Elizabeth: Writing Exercises

Spring has sprung, judging for the Golden Heart is completed, and it’s time to pick up the pen (or keyboard) and start writing.  I have a couple of contemporary stories in progress at the moment (short attention span), but have decided to dust off the story I started with at McDaniel instead.  It’s the first story I ever completed and I have some ideas about how to make it better so that, just maybe, it won’t have to spend the rest of its days tucked away in the desk drawer gathering dust.

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the story, so I need to do a little pre-work to get reacquainted, especially with the characters.  After all, I can hardly hope to make them come alive on the page if I can’t make them come alive in my own mind.  I could just look through all of my notes, but I’d like to get a fresh perspective and (hopefully) pick up some new ideas.

Writing exercises to the rescue!

Luckily for me, the class I attended at a recent RWA Chapter meeting included a few writing exercises that I can use as a starting point.  Though the focus of the class was on writing dialogue, it included several character-related exercises since, in order to write believable dialogue, you need to really know your characters.    The initial exercises in the class focused on describing a character (job, background, personality, family history, experience that impacted his/her life) and then deciding how that description would impact the way the character would talk and what they would (or would not) say.

My favorite exercise from the class (and the one I found the most useful) was the following:


A divorced couple is stuck in a cramped closet together, sitting side by side.  Without using dialog, describe 3 ways they would show:

–              discomfort

–              regret

–              that there might be something between them

Now, using only dialog, show the same things

Not as easy as it sounds, right?

Writing exercises are a fun way to jump-start my creativity.  They also get me thinking about how my characters will act in various situations and how I can subtly show their reactions.  I generally include a writing exercise or two in my daily writing routine to help keep me in a creative frame of mind.  You can find additional character exercises in our posts here, here, and here, if you’re interested.

So, your turn.  What can you come up with for the exercise?  Please share in the comments (I’ll post my answers as well).

10 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Writing Exercises

  1. Okay, here are my answers for the writing exercise:

    Without using dialog, describe 3 ways to show:

    – try to make themselves smaller
    – turn away from each other
    – fidget
    – rub where their rings used to be
    – heavy sigh
    – staring down at the floor
    that there might be something between them
    – glance at each other out of the corner of the eye
    – slightly lean toward each other
    – warmth where they touched

    Now, using only dialog, show the same things

    “Scoot over, you’re crushing me.”
    “I’m trying to reach my phone to call for help.”
    “You sound disappointed.”
    “You think I want to be stuck in here with you . . . again?”
    “It worked out pretty well the last time.”
    “That was a long time ago. Things have changed.”
    “Maybe this is nature’s way of giving us a second chance.”

    • Oh, fun! I really like this exercise, too. The discomfort really plays into the regret, and it’s nice to have something a little hopefully. So many divorced couples are very, very bitter, but there MUST have been something that brought them together in the first place. Sometimes it dies, sometimes it’s just there, but must be ignored because the problems are bigger than the love.

      • Michaline – exactly. You’d hope there was *something* there that brought them together in the first place, otherwise, why were they together?

    • Thanks Michille. One of the reasons I liked the exercise is because I too have a couple trapped in close proximity by circumstances. The exercise really helped me brainstorm all the little details that could be incorporated in their scene to bring it to life.

  2. LOL, I can never follow directions. Here’s what I came up with. By the way, Thom is a leprechaun, so maybe it counts for last Friday, too?

    “Jesus, Thomas,” Beverly complained. “Why did you even need a lock on a closet door? What kind of nut locks a walk-in clothes closet?” The floor was bumpy with Thomas’ handmade shoes. She’d cleared a space for her butt, because she knew how many hours he put into the things, but still. She resented the shoes, and shoes had been the final straw that made her file for divorce. She could feel Thomas shift beside her in the darkness, his heat almost like a physical touch and she couldn’t help herself. She felt a little swoony, then firmly tamped down those emotions.

    “What kind of nut allows a cat to learn how to work the doors?” Thomas grumbled. He sneezed. “I can’t believe how much I miss that damn cat. Baby, why don’t we just give it . . . .”

    Beverly interrupted, because Thomas was very persuasive. The little guy had wooed and won her in two short weeks, and she’d found herself married to a man who immediately turned his obsessions back toward his businesses. “I can’t see a damn thing. Surely you’ve got a wire hangar or something we could use to jimmy the lock in here somewhere.” Hoping against hope, she knew. Thomas only had wooden hangers for his suits, made of fragrant cedarwood. Outside, the cat meowed.

    Thomas sighed. It seemed the dark closet turned even darker with his resignation. “If you hadn’t come barreling in here and chased me in the closet before I had my pants on, I’d have my pocketknife.”

    “Regrets, we’ve had a few,” Beverly sang.

    “Stop that, baby. You’re makin’ me lonely.”

    “At least we could pile these shoes up on the back shelf so we could explore,” she said.

    “It’s going to be like one of those nine-square puzzles; clear a space, look for a lockpick, clear the next space, and try again. Ouch!”


    “As soon as I get out of here, I’m throwing out these shoes with the spikes. What was I thinking when I made these bastards? Glam metal is never coming back,” he said.

    “Aw, those are the ones you wore when I met you. Miniature golf with porcupine shoes. I couldn’t help but notice you.”

    “That guy you were with sucked at miniature golf.”

    “He sucked at everything. Why do you think I left with you?”

    “Because breakfast in Paris sounded awfully good?”

    “Well, that helped,” Beverly said, and patted his hand. “You really knew how to sweep a girl off her feet. Too bad you couldn’t keep up the maintenance to keep her in the air.”

    “We both would have died if I’d kept up that pace,” he chuckled.

    “True,” Beverly said. “It’d been nice if we could have gone a little slower, made it last a little longer.”

    “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. Unless your new stockbroker boyfriend sucks at everything, too.”

    “No, he doesn’t. He’s a good man. He’s getting out of the business, and he’s going to teach. I’m going to be a faculty wife.”

    “Aw, geez, Beverly. I’m going to miss you.”

    Beverly’s hand brushed against something . . . it felt like a wooden crochet hook – it was a wooden crochet hook. “Hey, I found something. Why have you got a basket of yarn in here?”

    “Oh. That must have been the slipper experiment. Give me your sizes; I could whip you up a couple of pairs of slippers for your wedding presents.”

    “That would be nice.” It’d be better than nice; Thomas’s shoes were almost magically comfortable and always stylish. He was such a generous guy, when he could be bothered to take his mind off his work. It was too bad, really. Beverly handed him the crochet hook, and with a couple of quick twists in the keyhole, they were out. The cat sat on the bed, grooming itself and not deigning to notice the odd couple coming out of the closet. Thomas grabbed a tissue from the nightstand, and sneezed again.

    “Hold the door open, Bev,” Thomas said. He went into the closet again, and after a few minutes of cursing and searching, brought out her red boots, her wedding present that she’d thrown at his head before she’d stormed out of the apartment three months ago. “Wear ‘em in good health, honey.”

    Bev leaned down and kissed him on the top of his head, then respectfully received the boots with both hands. “Take care, Thom. Next time, don’t sweep your girl off her feet. Let her do a little bit of the sweeping, too. You deserve a girl who can call you on your bullshit as well as enjoy your sunshine.”

    “I’ll remember that, Bev.” He gave the cat a scritch around the ears, and sneezed again. “Damn allergies. Makes my eyes run. See you around, Bev.”

    Beverly took the hint, put the cat in her bag, and closed the door softly. Downstairs, the taxi was still waiting for her. She was going to miss the little guy. She really was.

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