These are not writing prompts. These are exercises that will help you with your crafting the backstory of your work in progress or that novel you’ve always wanted to sit down and write yet didn’t believe you could. You may have seen my earlier post on CreativeLive, a resource for the artist in all of us, and if you haven’t check it out! Anyway, CreativeLive has wonderful courses and these are five exercises I thought that I could share with you all. These are just a sampling of a couple ideas I got from my experience on CreativeLive. These come from a course taught by Lisa Cron. Remember, writing exercises don’t call for eloquent words and beautiful descriptions. All that matters is that you get a better sense of where to go and how to get there.
Lisa Cron, Photo Credit: wiredforstory.com
Cron is a very experienced and has written two craft books on how anyone with a love of words can become what she calls a “story genius.” Not only does she have experience in the publishing industry, she is an instructor and loves helping people perfect their craft. Here is a link to her website: Wired For Story where she has a large number of free resources and a little more information about herself.
The What If? Exercise
All stories make a point. That is why we read them and the purpose of this exercise is to help writers determine what their point is. Stories only make ONE point and they can be simple or complex. Your What If? is the fuel that will keep you going when you feel stuck or upset that your plot isn’t progressing the way you wanted it to at the onset. It is that broken expectation that your character has and that is what will stick with your reader. The Exercise:
Answer these questions:
What’s your point?
Why is your story important to you?
Be specific, vulnerable and courageous because the story is in the specifics.
Write your own What If? scene of up to 150 words.
A What If? isn’t a plot synopsis, it is about the direction your protagonist wants to go in and what pulls them back. It is a tug of war not a surface problem. The goal of this exercise is to tell you where to start so that you can dig deeper into your protagonist’s mind and into their backstory.
The Why Exercise
Every protagonist enters a story with 2 things: a driving desire and a longstanding “misbelief” that keeps them from getting it. The Exercise:
Answer these questions:
What does your protagonist enter the story wanting?
What will getting it mean to them?
Are they right? If not, what do they really want?
Brainstorm their misbelief.
Your protagonist doesn’t have to know what they really want but you do. They can live their entire lives up to a certain point thinking that by having this one thing, they’ll be made whole. But you are the one who decides if that is true or not.
The Opening Scene Exercise
An opening scene isn’t the first scene of your novel. It is the scene in which something known as the plot problem forces your character to make a change in some way. It is the one scene you may rewrite over and over and it is also the scene in which you sow the seeds of what is to come. An example would be in which there is a character who lives abroad and refuses to go home. Your first scene may be about that character’s life but your opening scenes is when they find out that their grandmother, the only relative they can stand, has a terminal illness and wants them to come home.
The exercise: Take a book that you have recently read (whether you love it or hate it doesn’t matter) and reread the first chapter. You will notice that everything that played forward was set up in the opening scene. Think about what your opening scene is after you’ve completed this exercise. Is it compelling?
The Plot Problem Exercise
First of all, a plot problem is one problem, not a number of lesser problems. As your narrative goes on, the plot problem should grow and build on itself. By that I mean, the problem can’t be stagnant, it has to grow and become more serious with time. The exercise:
Make a list of potential plot problems and then zero in on the most potent problem.
How do you zero in on that problem? Ask yourself these questions: is it a problem that will force your protagonist to change internally? Is there a clear deadline leading to a consequence? Can it build?
The Turning Point Exercise
Turning points are places in the lives of your characters where their “misbelief” was questioned or challenged. They are the instances where their misbelief played into story-specific decisions. As I said before, plot problems grow and a part of that comes from the fact that the misbelief of your character will grow. The exercise:
Identify three possible turning points between the origin scene (the scene in which your character picked up their misbelief) and where your novel starts.
You can list them out but try to do it in scene form. Once you have these turning points, you can weave them into your narrative to help build backstory and make your characters more dynamic. And I do mean characters and not just your protagonist because building your protagonist will help to inform the lives and goals of your side characters.
Warning: Delving in to your protagonist’ s backstory means being vulnerable. You may shed a few tears or find yourself angry.
Next time you sit down to write a new story or even if your making your first pass of edits, take a moment and try one of these exercises! I can tell you that they really helped me to flush out my characters and I was already close to being down with my novel. Yes, it means there are a few things I’ll have to insert and change here and there but overall, I believe that it has helped make my story more cohesive and as I write forward, I take the ideas I came up with in the exercises and implant them like seeds into dialogue and narrative.
What are some of your favorite exercises? Let me know in the comments and feel free to ask me questions! And, if you would like me to beta read, you can check me out on Fiverr or just click on my Contact page. Be sure to follow my blog and my Instagram @Chyina_Powell!