More Creative Exercises for Travel Writers

Pick four travel article leads. Identify if the lead has an implicit or explicit question or questions; and, if so, jot down what these questions are. Is there another kind of hook in the lead to lure you into the article? How well do these questions/hooks work in creating interest? Select one article with a lead you think can be improved, and rewrite it. Make up an imaginary destination and see how many possible components you can assemble in an … Learn More →

Characterization Exercises for Romance Writers

Every person has many facets to his or her character. A good fictional character also is multi-faceted. In order for you to consider all the facets of your characters, write a description of a character as if you were a character witness testifying in defense of this person. Then write a description of the same character as if you were a character witness called by the prosecution. Remember, both parties are discussing the same character, so the characteristics discussed have … Learn More →

Types of Paragraphs

Sample Descriptive Paragraph—Nonfiction “Let’s walk,” she says serenely, slipping her arm in mine and heading into Central Park. As she strolls along, folks check her out and occasionally point. She is tall, strong, and straight-backed, glowing with vegan health and moving confidently through the crowds in her all-black ensemble. In videos and photos, she looks like she has a prominent jaw, but in person it is much softer, as are her other features (Windex-blue eyes, glossy black hair). Her voice … Learn More →

Writers Glossary of Words

Byline–Most magazines publish an author’s name with his article or story or poem, and in some small publications, this may be his only “payment.” . . . Bylines are generally not given for research work, although the writer may receive contributor credit. Clip (or Clipping)–In journalistic terms, a sample of a writer’s published work, usually from a newspaper or magazine. Editors often indicate that clips or clippings should be mailed or presented in person when applying for a job. A … Learn More →

Verb Workout

Check out these exercises on verbs to help boost your writing skills! 1. Sit down with a stop watch or set the timer on your microwave and see how many action verbs you can write down in two minutes. Now, use your dictionary and/or thesaurus to find at least three synonyms and three opposites (antonyms) for each one. Memorize them all. 2. Find a passage from a book or magazine story you’ve recently enjoyed and re-read it, marking (or making … Learn More →

Quotation Marks And Dialogue Mechanics

Let’s begin by looking at some of the less complicated rules involving quotation marks. First, they are used to enclose words and phrases to which special attention needs to be drawn. If a word is used out of context or in some other unusual way, such as to include a slang word in formal writing, or when it is being used sarcastically, it should appear in quotes: “Of” is an ambiguous preposition, for it can mean “from” or “by.” Yeah, … Learn More →

POV Exercises

Try these exercises to practice Point-Of-View: Three characters are driving along listening to the radio. They argue as to which station they should listen to. Write each character’s defense of why the others should listen to the station he or she prefers. This defense could include the merits of the music and/or why the others should do what this character wants (i.e., “I’m older, that’s why.”) What does the preference in radio stations–and the method of argument–tell the reader about … Learn More →

Definitions Of Fiction Categories And Genres

The following definitions have been excerpted with permission from Writer’s Encyclopedia, (Writer’s Digest Books) Adventure Story A genre of fiction in which action is the key element, overshadowing characters, theme and setting. … The conflict in an adventure story is often man against nature. A secondary plot that reinforces this kind of conflict is sometimes included. In Allistair MacLean’s Night Without End, for example, the hero, while investigating a mysterious Arctic air crash, also finds himself dealing with espionage, sabotage … Learn More →

Creative Exercises for Inspirational Writers

Suppose two members of your own family or two friends were characters in a fictional piece. Write down (the better choice for a writer) or spend some time imagining what they would do under the following circumstances: Having to organize the family or help neighbors in a serious storm. Worrying because you were late for a get-together. Nominated for a special award in his or her field. Pick someone on a spiritual path whom you admire, and write about an … Learn More →

Creative Exercises for Mystery Writers

Everyday Objects: Choose an everyday object and make it the center point of a plot idea. Example: A weed-filled flowerbed could have a murder victim buried beneath it. Hiding The Murder Weapon: Come up with a possible murder weapon and then describe how you would hide it in plain sight. Change Your Criminal: At this point, you’ve probably decided which character is going to be the guilty party. For experimentation purposes, write a scene that will appear near the end … Learn More →

Novel Idea Summary Sheet

Novel Idea Summary Sheet Working title: “Type” of novel best suited to this idea: Mainstream or Category/Genre? Subcategory if applicable: Main Characters (list up to three major characters) Character #1–the protagonist (the hero or heroine of this story) Name: Primary Goal: Most notable personality trait(s): Character #2–the antagonist (the main “opposition” character) Name: Primary Goal: Most notable personality trait(s): Relationship to protagonist: Character #3–a major supporting character Name: Primary Goal: Most notable personality trait(s): Relationship to protagonist: Setting(s) (if your … Learn More →

Conversational Dialogue

Exercise One Write down from memory a conversation you recently had with a friend or family member, or that you overheard between two or more people. First, just write down the words, exactly as you remember them. Then go back and add some description of the speakers’ mannerisms and actions while they were talking. Don’t overdo it; just provide enough information to convey the moods and attitudes of the people involved. Finally, read through what you’ve written and remove any … Learn More →

Common Transitions

Here are some common transitional words and phrases that will help you lead your reader through your composition. Logical Transitions To introduce another item in a series or show addition: first, second, third. . . , furthermore, moreover, in addition, finally, similarly, besides, for one thing. . . , for another, lastly To introduce an example: in particular, for instance, for example, to illustrate, specifically, namely To introduce a result or cause: consequently, as a result, hence, thus, because, accordingly, … Learn More →

Dramatic Scenes And Conflict

Pick a dramatic scene with conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist: Write a paragraph for each of the following: What does the protagonist want? What does the antagonist want? What has the scene accomplished? What’s different about each character at the end of the scene from what they were or knew at the beginning of the scene. This creative exercise is indicative of the type of exercises in Writing the Middle Grade Book Children’s publishing is a vibrant yet … Learn More →

Writing In Style

Should you be using the Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook, MLA Handbook or something else as your writing bible? It all depends. I’m going to shock the English teachers among you: Most professional writers do not follow the style prescribed by the Modern Language Association of America. Joseph Gibaldi’s MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is the bible to high school and college English instructors alike. I use MLA only when I teach composition. Otherwise, I use the … Learn More →

Descriptive Writing

In Make Your Words Work (Writer’s Digest Books), author Gary Provost cautions against telling readers things they already know: The reader’s brain holds an enormous catalog of pictures. He has seen an infinity of images on television and in movies, photographs, and real life. He knows how a vast number of things function, how they relate to one another. You don’t have to describe them all. . . . When you are describing things and places the reader has seen, … Learn More →

Practice the Triple-O Method of Plotting

Use the Triple-O method to create a plot “skeleton” for some of your story ideas.  Good places to start would be the clipping/idea file you’ve been building all throughout this workshop and the Character Profile Sheets.  For each story idea, start with a clean sheet of paper (or new computer document) and try to describe each of the three “O’s”: Objective, Obstacles and Outcome.  This also would be a good time to try to come up with some possible titles … Learn More →

Engaging the Senses

In your rush to get an early draft committed to paper, you could be relying too much on the visual aspects of description. Even your “telling” details are probably visual ones: a shard of mirror, a twisted lamppost, a blue eyelid. Remember, you have four other senses to work with: taste, touch, smell, and sound. What your character smells and hears may be even more important than what he sees. A festooned riverboat (a feast for the eyes) might be … Learn More →

Developing Your Characters

Choose a sitcom “protagonist” you’re familiar with (if you’re not familiar with any, watch a popular sitcom. Come on. Force yourself). Then take this character and turn him or her into a villain. How would you do it? What elements would you have to add or subtract? What traits does the character already possess that could be made negative if they were exaggerated or “twisted” just a little? What justification for bad acts would the altered character give? Describe a … Learn More →

Getting Started On The Right Foot: Some Tips to Get (and Keep) You Going

Writing—of any kind—takes great commitment and self-discipline, and there may be times when you find it difficult to carve out the hours you need or to find the energy to devote to your writing. Here are some suggestions to keep you moving forward: Write every day, even if you only do one of the brief Creative Exercises in your text, or make an entry in your journal. Think in terms of output rather than time—set your goal at one page … Learn More →

Dialogue Exercises

Many classic movies are remembered for famous lines of dialogue: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (Gone with the Wind); “We’ll always have Paris” (Casablanca); “You talkin’ to me?” (Taxi Driver); “I’m walkin’ here!” (Midnight Cowboy). Make a list of your personal favorite one-liners and think about why you like them so much. Then see if you can replace each one with a line that you think would be better. You know those conversations you’ve had in your … Learn More →

Develop The Finale As You Did The Start

The way you leave your readers feeling is how they’ll always remember the book or article. If you disappoint your readers at the very end, they may well give up on your future work—or pick it up with less enthusiasm. Writers need to take responsibility and craft the last quarter of the book as they did the first, before their books cement their reputations in ink and binding. After the climax of any written work, once you make your point, … Learn More →

Viewpoint Examples

Third person Just before the car flew off the road Kelly Kelleher wrinkled her nose smelling…was it raw sewage? Just before the car flew off the road Kelly Kelleher saw that she was gripping the strap at her shoulder so hard, her knuckles had gone white. Just before the car flew off the road Kelly Kelleher at last said, as tactfully as possible, raising her voice without seeming to raise it—for The Senator seemed slightly hard of hearing in his … Learn More →

Sensory Details and What They Do to Feelings

Children react strongly to the color, size, shape, sound, smell and feel of things. And, as Ursula Nordstrom, former editor of Harper and Row, said, “We must remember that children are new, and the whole world is new to them.” Therefore writers must learn to see the world with young eyes and through the filter of young moods, in order to present youthful adventures through the viewpoint of young story people. A flash of light—sudden darkness; heat—cold; something rough to … Learn More →

The Perfect Ending

Maybe you knew the ending of your story before you even wrote your rough draft, or maybe you now find yourself unsure of your original choice for the ending.  Here are a couple of exercises that will help you find the best, and perhaps unexpected, ending to your story: Put the story aside and make a list of all the possible things that could happen in the ending (even if they violate your original vision of the story).  Come at … Learn More →

Using Anecdotes To Flavor Your Articles

An anecdote is a little story that writers use to enrich their articles. Anecdotes flavor articles by adding a human quality to them, by giving inside information about small things that actually happened to people, and often by giving insights into human frailties, characteristics, and qualities that could not be shown as vividly any other way. Almost everyone is familiar with the anecdote–Reader’s Digest publishes dozens of short, humorous ones each month. Within an article, an anecdote doesn’t have to … Learn More →

Stories and Plots

Do you want to expand your writing skills and develop great plots?  Try these exercises: Imagine that you are a producer pitching a movie of your story to a studio executive. You have to get it all across in the proverbial “twenty-five words or less.” What is your novel about? What’s the storyline? Imagine that you’re the movie of your story has been produced and is appearing on TV for the first time. Write the “log line” in the TV … Learn More →


Do you want to expand your writing skills and develop great openings?  Try these exercises: Examine the first three paragraphs often published novels. Is there a narrative hook? What is it? What does it make you wonder about in terms of the story? Apropos of nothing, write ten simply gripping opening sentences. Expand these opening sentences into whole paragraphs. See what you “discover” about the characters and the story. Store these away for possible future use as novel idea sparkers. … Learn More →

Getting To Character From Just About Anywhere

Let’s say you have an interesting idea for a story. Or a setting. Or a character. Or maybe just an intense image. Ursula K. Le Guin began The Left Hand of Darkness with no more than that. So did William Faulkner, with The Sound and the Fury.  Le Guin’s image was two figures hauling a sledge across a remote sheet of ice.  Faulkner’s was a little girl with muddy underpants up in a pear tree. But now what? How to … Learn More →

Novel Ideas

Look through the front section of your morning newspaper. Find three articles that contain possibilities for novels. Take the original idea, apply the “what if” strategy, and expand them into one page ideas for a novel. Take one of your favorite novels and reset it in modern times and in your own town. For example, if you adore Gone with the Wind, you might take a young, spoiled rich girl and have her lover sent away to fight the Gulf … Learn More →