6 Fiction Writing Exercises to Try When You’re Traveling

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Stuck in an airport? Bored on a plane? Uninspired by the surroundings on a long car ride? Sounds like a great time to work on some writing exercises. This selection of writing exercises were first featured in the pages of Writer’s Digest and in some of our favorite books, so grab a pen and a notebook and enjoy creative travels!

Morphological Forced Connections

by Gabriela Pereira, from Writer’s Digest September 2017

This is a fancy title for a brainstorming technique used by product designers, in which you list various attributes relating to the product, then choose a few at random and develop ideas based on this unexpected combination. When generating ideas for new products, this technique forces innovators to think beyond the obvious choices and come up with new ideas. With writing, these same forced connections can give you a story concept you wouldn’t have imagined otherwise.

Start by naming a few broad categories to inform your writing. For example, you might jot down categories such as character, desire, setting, genre or point of view. Next, within each of these categories, brainstorm between five and 10 possible topics or attributes. Then choose one item from each at random. Do not pick and choose items that naturally go together—that will defeat the purpose of the exercise. (If you want to further avoid bias or save time, you can use a web-based
app like the one at writerigniter.com to give you a randomly generated combination of character, situation, setting, etc.).

How might some or all of the items you selected come together in a story? Write what inspires you.


Acrostics & Word Puzzles

by Gabriela Pereira, from Writer’s Digest September 2017

Though most famous for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll also penned many acrostic poems and other literary brainteasers. In the spirit of Carroll’s poetic puzzles, you can create an acrostic of your own.

Start by writing a name or word vertically, one letter per line. Now craft a poem or paragraph of prose around that vertical word. You can make each letter the first in a sentence, or you can simply embed those letters into the text at random. Keep in mind, however, that if you want someone else to be able to “decode” your puzzle, you will need to follow some sort of logic in how you hide the letters. Another fun way to use this tool is to create an acrostic bio for a character in your story. In this case, each letter of the name corresponds to some trait or quality of that character.

As with any exercise regimen, the key to building strength and stamina is consistency. The same is true when training your brain. Don’t worry if what you write for these exercises never makes it into your work-in-progress. Trust that if you practice flexing that creative muscle, you will have the skills strengthened and ready when it really counts.

[Puzzles & Games for Writers: Word Search]


Hot and Bothered

by Bonnie Neubauer, from The Write-Brain Workbook Revised & Expanded 

Draw a vertical line down the middle of a blank sheet of paper to create two columns. Write eight verbs that end in –ing in the left column. Write eight colors in the right column.

Now make up two new expressions: one that starts with one of the verbs from your list and ends with one of the colors (such as “running orange”), and one that starts with one of the colors and ends with one of the verbs (such as “green stretching”). Use both expressions in a story.


Hey, You

by Bonnie Neubauer, from The Write-Brain Workbook Revised & Expanded 

Use the second-person point of view (“you”) to teach your readers how to do something.

Choose a title from the list below:

• How to Miss a Bus
• How to Have a Pet Adopt You
• How to Find a Needle in a Haystack
• How to Almost Meet a Celebrity
• How to Boil Water
• How to Say You’re Sorry
• How to Meddle in Someone Else’s Aff airs

(Start with Step 1.)


Three-Dimensional Character Sketch

from Bring Your Fiction to Life by Karen S. Wiesner

Defining characters in three-dimensional sketches allows you to know main characters entirely. Remember the difference in three-dimensional writing is that you’ll have a separate sketch for each main character that includes her present, past, and future selves. So take a basic character sketch and duplicate it three times across a landscaped page with three columns, labeling the sketches: “Present Self,” “Past Self,” and “Future Self.” You should end up with something that looks like this:

Download this chart as a PDF worksheet by clicking here.


Breathe Life Into Flat Prose

by Rebecca McLanahan, from Writer’s Digest January 2018

Describe a person in action, preferably at a task that has clearly delineated steps. Watch your daughter wash the car, or take notes (mental or actual) as your husband plants a tree. You might also write a description directly from memory. Maybe it’s been 40 years since you’ve seen your uncle milk a cow, but the moment remains in your mind as clearly as if it happened yesterday. As you write the description, break the larger action into small, detailed movements. Let the verbs lead the way.

Take it further: Scan your writing for any abstract terms for emotion (words like love, grief, anxiety and guilt). Rewrite the section, substituting concrete images that suggest the emotion. If you find it hard to remove the abstraction completely, anchor it with a concrete detail. For instance, instead of writing, “I feel a heavy guilt every time I go home,” you could write, “Guilt comes in the door with me, dragging its heavy suitcase.”

[Read an interview with The Martian author Any Weird from this issue of Writer’s Digest.]


 

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One thought on “6 Fiction Writing Exercises to Try When You’re Traveling

  1. ReathaThomasOakley

    Great suggestions, especially the Character Sketch and Flat Prose ones. I’m currently highlighting every emotion word or phrase in my manuscript for next major edit in January.

    Very helpful, practical, advice.

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