Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Craft exercises

Hello! If you're here for the first time via Write On Con, welcome! (And if you're a faithful reader, I like you a lot, too. Thanks for being here.)

Over at Write On Con HQ today, I waxed lengthy and opinionated about the importance of craft in a writer's life. (It read something along the lines of the below, but with more words, and a particular focus on craft).

You can read the whole post (and a lot of other great posts, too!) over there. But if you're here now, ready to turn abstract thoughts about craft into reality for your own writing, I thought a few practical craft-developing exercises might help. So, read on! Tweak, adapt, and adopt as you see fit for your own needs and own goals: And then write on!

1. Pick an ordinary object, or an ordinary view, or an everyday experience. Now describe it using five analogies or phrases that are entirely fresh, not clich├ęs or familiar ideas. In other words, create an image that's entirely new, out of your words and perspective, and give it to one of your characters to speak.

2. Read a book that you admire aloud. Pay special attention to what’s NOT in the text as well as what is. Return to your own writing and see, as a result of your study, what you can remove and how the reader might actually benefit as a result—from a more compelling pace, from a more streamlined plot, from tighter writing, from more suspense.

3. Find a book that achieves some of the same things you’re trying to achieve in your own work. Take it apart. Dissect it. Turn it into a chapter-by-chapter outline, or even a scene-by-scene outline. Then study that outline to pieces, noting things like when subplots are introduced and woven in and resolved, and where the action rises and falls (and how often it does each), and the balance of dialogue and prose, and the sort of emotion each chapter opens and closes with, and where in the story's telling unexpected things happen and how that affects the overall pace, and the arc of each key character’s growth across the book.
     Don’t try to do all this in a day. Spend days on it, even weeks. Use it as a warm-up exercise before your day’s writing. Or stop writing for a little while, and devote yourself to this study intensely: whatever works for you. But eventually, go back to your own book, armed with new knowledge, with the ability to better master your own craft having studied another’s mastery.

4. Try writing from a different point of view than you’ve ever tried before; a different voice than ever before; a character who on the surface shares nothing in common with you. What might that previously untried-voice or perspective make fresh in your writing, set free in your writing? What will you learn from your foreign-seeming character, as a writer, and as a person?

5. Share what you know: leave some of your own favorite craft-developing practices in the comments below so that others can try them, too!


  1. Your WriteOnCon post was beautiful. And these look like great ideas for working on craft. I will have to gear myself up and try them!

  2. Man, your post on WriteOnCon has me nodding and talking away to myself...remember the craft, remember that everything we do is to make it better so that the book that is given to the right reader at the right is filled with our passion...our art, our love of story.

    Something I like to do is have a talking heads session-pick two characters from a book, pretend they are in front of me and record the conversation. It seems to loosen up my dialogue writing and leaves room for adding in extra later. Or-pick a couple of fairytale characters, have them have a conversation.


  3. You knew we'd come after a lesson like that.

  4. Great post over at WriteOnCon!

    Now to go find one of my favourites to dissect...

  5. Molly. Your WOC post. Pure brilliance.

    And I follow this blog, have for a while, but it never shows up in my reader. Man I hate tech.

    1. Erm, Matthew, it could quite possibly be that your reader works fine and the fault is in the hands of She Who Does Not Update Her Blog Very Often. P.S. Thanks for reading!

  6. Such a great post!

    I love WriteOnCon; so much lovely advice to writers. Thanks! Love the blog.

  7. Molly, I love how you set up something practical here to follow that inspirational post on WOC.

  8. Loved your WriteOnCon post! Thank you for sharing these exercises with us.

  9. THANK YOU. For your WriteOnCon post and for this practical follow-up. In fact, let me also say a belated thank you for your "Everything Middle Grade" conversation with Michael Bourret. Love them all.

  10. Thanks for these great ideas! I recently heard author Douglas Glover in a podcast on Write The Book, talking about how the books he reads are all marked up because he's analyzed them. Now that you've mentioned it too, I'm going to try it myself. It seems like a good way to learn.

  11. Glad the WriteOnCon post and these exercises were useful, friends. And hello to the new faces! Happy writing to all!

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