lamp head male writing something on glass board with marker

WRITING EXERCISES & PROMPTS

Need an idea to get your creativity flowing? Try these writing prompts to help start a blog entry, short story, novel, or to give your writing skills a workout.

Writing Prompts

  1. Write the first sentence of your autobiography.
  2. Write the last sentence of your autobiography.
  3. Chaos. What does it look like to you? How could it play out in a person’s life?
  4. Q&A. You’re working for a board game company and need to supply a new game for adult gatherings with 100 questions and answers. To entice participation, the topics must be provocative, funny , irreverent, insightful, absurd, or thought-provoking. You can choose gender or ethical scenarios, psychological questions, political, religious, relationship oriented, etc.
  5. Write about a day in the life of a dollar bill.
  6. It’s 2013 when you buy a 150-year-old postage stamp at the local flee market. Write a short story about the original letter that used the stamp or a short story that traces its travels back to the person who purchased it from the post office 150 years ago.
  7. Write an alternate history of a significant moment in your life. Think about what could have been if one key moment had been different.
  8. Pull out an old high school yearbook, flip to any page, and select a picture to write about.
  9. Write about a person, place, thing, or event that you (or your character) might turn to the words of Hippocrates to summarize the experience: "It is the same thing which makes us mad or delirious, inspires us with dread and fear, whether by night or by day, brings us sleeplessness, inopportune mistakes, aimless anxieties, absent-mindedness and acts that are contrary to habit…"

An Exercise in Detail

Choose a subject from the list below and write a paragraph that brings the subject to life.

  • An automobile accident
  • A homeless man pushing a shopping cart
  • A prisoner one hour before execution
  • An octogenarian testing for her driver’s license
  • A young prodigy conducting an orchestra for the first time

Theme Exercises

  1. List some of your favorite books or movies.  Now consider its theme. Can you articulate in a sentence what the author of each is trying to say with her work? What techniques does the writer use to convey this underlying meaning?
  2. What is the principal thematic point you’d like to explore in your story? What is its counterpoint? Write a brief description of the conflict between theme and counter theme. Finally, describe a number of instances to illustrate both point and counterpoint so your readers will draw conclusions as to the value of each.
  3. List some of your favorite books or movies.  Now consider its theme. Can you articulate in a sentence what the author of each is trying to say with her work? What techniques does the writer use to convey this underlying meaning?
  4. Create the dramatic situation for your main character, with emphasis on isolating his or her main dramatic choice within the story. Now trace the main character’s dramatic choice as it evolves from story point to story point. Usually there are about twelve major story points that move your main character’s story forward to the climax. Once you have committed to these twelve story points, write them down, and ask:
    • What is the original moral choice of the main character?
    • Is this moral choice confronted in the climax of the story?
    • What is the internal conflict (flaw versus moral ideal) driving the main character?
    • Who challenges the main character’s conflict throughout the story?
    • Does the main character face a strong choice for the greater good?
    • How does the moral choice support and/or negate the greater good?
    • Are the roots of poetic justice established within the story?
    • How is poetic justice revealed?
    • Does my story convey a universal truth?

Plot Exercise

Pick up your favorite book and divide the total page count by four. Now go to the section of the book that represents the end of the first quarter. Look for a shift in the story that indicates the protagonist is leaving behind their ordinary world for the story world. Analyze this transition point to find out how your favorite writer signified the passage.

editCharacter Exercises

  • Think of the times you felt joy, grief, or fear.   Write a paragraph describing each experience. Capture not only what you felt, but also how your perceptions of the environment changed. Did your hearing become more acute or we’re you rendered deaf by distraction? Did your vision shift from what lay before you to an inner vista?  Did your emotions warp your regard for the things in your environment? Next, recall times when someone in your company was swept up by joy, grief, and fear. Write a paragraph for each, describing what you witnessed. Think back, put yourself in the moment and try to catch every nuance, including how their emotions affected you.
  • Pick ten people you know and write a one-sentence description for each.
  • Write a 500-word autobiography.
  • Pen your obituary. Afterwards, rewrite it as if you had died in the previous or the next century.
  • Write an interview with a public figure or a fictional character.
  • For one week, keep a diary as a fictional character.
  • Recall your earliest childhood memory and write it as internal narrative.
  • Think of an argument you’ve had with someone and write it from his or her point of view. Remember, this is an exercise in voice, not in proving your position.
  • Using one of your writing samples or a passage from a novel, transform a third-person POV to first person or first vice versa.

Dialogue Exercise

  • Write down the things you say over the course of the day. Examine your speech patterns. You don’t have to get every word, but you might find that you say less than you think and that your statements are surprisingly short. You might also find that you rarely speak in complete sentences. 
  • Find a crowded place such as a restaurant, bar, or shopping mall and write down snippets of the conversations you hear. Avoid trying to record whole conversations, just follow along for a brief exchange and then listen for your next target.   
  • Think of a question that will require a little thought, and ask it of several people. Compare their responses. Remember that you’re focused on their words. Write them down as soon as you can. 
  • Record a variety of TV shows: sitcom, news, drama, talk show, infomercial, sporting event, etc.). Write down a transcript of conversations. Compare the dialogue between fiction and non-fiction programming.
  • Choose two TV shows, one you like and one you dislike. Compare the dialogue between them. Look for greetings, descriptions of physical actions, complete sentences, slang, verbal ticks, such as: like, you know, uhhhh, well, etc. Compare how these dialogue crutches change according to the show format and quality. 
  • Rewrite one or more of the shows from the above exercises in exposition, trying to recreate the show as accurately as possible. Note how easy or difficult it is to work in the dialogue from the show. Does it flow naturally or does it get in the way. Rewrite the piece eliminating unnecessary dialogue. 
  • Rewrite one or more of the shows from the above exercises, but place the conversation in a different time and setting. Change the characters, their agendas and their tone. See how easy or difficult it is to give the conversation a different twist. 
  • Write the dialogue for a scene without using any modifiers. After you’ve completed it, add narrative description, but don’t use dialogue tags (said). Instead, try to work the dialogue into the action as a progression of the statements. Finally, add any dialogue tags that are necessary. Compare this to the previous dialogue and see what you like or dislike about the changes. 
  • Write a scene in which one person tells another person a story. Make sure that you write it as a dialogue and not just a first person narrative (have one person telling the story and other people asking questions or making comments). The purpose is to have the story stand alone, but leverage the characters’ reactions as the scene’s focal point. 
  • Write a scene in which one person is listening to two other people have an argument or discussion. For example, a child listening to her parents argue. Have the third character narrate the argument with the other two providing the dialogue. It’s not necessary for the narrator to understand the argument. Miscommunication is an aspect of dialogue. 
  • Write a conversation between two liars. Give everything they say a double or triple meaning. Never state or indicate through outside description that these people are lying. Let the reader figure it out from the dialogue. Try not to be obvious, such as having one person accuse the other of lying. 
  • Write a conversation in which no character speaks more than three words per line of dialogue. Avoid crutches, like explaining everything they say through narration. Use your narration to enhance the scene, not explain the dialogue. 
    Write a narrative or scripted scene in which several characters are taking an active role in the conversation. This can be a difficult aspect to master because readers have more channels to track. See how many characters you can sustain and still have the scene make sense and be engaging.

Humor Writing Exercise

Write an article, scene, or short story for the following titles:

  • Things I Say When I Don’t know What to Say
  • What Do Babies Think About?
  • Why Do Fathers Hate Their Daughters’ Boyfriends?
  • The Day That Facebook Shut Down
  • Repercussions of an Impetuous Facebook Post
  • Foreign Words That are Funny in English
  • Dangerous Ways to Say ‘I Quit!’
  • Why Men Never Ask for Directions
  • Why Women Never Think They’re Thin Enough
  • The Difference Between Male and Female Body Language
  • What is a Red Dwarf?
  • How to Trick Your Mind To Do Things it Doesn’t Want To Do
  • Five Ways to Resist Change and How They’ve Worked for Me
Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist