who are burning with creativity. A poet’s process is magical and mesmerizing. But all that freedom and creativity can be a little overwhelming. If you can travel in any direction, which way should you go? Where are the guideposts?
Today’s writing tips include various tools and techniques that a poet can use. But these tips aren’t just for poets. All writers benefit from dabbling in poetry. Read a little poetry, write a few poems, study some basic concepts in poetry, and your other writing (fiction, creative nonfiction, even blogging) will soar.
Below, you’ll find thirty-six writing tips that take you on a little journey through the craft of poetry writing. See which ones appeal to you, give them a whirl, and they will lead you on a fantastic adventure.
36 Poetry Writing Tips
Read lots of poetry. In fact, read a lot of anything if you want to produce better writing.
Write poetry as often as you can.
Designate a special notebook (or space in your notebook) for poetry writing.
Try writing in form (sonnets, haiku, etc.).
Embrace metaphors, but stay away from clichés.
Sign up for a poetry writing workshop.
Expand your vocabulary.
Read poems over and over (and aloud). Consider and analyze them.
Join a poetry forum or poetry writing group online.
Study musicality in writing (rhythm and meter).
Use poetry prompts when you’re stuck.
Be funny. Make a funny poem.
Notice what makes others’ poetry memorable. Capture it, mix it up, and make it your own.
Study biographies of famous (or not-so-famous) poets.
Memorize a poem (or two, or three, or more).
Revise and rewrite your poems to make them stronger and more compelling.
Have fun with puns.
Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem. You can write a better one later.
Find unusual subject matter — a teapot, a shelf, a wall.
Use language that people can understand.
Meditate or listen to inspirational music before writing poetry to clear your mind and gain focus.
Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can write whenever (and wherever) inspiration strikes.
Submit your poetry to literary magazines and journals.
When you submit work, accept rejection and try again and again. You can do it and you will.
Get a website or blog and publish your own poetry.
Connect with other poets to share and discuss the craft that is poetry writing.
Attend a poetry reading or slam poetry event.
Subscribe to a poetry podcast and listen to poetry.
Support poets and poetry by buying books and magazines that feature poetry.
Write with honesty. Don’t back away from your thoughts or feelings. Express them!
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mix art and music with your poetry. Perform it and publish it.
Eliminate all unnecessary words, phrases, and lines. Make every word count.
Write a poem every single day.
Read a poem every single day.
Have You Written a Poem Lately?
I believe that poetry is the most exquisite form of writing. And anyone can write a poem if they want to. In today’s world of fast, moving images, poetry has lost much of its appeal to the masses. But there are those of us who thrive on language and who still appreciate a poem and its power to move us emotionally. It’s our job to keep great poetry writing alive. And it’s our job to keep writing poetry.
What are some of your favorite writing tips from today’s list? How can you apply poetry writing techniques to other forms of writing? Do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment!
What steps do you take to get a creative writing project completed? Is your method sheer madness?
One day, many years ago, I was working in an office. The executives were having a meeting to discuss new procedures. It was a hot day and the conference room was small and crowded, so the door was open. As I passed by on my way to the filing room, I overheard my boss saying, “Melissa can handle that. She’s very methodical.”
Methodical. I tried it on and decided yes, it fit. “I am methodical,” I declared, and went about my business.
And it was true, too. I was organized to a fault, always looking for systems and processes that would streamline the workflow and make business more efficient and therefore more effective. The clothes in my closet were organized by season, length, and color. I didn’t have to flip through my hangers to find an article of clothing. Everything was neatly filed in its place.
Selling the Method
Writing gurus and mentors often want us to believe that there is only one true creative writing process. It usually goes something like this:
Outline and research
Revise (repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat)
Edit, proof, and polish
This is a good system — it absolutely works. But does it work for everyone?
Assessing the Creative Writing Process
I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative writing process. Lately I’ve found myself working on all types of projects: web pages, blog posts, a science fiction series, and a children’s chapter book.
How do I tackle all these different projects without some kind of plan or system?
I’ve thought about the steps I take with my own writing and realized that the writing process I use varies from project to project and depends on the level of difficulty, the length and scope of the project, and even my state of mind. If I’m feeling super creative, a blog post or an article will come flying out of my head. If I’m tired, hungry, or unmotivated, or if the project is complicated, then it’s a struggle, and I have to work a little harder. Brainstorming and outlining can help. A lot.
It occurred to me that I don’t have one creative writing process. I have several. And I always use the one that’s best suited for a particular project.
March to the Beat
One of my favorite sayings has to do with marching to the beat of your own drum. I like that saying because that’s how I walk — to my own rhythm. If I didn’t, then I probably never would have started my own business or believed that I could make it as a writer. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be a writer at all.
Some writers can sit down and pound out an article, a short story, or even a novel without ever planning or outlining. Others have to follow a strict but creative writing process or they get lost and confused, tangled up in their own words.
For example, when I am involved in a copywriting or nonfiction project, I find that brainstorming and outlining are essential. I need to organize my thoughts and make sure I cover the subject matter thoroughly. But with creative writing projects, such as fiction and poetry (and even the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2008), I just start typing and let the ideas flow.
Conversely, the NaNoWriMo project I did this year had a full, detailed outline. So with two different novels, I used two very different processes.
Listen to Your Own Rhythm
We all start with interesting creative writing ideas and hope to finish with a completely riveting piece of writing.
That day I overheard my boss saying that I was methodical was a long time ago. Since then, I’ve loosened up my methods. Oh, I can still whip up a streamlined procedure and implement it. I have to do that for my own business all the time, whether it involves maintaining my client contact list or managing my quotes and invoices; using a system for that stuff is extremely helpful.
But my closet no longer looks like it’s maintained by Martha Stewart. It’s still pretty organized, but not by color and season. It helps to know when a system works and when it’s all hype. The first few times I tried to write a novel, I did so using the exact same writing process that I used for writing essays in college, and it simply did not work. It wasn’t until I totally changed the process that I was able to succeed and complete that massive creative writing project.
Creative writing processes are good. The reason our predecessors developed these processes and shared them, along with a host of other writing tips, was to help us be more productive and produce better writing. Techniques and strategies can be helpful, but it’s our responsibility to know what works for us as individuals and as creative writers and to know what will cause us to infinitely spin our wheels.
It is only by experimenting with a variety of processes that you will find the creative writing process that works best for you.
I Showed You Mine…
…now show me yours. What’s your creative writing process? Do you have one? Do you ever get stuck in the writing process? How do you get unstuck?
By now, you’ve probably heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything.
There’s some debate as to the truth of the 10,000-hour rule, but there is definitely truth to the notion that nobody’s born a master at the craft of writing. It takes time, energy, and practice to become a truly proficient and professional writer.
Personally, I think 10,000 hours sounds about right, although some people will become experts at 7,500 hours (those lucky talents!) and others might need to put in 15,000 hours before they’ve mastered the art of writing. It doesn’t really matter how much time it takes — if you want to become a pro, you’ll invest the time necessary to constantly and consistently improve your skills and produce better writing.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take toward producing better writing, and maybe these steps will help you become an expert just a little bit quicker.
How to Consistently Produce Better Writing
Read. Listening to audio books and surfing around the Internet do not count as reading. Curl up with a well written novel, brush up on your nonfiction reading, flip through some poetry collections. Reading is the single best way to naturally acquire writing skills.
Write every day. My music teacher said it’s better to practice for fifteen minutes every day than to practice for five hours once a week. I think the same is true for writing. Even if you can only dedicate a few minutes to writing every day, it will become an ingrained habit. Writing will become an integral part of your life.
Brush up on grammar and style.It’s rare for a piece of writing to be so amazing that readers are willing to ignore bad grammar. Many writers are lazy in this area because learning grammar is a lot of work, and it’s academic work rather than creative work. The good news is that once you learn the rules, they will be with you forever. Make sure you know which style guides are pertinent to your chosen field of writing and make sure you include them in your collection of writing resources.
Cultivate creativity. Have fun with your writing. Fill it with color or scale it back to a minimalist style. Try new words and off-the-wall images. Creative writing keeps readers interested!
Collect tools and resources. Find out which writing tools work best for you. Some of us like notebooks or note cards and fancy pens. Others need nothing more than a computer or electronic tablet. Make sure you have a nice stockpile of writing resources, from blog and magazine subscriptions (on the craft of writing) to books and mentors you can call on when you’re faced with writing-related questions.
Conduct thoughtful research. If you work in the nonfiction arena, then make sure you’ve got your facts straight. Even in fiction, there has to be some alignment with reality for a story to be believable. Resources are abundant. Use them (and be sure to check their credentials).
Develop a process. Find a writing process that works for you. What steps do you need to complete to tackle a writing project? Maybe you need to start with an outline, or perhaps you do better when you dive right in. You could have one process for fiction and another for nonfiction. Know yourself and know your process, whatever it may be.
Proofread, edit, and revise. It’s blatantly obvious when a piece of writing has not been properly proofread. Typos, grammatical errors, and other crimes against language will assault anyone who attempts to read your work. So fix it.
Share your work and invite feedback. One of the quickest ways to improve your writing is through feedback. Get a real, live, well-read person to review your work. Embrace the feedback, even if it hurts, and then put it to work for you by ironing out all the wrinkles that your friendly reader found. Return the favor: when you edit or critique another writer’s work, you’ll see a piece of writing from the editor’s angle as well as the reader’s. This will give you a better perspective on your own work.
Make writing a priority. It will be almost impossible to succeed if writing isn’t high on your list of priorities and commitments. If writing is last on your daily to-do list, maybe it’s not something you’re all that serious about.
Experiment with different forms. Every fiction writer can learn a thing or two from reading and writing a little poetry and vice versa. Nobody’s asking you to start rooting for a different team; just dip your toes in different waters so you know you’re swimming in the right body of water.
Set goals and pursue them. Make a conscious commitment to strive for better writing every day.
Better Writing is at Your Fingertips
Using these tips, you can improve your writing, and you can start right now. Set aside twenty minutes a day to tackle the action items on this list and you’ll quickly become a more skilled writer.
What do you to improve your writing? Do you have any tips or ideas to help others produce better writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This exercise focuses on plot points, which you can use to construct stories and to resolve issues with a story’s plot and structure. Enjoy!
Plot points are the events that move a story forward—the twists, turns, and developments that push the characters toward the climax and resolution. Each plot point is a significant moment in the grander scheme of things. If a character loses her keys as a way to show us she’s absent-minded, then it’s not a plot point (it’s characterization). But if she loses her keys when she needs to drive to the emergency room in a life-or-death situation, then it becomes a plot point.
When we isolate the plot points in a story, we can see the plot without the distractions of characters, setting, or theme. Examining plot points in this manner allows us to look at the raw structure of the plot and can reveal its weaknesses: unnecessary repetition, plot holes, poor pacing, inconsistencies, lack of rising tension, and other problems that might require troubleshooting.
Breaking out the plot points is one way to examine a story in a condensed format, and you can use a map of a story’s plot points to fix story problems before, during, or after writing a draft, which is more efficient than revising an entire manuscript.
Make a list of all plot points from a story you know well. Depending on your source material, you might want to work on just a chapter or two. You can also use a movie or an episode of a television show for this exercise. Review the story and double-check your list of plot points to make sure you’ve captured them all, and then perform an assessment. Make notes about what works in the plot and what could be improved.
Create a series of plot points for a story. You don’t have to plot the entire story—a simple subplot or enough material for a few scenes or chapters will do. Try to include an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. Keep other details as vague as possible. For example, don’t spend time naming characters or establishing the setting. You can use generic terms like protagonist or protag’s BFF. When you’ve got at least twelve plot points, set it aside for one day.
Come back to your plot points and review them. You’ll probably find some problems—maybe one of the plot points is convoluted or contrived; maybe it feels like the story skips over a few plot points. Revise accordingly.
Here are some questions to ask as you evaluate a plot: Would removing any of the plot points change a story’s outcome? Are some plot points part of an important subplot, or are they all tied to the main plot? Do any plot points seem repetitive? Are any plot points unbelievable? Do any seem contrived or forced? Is anything missing—does the story skip over any necessary plot points?
I’m excited to announce that the second book in The Storyteller’s Toolbox series is now available.
Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises is packed with exercises that impart the tools and techniques of storytelling and then prompt you to study stories, practice writing stories, and further contemplate the craft of storytelling.
About the Book
The greatest storytellers make it look easy, as if stories arrive fully formed, and we writers need only type the tales into our word processing software.
Writing stories is rewarding, but it’s not easy. Think about all the elements that go into a good story: characters, plot, setting, theme, chapters, scenes, action, dialogue, exposition—not to mention point of view, tense, style, tone, and voice. That’s a lot to learn.
Learning (and mastering) the craft of storytelling requires study and practice. But it should also be fun.
Designed to be used by individual writers or in the classroom, Story Drills makes learning the craft of storytelling fun and interesting, often calling on you to use your favorite books, films, and television series as source material for studying the craft of storytelling. Whether you’re an aspiring or experienced storyteller, this book will bolster your ability to write compelling tales that leave readers wanting more.
Get a sneak peak at Story Drills with an exercise on crafting character arcs.
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It’s an old adage for writers: know your audience. But what does that mean? How well must we know the audience? And does knowing the audience increase our chances of getting published or selling our books?
Some writers insist that the best way to write is to just write for yourself. Sit down and let the words flow. It’s true that sometimes a freewheeling approach will result in some of your best work. And writing that way is immensely enjoyable. But there are times when a writer must take readers into consideration.
So we have these two contradictory writing tips: know your audience and write for yourself. Taken together, they don’t make much sense, so let’s sort them out. Today, we’ll focus on knowing your audience.
In business, academic, and other types of formal writing, the audience is a consideration from the very beginning. You wouldn’t write a business letter peppered with internet shorthand (LOLs and OMGs), and you shouldn’t use casual language in an academic paper. In instances like these, it’s easy to see why you must keep your reader in mind throughout the entire project, but what about poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction writing? Should the work be influenced by its intended readers? At what point does the audience begin to matter? And who is the audience, anyway?
Some writers know they want to write children’s books, so they keep a young audience in mind. After all, it wouldn’t do to write a children’s book laden with adult language or love scenes. Other writers want to publish a memoir, hoping their own personal story will inspire others. And if you’re hoping to inspire people, you should have a good idea about which people you want to inspire — whether they’re spiritual, impoverished, or creative.
These types of writers have specific goals, and their writing must be aligned with those goals.
That’s why in some cases, it’s essential to know who your audience is before you begin writing. But there are other cases when the goals aren’t so clear, and therefore, neither is the audience. In cases like these, does a writer ever need to think about readers?
Goals Aren’t Always Necessary (and Neither is an Audience)
When you write for the sheer joy of writing or love of craft and you do so without any particular goal in mind, the creative magic can sweep you away. When I wrote my novel for NaNoWriMo in 2008, I started with nothing more than a few characters. My only goal was to write at least 50,000 words. I didn’t give a thought to the audience. And I’m certain that approaching the project this way, with an open mind and without any particular goal in terms of content, is what enabled me to actually complete the first draft of my first novel. It felt like quite an achievement.
When I finished my novel, I knew instantly who the audience was. I had written a young adult novel! If I ever decide to revise and polish that (very rough) first draft and polish it for publication, knowing that the book is geared toward young adults will be helpful in informing the way I approach editing and proofreading. I’ll pay attention to the language to make sure it’s age-appropriate, and I’ll make sure the characters, themes, and everything else are suitable for the target age group.
Agents and publishers often specialize in specific types of writing; they cater to clearly defined audiences. Therefore, as a writer, it helps to know who the audience will be when polishing a manuscript and looking for publication opportunities. This becomes even more critical once the book gets published and marketing begins.
The Benefits of Knowing Your Audience (and When It’s Absolutely Necessary)
If you write in a journal and nobody ever sees your work, then you don’t need to think about an audience. Readers come into play when you decide to publish your work. There’s a point when you decide that you want to cross over from writer to published author, and it’s at that point that the audience starts to matter in a big way.
Agents and publishers can’t do much with your work if the audience is unclear. This is particularly relevant with fiction and nonfiction. There are dozens of poetry markets, so chances are, you can find your audience after the writing is done and polished. But other genres need to be marketed to the right readers. This is also a factor in blogging and self-publishing.
Publication is the point where your art shifts into business mode. It’s the stage when you say, “I want to do this for a living and make money doing it.” That means you’re going to have to sell, and anytime you’re selling anything, you need to know to whom you’re selling.
Some Writing Tips Aren’t Absolute
So, the answer isn’t all that clear. There are some writers who need to know their audience from a project’s conception. Others don’t need to consider an audience until they decide to try getting published. Poets can probably get away with not thinking about the audience until they start looking for publications where they can submit their work. But one thing’s certain: once you set your sights on publication, that means you’re looking for readers. And since readers are your audience, you’ll have to give them some consideration.
Do you think about your readers while you’re writing? Are you concerned about getting published? Do you believe that knowing your audience is more beneficial than writing for yourself? What are some of your favorite writing tips?
There’s nothing quite like sitting with a room full of strangers in a darkened movie theater. The air is filled with the smell of hot, buttered popcorn. Feet shuffle, chairs creak, and you can hear ice rattling around in plastic cups. The movie’s about to start.
Even though we have unlimited access to movies from the comfort of our homes, theaters are still going strong, and for good reason. Seeing a movie in a theater is an experience.
Films have impassioned and inspired countless writers to craft poems, compose stories and songs, and write articles, essays, and even blogs. Today, let’s find out how the movies can inspire your writing.
Creative Writing Prompts
You can use these creative writing prompts to write anything you want. Choose the prompts that speak to you the most. Change them up or switch them around. Use one or use them all. Just have fun.
You’re digging your fingers through a box of hot, buttered, salted popcorn in a dark movie theater. Describe the sensation in a poem.
Write a critical review of your favorite movie. What made it so good? Could it have been better? Provide a detailed analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.
You get to turn any book into a movie. Which book do you choose? Why? Whom do you cast? Whom do you hire as the director?
Film is one of the greatest forms of entertainment. The audience gets to sit back and snack on junk food while the movie plays and takes us on a wild ride through someone else’s life story. We all have our favorite films. What are yours and why? What do you love most about them? The characters? The plot? The special effects?
Write a story about a group of kids who are writing and filming their own horror film.
Write a poem about a movie theater.
The protagonist is obsessed with serial killers and decides to make a documentary film reenacting their most horrific crimes.
Write a story set in Hollywood around the time when silent films were giving way to talkies. This technological advance changed things for a lot of people, including actors, directors, and writers.
The entertainment industry boomed in the twentieth century. Technology changed entertainment from an attraction you paid to see in a theater or other public setting to something you could enjoy from the comfort of your home. Every home had a radio. Black-and-white silent films evolved into Technicolor talkies. Now we have the Internet. Write a story centered on entertainment technologies of the past.
Write a top-ten article listing your favorite films with short explanations of why each film earned a spot on your list.
When you’re done, come back and tell us how these prompts worked for you.
Do you ever use creative writing prompts for your writing sessions? Have you found them helpful? Did any of these prompts inspire you? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
You know that feeling you get when you read a novel and become completely lost in it? You can’t put it down, so you lose track of time. When you finally finish, you wish it would just keep going.
Isn’t that the kind of story you want to write?
Over the past year, I’ve read only a few books that I couldn’t put down. Unfortunately, several of the books I started to read didn’t keep my interest past the first few chapters. There was a time when I forced myself to finish every book I started, no matter how boring it was. But I don’t have time for that anymore. My book pile is big and my reading list is long, so if I’m not compelled by the time the second act gets underway, I move on and find something more intriguing.
As a reader, I’m on a perpetual quest for better stories. What does that mean for writers?
The Best Fiction Sticks
I’ve been thinking about what makes some books so easy to put down and what makes others impossible to let go of. After reading The Catcher in the Rye, for example, I had the strangest feeling that Holden Caulfield was a real person. I expected him to come walking around some corner and start mumbling about the lousy week he was having. This sensation lingered for a few days, both times I read the book.
But let’s go back further. I read Charlotte’s Web when I was about six years old. Then I read it again. And again, and again. I watched the animated film over and over. No matter how many times I read the book or watched the movie, I always cried at the end. To this day, quotes from the book and scenes from the film get me choked up. It’s a story that sticks.
A few years ago, I couldn’t put down The Hunger Games. I’m a science-fiction fan, so the dystopian world intrigued me, but what really kept me glued to the page was the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She wasn’t fearless, but she was brave, strong, and honorable.
Stories like these haunt readers, lingering in hearts and minds. These are the best kinds of stories.
Writing Better Stories
If we want to write better stories, we need to read the best fiction and figure out what makes it so excellent. When I’m absorbed in a book, I always try to keep one corner of my mind focused on what the writer is doing so brilliantly to keep my full attention on the story. Some things are obvious: compelling characters, an interesting plot, realistic dialogue. Other elements of the best fiction are more elusive. Here are some observations I’ve made about how to write better stories:
Give People a Reason to Read
If I get to the third chapter of a book and still don’t care about it, I’ll probably put it in the donation pile. The characters have to want something badly enough to go out there and try to get it. They must have purpose, an objective if you will. The characters’ purpose gives me a reason to read their stories. Intriguing mysteries and unanswered questions are also good reasons to keep turning pages.
Don’t Bore Your Readers
Pages of description, minute details that are neither interesting nor relevant to the plot and dull scenes that have no essential function to the story will bore readers. Keep the conflicts coming and the action moving, and your readers will stay up to read your book rather than reading it to help them fall asleep.
It’s the Little Things
Too much detail and description gets boring, but the right details can make an otherwise average scene extraordinary. One liners that make readers laugh, subtle (or overt) pop culture references, and symbolism that has deeper meaning keep readers stimulated.
Stimulate Imagination, Provoke Thought, and Pull Heartstrings
Speaking of stimulation, it’s one of the main reasons people enjoy reading so much. Sure, lots of readers are just looking for escape and entertainment, but plenty of us want to engage our imaginations and have our intellects challenged. Get readers emotionally involved, and not only will they enjoy your book; they’ll also become loyal fans of your work.
Do Something Different
Forget about trying to be completely original. I doubt that’s possible anymore. Every story is the result of stories that have come before. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your unique stamp on the canon. Give old story premises new twists and your stories will feel fresh and invigorating.
Write Smooth Sentences That Make Sense
This one is last on the list for a reason. One of the best novels I recently read did not have the best sentence structures. In fact, some paragraphs were fragmented and disjointed — not so much that I couldn’t understand what was going on, but it was jarring at times. The story was strong enough that I didn’t care that much, but this type of oversight can mean the difference between a four-star and a five-star review.
How Do You Write Better Stories?
When you’re reading and writing fiction, do you think about the little things that make the difference between a mediocre story and a mesmerizing story? What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down? What was it about that book that made it so potent? How do you apply what you’ve learned as a reader to your own fiction? How can authors learn to write better stories? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
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