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Writing Exercises

Have you been looking for writing exercises to improve your craft? Here are a few I've found helpful.

Imitation:

I had an amazing English teacher in college who introduced me to imitation tools. She asserted that developing a unique writing style needs to be a conscious act. Some brilliant minds can develop this subconsciously as they read and devour the works of published authors, but for the rest of us, it can take some work.

My teacher suggested analyzing the style, structure, technique, and voice of favorite and/or successful authors. Take a few choice paragraphs from something you love and pattern the sentence structure with your own words by repeating the clauses and phrases exactly. After you've gotten the hang of it, you can start modifying and varying the imitations to see what other outcomes you get.

Copying:

Copying, not plagiarizing. One of my favorite writing exercises (it's actually quite relaxing, I swear!) is to copy word-for-word entire chapters from my favorite books. It's truly the best way to get into an author's voice and style, to feel it for yourself, to see how they structure their sentences and choose their words. You'll pick up a lot of small details doing this that you didn't notice while reading.

Word removal:I got this exercise from The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (highly recommended.) It's best done with a work in progress. What you do, is go through the first page of you novel and remove every adjective and adverb and list them. (You can also do it with nouns and pronouns but the result is a little crazier.) So, your adjectives and adverbs are removed. Now what? Read your page without them. This can make an incredible difference in how the page reads. Usually you will find it reads faster, more fluently, and yet the story is still well-conveyed. It will give you an eye for what you can do without and what really needs the boost.

Take it further.

Take your list of removed adjectives and adverbs and replace each of them with something more unique and less cliche. Place these into your page and read it. Usually the page now sounds over done and not consistent with your voice, but I almost always keep at least one of these replacements. It really helps to pinpoint cliche descriptory words and in turn gives you a sharper eye for coming up with more unique descriptions and phrases.

Rewriting:

Most authors hate rewriting, but it can also be a very useful tool. I suggest taking a few less-than-adequate sentences, or trouble sentences, and re-writing them at least five different ways. It's tiresome, it gets old fast, but suddenly you have five versions to choose from and analyze. Trust me - try this. You'll begin to see why some sentences work and others don't. It will help you develop a more natural feel for writing sentences in the future.

Plot study:

I got this one from Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell (also highly recommended.) Bell suggests taking six novels from the genre you want to write and/or authors you would like to write like to do a plot study with. He suggests making a schedule you'll stick to (eight to twelve weeks is recommended) then reading one book at a time with a day between each to soak it in and think it over. Once you've read each book you go back to the first and begin your plot study. To do this, you'll need flashcards. For each scene, use one flashcard, number it, and jot down the following information: Setting, POV character, scene summary, and scene type (being "action, reaction, setup, deepening, etc." according to Bell) Once you're done, you can go through each book scene-by-scene rather quickly to see how it was pieced together and how the plot developed. Bell offers more suggestions to this exercise, but they would only make sense if you read his book.

I've done this with a few books now and have developed my own process. I write quick summaries of each scene, including plot points and methods of foreshadowing, and skip the other details. I also write the notes on my laptop as I'm reading, almost like I'm outlining the book, and then read through it that way. It works better for me than flashcards. However you want to do it is fine, the main idea is to really study a plot line, pull it apart, and see how it was put together.

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I'd recommend both of the books I mentioned in this post as they have a ton more useful information and exercises between them. If you have any exercises or how-to books to suggest, please add them to the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I've tried imitation and copying and they are both great! I love the word removal and plot study ideas, too. Will definitely give them a try.

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