1 "Out In Front"
On a typical morning in June, if you were to stand out in front
of your residence, your back to its entrance, what would you
see? What would be there that is always there? What would be
moving? What might suprise you? Be as specific as possible, using
colors, shapes, smells, sounds, etc.
What smells have you smelled today? Make a list.
More lists. List three things you typically do on a Saturday.
Then list three things you used to do on a Saturday but don't
anymore; three things you would like to do but never have; three
things you did but hated having to do; three things you could
do but won't; three things that you especially enjoy doing; and
finally, three things you could do that it has never, until this
moment, occured to you to do.
The mesages people plaster on their cars! KNITTING IS SEXY. MY
CHILD IS AN HONORS STUDENT. TRUST IN GOD SHE WILL PROVIDE. MY
OTHER CAR IS A CADILLAC. And of course, political messages span
the spectrum. What's on your bumper? Your neighbor's? Colleagues's?
Relatives? Friends? Have you seen any you thought amusing? Finally,
for your fictional characters, make a list of the bumperstickers
they might have on their cars.
5 "How Did
They End Up Bankrupt?"
They tried to keep up with the Jones's. Sketch out the bones
of this sad little story. (Hint: you might just make a list of
some of the things they did, and the consequences.)
6 "The Squid,
the Lampshade, and the Smell of Burning Tortillas"
Write something that incorporates a squid, a lampshade and the
smell of burning tortillas.
7 "Top 10
If you won the lotterysay, the $40 million lottery
who and what would you give money to? List your top 10. Then,
if you have time, do the list for a fictional character.
Arguing About Yellow Donuts"
Two salesmen are arguing about some yellow donuts. Write the
scene using dialogue and incorporating the following:
~"this will set your hair on fire"
~he said, slowly stroking his chin
~he picked up the pen and pointed
~"oh, no, no, no, no, no."
From the Attic"
It turns out there was a trap-door in the ceiling that had been
disguised by the plaster. Once opened, the door revealed an attic.
And in the attic, far in the back, behind a curtain of cobwebs,
there was a suitcase. They brought the suitcase down into the
house. How did they open the suitcase? And wat was in it? Write
He got horribly sunburned. How did this happen? Write the scene
from the point of view of someone who expecetd this would happen,
and had warned him.
Using all the sensessight, sound, smell, taste, touch
and specific detail describe a haunted house.
Tries to Help"
In two sentences or less describe Fran. In two sentences or less
describe her living room. In two sentences or less, very specifically
put Fran in the livingroom (for example, she might be sitting
in the wicker chair by the window reading the newspaper, or,
she might be sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the
fireplace doing her meditation, etc). Then, Tina comes in and
tries to help. In what way? What exactly does Tina do? And/ or
say? How does Fran react?
Ovid wrote: "Jupiter from on high smiles at the perjuries
of lovers." Use this as the first line for what could be
the opening paragraph of a novel about love.
What if Bob appeared on the front page of his local newspaper
but he didn't know about it until the following day?
House, Room by Room"
This is an exercise in vivid description and gestalt. For each
room in your house, list three (and only three) objects that
best describe it, and list one (and only one) adjective that
gives its overall "feel." If you have time, do the
Look Behind You"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Leslie
Pietrzyk, a novelist who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Without turning around to look, write a list of everything
that is behind you right now. Be specific and thorough; be literal
Another prompt. Use this as your opening line:
They were eating dinner when a butterly floated in and landed
on the meatloaf.
Body Action Verbs"
Energize your writing with action verbs! This is an easy exercise
to help train your brain to think in terms of action verbs. Focusing
on actions the human body can perform, provide one (or two or
three) verbs per letter of the alphabet. For example:
B: bounce; burp; belch
C: cartwheel; call out
D: dither; dunk
E: exit; enter; expand
F: fling; fart; fall
G: gallop; gallump; grit (teeth)
Keep going... get to Z if you can...
What do you know about Belgium? Write down what you can in five
minutes. Be as specific as possible (and don't forget the chocolate).
How does your character answer the telephone? What does her voice
sound like? How does she hold the telephone? (Or does she use
an ear-clip, or does she prefer the speaker phone?) What does
she typically say? When she goes out of town, what is the message
she leaves on her answering machine? How does she feel about
the telephone? What does her ring tone sound like? Where is her
telephone? How many telephones does she have? Who does she call?
How much does she spend every month (and can she afford it?)
Make up as and answer as many questions as you can about her
telephone use. In your last 30 seconds, go back and circle the
three most telling things.
A short story begins with these two lines:
Sometimes, out on the boat, she wanted to tell Louise. This
was before Louise got the tattoo on her shoulder.
Write the last paragraph of the story.
22 "Your Neighbor
in Your House"
Describe your living room from the point of view of your neighbor.
What does he/she notice? Feel? Think?
23 "Your Other
Neighbor in Your House"
Describe your living room from the point of view of another one
of your neighbors. What does he/she notice? Feel? Think?
24 "In the
Dentist's Office: Stretching,
by the Book,
a path-breaking analysis of how novelists instruct us to form
images in our minds as we read, Elaine Scarry devotes an entire
chapter to stretching, folding and tilting. The exercise is this:
In a dentist's office, what might stretch, fold, or tilt? Simply
make a list of as many items as you can, and very briefly describe
the way in which these stretch, fold or tilt.
25 "Sprinkle in
An American who was resident in Paris for many years gives a
tour of the local art museum to some friends who are mighty impressed.
Write the scene with dialogue.
Drink of Cool Water"
This is an exercise in making up similes, that is, figures of
speech comparing unlike things. For example, you might say, a
cup of coffee is like a slap in the face. Or, a cup of coffee
is like a cup of sludge. Or, a cup of coffee is like a hello
from the donut. And so on. Come up with as many similes as you
can for "a drink of cool water is like..."
the Top Ten Nouns"
According to Oxford University Press researchers (read
the BBC story here)
the top 10 nouns in the English language are:
The exercise is this: write somethinganything
that incorporates these and only these 10 nouns.
Store Customer Comment Bulletin Board"
I was recently over at the Georgetown (Washington DC) Whole Foods
grocery store, which has a bulletin board for customer comments.
I loved seeing the emotion and the quirkiness in so many of them.
Here are a few I jotted down in my ever-handy notebook:
~I adore the chicken pesto sausage. Please keep them until
~Please put a Whole Foods Market in Tampla FL
~Why are your bathrooms always disgusting???
~The decision to discontinue the sale of live lobster and crabs
and so on... So the 5 minute writing exercise is this: in
one to two sentences, what might the following characters write
on a customer comment card in your supermarket?
~a harried young mother with twin toddlers who suffer from an
~a retired diabetic on a strict budget
~an avid amateur chef
~an avid and extremely adventurous and accomplished chef
~someone who just found out that the favorite TV show has been
~someone who just found this morning that they have won a law
suit, and the settlement will add to their already substantial
~a strict vegan and animal rights activist
~someone who knows she needs to get divorced but she just can't
seem to get around to dealing with the paperwork
~he cooks for his pet poodle puppy
This is exercise in generating specific detail. Re: the old "show
don't tell." Without using the word flood, show that there
has been a flood. (Tip: try to come up with detail that appeals
to all the senses, including smell, taste, touch, and sound.)
This is a little Pschology 101 / Plot exercise. Without thinking
about it just put your pen on
the paper and jot down what comes to mind answer the following:
~What did Brenda do to Arnold?
~Why did he let her?
~Why did Brenda do it?
~Will this happen again?