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Creative Writing Tips

Practice makes perfect. Discover fun ways to get creative and start writing your next (or your first) story.

January 22, 2018

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If you like the idea of writing stories but get stuck when you are faced with a blank page, try writing exercises to jump-start your writing practice. Just like practicing piano scales warms up your fingers and gets your brain used to hearing the notes, practicing writing with exercises can get your brain in the mood for a writing session and can actually help you find ideas for what to write about. 

Here are a handful of exercises that start with building a character and creating a setting for your story and end with crafting a plot and having some fun along the way. 

How to Start Writing

Practice your “scales of writing" by writing at least one thing every day. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Keep a One-Sentence Journal

Your challenge is to write just one sentence at the end of each day to record a moment, a milestone, or a mood. This exercise challenges you to pick out one detail out of all the things that you see, hear, do, feel, or even eat and put it on the page. After a week, a month, or a year, you can look back on your series of sentences and see a snapshot of details you might have forgotten if you hadn’t written them down.

Here are some examples:

  • The dog got sprayed by a skunk and I had to give him a bath.
  • Molly knocked over the paint tray and blamed it on me so I got detention.
  • I cooked my own breakfast this morning!
  • The sun forgot to rise today, casting a dull, eerie glow on everyone’s mood.

A one-sentence journal challenges you to pick out one memorable thing each day that tells your storyA one-sentence journal challenges you to pick out one memorable thing each day that tells your storyCourtesy of Honestly Helen

Keep a Dream Journal

Dreams are the way your brain makes sense of what you see and do and think throughout the day. Sometimes your dreams help you work through things that may scare or worry you. And sometimes your dreams are just your brain’s way of having a little fun.

Have you ever had a dream that was so clear it felt like it was real? Write down your dream and see if it makes a great story. Don’t worry about being faithful to the dream when you’re writing if you come up with an even better idea as you write. The purpose is to give you something to start with. Next time you wake up and you remember your dream, write it down! It could be the beginning of a fun story!

Don’t Just Focus on the Story

Try your hand at some poetry exercises to jump-start your creativity and play with words. Or craft a story vision board by cutting and pasting pictures that inspire you, either on paper or on the computer. When you’re done, see if the pictures you’ve put together tell a story, bring to mind a character, or give you an idea for a setting.

Put together a vision board to help you brainstorm if you're a visual thinkerPut together a vision board to help you brainstorm if you're a visual thinkerCourtesy of Miss Manifestation

Create Strong Characters and a Great Setting

Most story ideas start by creating a character and a setting and seeing what happens when you put them together.

Ask What If?

If only one thing were to change in your world right now, what would be different? What would stay the same? Start with a wish or something you’re afraid of and think about what it would take to make it come true. Then figure out how that one thing would change life as you know it. What if your favorite character from a book or TV show showed up tomorrow as a new student in your class? What if you lived in a world where you had to go to school at night and sleep all day? 

Write a Mini-Memoir

Think of one thing from your childhood. It could be a food, a toy, a souvenir from a trip, a trophy, a pair of shoes, a photograph, or something else. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Write as much as you can remember about that item without stopping until the timer goes off. If you still have a lot to write, keep going until you run out of steam! Try not to simply describe the object. Instead, write about where you got it, how you felt, and what was happening at that time in your life. Read what you wrote when you are done. You may be surprised to find that you have written a memoir without even realizing it.

Write Fan-Fiction

Do you have a favorite book, movie, or TV show? Can you imagine story lines that could happen, or have ideas that would make the story even better? Can you picture yourself in the story? What would your character contribute to the story that helps the characters? How would you fit in? Fan fiction is a popular and easy way for kids and adults to sharpen their imagination and their skills without the pressure of inventing a whole new story line. Sometimes fan fiction can be so different from the stories that inspire them that they can become popular on their own like Wicked, which is based on The Wizard of Oz, The Sisters Grimm, based on Grimm’s fairy tales, and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, which are based on ancient myths and legends. 

Fan fiction lets you imagine yourself as a character in your favorite storyFan fiction lets you imagine yourself as a character in your favorite storyCourtesy of Film Riot

Tell Your Story

After completing a bunch of character and setting exercises, read through what you wrote. You may find a few gems that could use some polishing. Can you pick out some characters and a setting that you think could turn into a story? If so, head to the next section and start crafting your plot!

Once you have characters and a setting, you need to figure out what actually happens in your story. Many writers start by giving the characters a goal — something they want more than anything in the world — and then putting something in their way that stops them from getting it. The character then needs to work as hard as they can to overcome the obstacle in their way and achieve their goal. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they fail but get something else that’s even better. 

Well-crafted stories put more than one obstacle in their hero’s way. Often a character is just about to get what they want but something happens to push it farther out of their reach. It makes the plot more exciting and makes the reader want to keep reading. Here are some exercises that can help you frame your story and create a beginning, middle, and satisfying ending.

Even if you and your friends all decide to write about the same thing, you'll each tell a different storyEven if you and your friends all decide to write about the same thing, you'll each tell a different storyCourtesy of Galt Toys

Fortunately / Unfortunately

This game is a fun exercise to do out loud with a friend when you have nothing to do. It’s also fun to do alone as a writing exercise if you’re trying to figure out what happens in your story. First, pick a character and something they want. Maybe it’s as simple as a rabbit wanting a ripe juicy carrot, or maybe it’s your main character in your story. Start out with a first sentence like: Once upon a time, there was a very hungry rabbit who wanted to eat a ripe, juicy carrot. Your next sentence needs to start with the word “unfortunately”. As in: “Unfortunately, it was winter, and the fields were empty and covered in snow.” The following sentence begins with “fortunately”. As in: “Fortunately, the rabbit had saved a single carrot seed that was left over from summer.” While this doesn’t start out as a very exciting story, it could end up with the rabbit creating a mad science lab and genetically engineering the biggest carrot anyone had ever seen, or facing down a pack of hungry wolves who want to fight for the carrot. Anything can happen — and anything should! — in a game of Fortunately / Unfortunately. The only rule is a practical one: don’t kill off your character too early in the story so you can keep it going until it reaches a logical conclusion. 

And then something unexpected happened…

This game is great to play when you already have a story in progress and you can’t figure out what happens next. Maybe your character is too close to getting what they’ve always wanted but they haven’t worked hard enough to earn it yet. Maybe you’ve gone too far off topic from the plot. Whatever the reason, bringing in something from the outside can shock your characters back into action and get them back on track with the story line. Add one of the following things into your story or come up with your own unexpected twist.

  • A flash of light
  • A broken glass
  • A hug
  • A suitcase
  • A tearful goodbye
  • A lie
  • Rain
Have Your Say

Do you like creative writing? What is the hardest part about writing stories? Share your answers in the comments below!