For 2 full minutes: make a list of all the flowers you can think
of (e.g., violets, lavender, daffodils). Then circle the one
you think is the most beautiful. Circle the one that strikes
you as the least beautiful. You have 3 minutes left: Start writing.
Write a brief scene that includes the following: a wilting poinsettia;
misgivings; a scruffy dog; a loud bang; the smell of boiled shrimp.
Today's exercise is courtesy of Janice Eidus, a short story writer and novelist who
lives in New York City.
and a dog are inside a house. In five sentences or less, describe
the woman; in five sentences or less, describe the dog; in five
sentences or less, describe the house.
The point of this exercise is to generate and make use of vivid
detail. First, take 2 minutes to answer the following questions.What
colors might a lawn be? What sounds might a lawn make? What smells
might it have? What textures? What might a blade of grass taste
like? What might you find in a lawn? What might you find on a
lawn? What is the biggest lawn that comes to mind? What was the
funkiest lawn that comes to mind? What was the lawn you walked
by or on most recently? What is your idea of a truly beautiful
lawn? Choose one of the lawns. In the remaining time, describe
a child walking onto that lawn and then doing something.
Today's exercise is courtesy of Rigoberto González, a poet, novelist, essayist,
and children's book writer who lives in Illinois.
usually refers to a common fear (heights, snakes, the dark),
but it can also be a fear particular to a person, depending on
the experience or trauma that first triggered its power and hold
over that person. Think of an everyday object (a shoelace, a
birdcage, an ice cube) and write a testimony in which the narrator
explains how his/ her unique fear came about.
on a Golden Retriver"
Today's exercise is courtesy of T.M.
a short story writer and novelist who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.
a golden retriever from the point of view of a flea. Note in
particular that the golden retriever is deaf and blind. How does
the flea know this?
You wake up with a thump: you though none of your
furniturehave landed on the ceiling.
Your entire house is upside down. Describe your walk along the
ceiling from room to room.
/ Body Part"
This is an exercise in metaphor-making. After the Carl Sandburg
poem, "Chicago" that contains the famous line, "City
of the Big Shoulders": if Hollywood were a body part, which
part would it be? Washington DC? New York? Toronto? Fairbanks,
Alaska? Charleston? Miami? Houston? Boston? Phoenix? Salt Lake
City? Baltimore? Cleveland? Your home town? Other? See how many
you can come up with.
Today's exercise is courtesy of Kerry Madden, a novelist, screenwriter,
and playwright who lives in Los Angeles.
Of this exercise, a favorite which Madden learned in Leon Martel's
Playwriting workshop in Los Angeles, she says, "It never
fails to get at plot and character and voice in one fell swoop."
Write about your first job where you earned money away from the
home. Describe the sensory details of the job. How did you feel
half way through the day? The shift? Introduce a character who
comes in and changes the routine.
There are endless "browns", e.g., coffee, chocolate,
rust-brown, tocacco-spit-brown, umber, amber, cumin, walnut,
hazelnut, toast, fawn, cardboard-brown, ditchwater-brown, polluted-sky-brown,
auburn, mahogany, liver, chestnut, roan, sepia, goat's-eye-brown,
slime-brown, tawny, potato-brown, bronze, slug-brown, russet,
caramel, rotting pumpkin, pot-roast, velvety-brown & etc.
So: make a list of pinks. Whatever occurs to you. Really dig
around in there. (Feel free to check the Thesaurus if you need
on a Sunny Day"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Leslie Pietrzyk, a short story writer
and novelist who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
were blind, how would you describe a sunny day? (Think about
sounds, smells, reactions of surrounding people, texture.)
Today's exercise is courtesy of Kim Roberts, a poet who lives in
an assignment to lure you away from the need for everything in
a paragraph or poem to make sense and lure you toward the pure,
mysterious, playful qualities of words. This exercise was developed
by the French literary group OuLiPo (short for Ouvoir de Litterature
Take a paragraph or poem of yours or someone you admire and remove
all the nouns. Now take out a good dictionary and look up each
word you removed and replace it with words that are seven entries
away from the original word. Seven entries is not very far; very
often the replaced word will share the same root as the original
word. You are allowed leeway to change tenses, to make a singular
word plural or vice versa, and of course, when editing you may
even change the sequence of things. What this exercise brings
to the writer is an unfamiliar vocabulary that breaks you of
a dependence on the same words used again and again--- and of
course, the wonderful element of surprise.
House is Alive"
This is an exercise in generating imagery. For example:
~Windows yawning open
~Windows like mouths screaming in surprise
~A red tile roof snug as a little cap
~Lacy wrought-iron balcony as pretty as a pettycoat
~An oaken backbone of a staircase
~The kitchen door slapping in the wind as if to say, No! No!
How many more can you come up with in 5 minutes?
to the News"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Daniel Olivas, a novelist and short
story writer who lives in California's San Fernando Valley.
often when I'm writing a short story, I want to share a character's
internal reaction to something that doesn't have a direct relation
to the action of the story. In doing so, however, I'm "fleshing
out" the character and making her more real. One device
I've used involves having my character ponder an item from a
newspaper. Find a news item and for five minutes write a character's
reaction to that item.
Write a story, or the beginning of a story, that includes the
~ He knew that something terrible was about to happen
~ The feel of cobwebs on his face
~ The smell of rotting flesh
~ A hollow-sounding whisper
~ peppermint marshamallow patties
Describe each character's typical breakfast (what, where, when,
a successful engineer's; a struggling actress's; a melancholy
Today's exercise is courtesy of Alexandra van de Kamp, a poet, essayist, and
literary translator who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
minutes, list your favorite objects: a piece of furniture, a
photograph, a gift, a souvenir from a trip, a piece of artwork,
a particular tree, etc. Choose one object from this list and,
using sense details (touch, sight, taste, smell, hearing), try
to describe this object physically for the next few minutes.
With whatever time you have left, begin to consider what makes
this object special to you (its associations, personal history,
etc). Write whatever comes to mind and keep going.
Describe your residence from the point of view of a bird.
of the Above"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Mary Kay Zuravleff, a novelist who lives
in Washington, DC.
a short joke, like, "What do you call Mother Theresa now
that she's dead? Nun of the Above." Now, write a scene in
which someone tells that joke.
Tree in Time"
Pick a treebe as specific as you
possibly can. Name it. Describe it in detail (smell, sounds,
textures, colors, etc). What's in it? What's on it? What is around
it? What is nearby? Then describe that same tree in winter; in
spring; in summer; and in autumn.Then describe that same tree
when it was a sapling. Then describe that same tree when it is
about to meet it its end. How does it end? What takes its place?
A dog wants a bone. Boy howdy, does that dog want that bone.
Very briefly describe the dog. Very briefly describe the bone.
Then list three incidents in which the dog tries to get that
bone but is frustrated. In the end, does he get bone or not?
Voila: you now have the bones of a plot. Flesh it out as best
you can in the remaining time.
Today's exercise is courtesy of Christine
a poet and visual artist who lives in North Salem, New York.
a mirror falling. Into a canyon, into a river, onto a tile floor.
Is it an antique hand mirror framed with silver roses, a faceted
disco ball, or a fitting room triptych, flapping through space?
Was it accidently thrown? Is the owner of the mirror beautiful
and vain, or grotesque and horrified? Perhaps the owner isn't
even human. Is it a flawed angel, an escaped gorilla, a mystified
alien? View the world in reflected fragments, be the eye of the
mirror as it falls. What scenes are captured as it plummets /
drifts / explodes? How do these images impact / "reflect"
the mirror's owner?
October 23 "Wedding
Make a list of all the things that have gone (very) wrong in
weddings weddings you have attended,
and weddings you have heard about. If your experience wedding-wise
is somewhat slim, make things up! Once you've done 5 minutes'
worth, go back and circle the three disasters that most impress
+ First Word"
This is an exercise in generating imagery. For 3 minutes, make
a list of all the things you can think of that are orange. In
the remaining 2 minutes, for each item, ask, what is the first
word you think of? Jot down whatever pops into your head.
Today's exercise is courtesy of Lex Williford, a novelist and short
story and screenplay writer based in El Paso, Texas.
makes for what John Gardner calls "the vivid and continuous
dream" in fiction? How do you create "film" in
the reader's mind? By making even the most seemingly insignificant
detail so precise that the reader forgets she's reading. Take
a small emotional moment in any scene you've written, especially
a scene which seems to skimp on detail or lack that extra "something";
then, in 5 minutes, write a sentence or two that focuses on a
seemingly insignificant detail, deepening that moment's significance
just by describing that detail (or details) precisely. If possible,
use inventive verbs, metaphors that appeal to the senses and
rhythmical language, something lyrical but not too self-conscious,
something just short of poetry.
This is a simple exercise in writing musical language. Write
a paragaph's worth of adviceeither in your own voice
or that of a fictional character's to a younger person who
is somewhat flighty. Include at least one question and at least
the World Series"
This is a point of view exercise. In 5 sentences, describe a
retired major league baseball star watching the World Series
on TV. Assume that he retired in disgrace (but do not mention
this). If you have time, in another 5 sentences, describe a retired
major league baseball star watching the World Series on TV--
but in this case, assume that he retired as a beloved celebrity
(but do not mention this).
Four Comedy Adjectives"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Basil White, a comedy coach, standup
comic and joke writer who lives in Washington, D.C.
is a favorite technique of mine to use when I'm coaching or brainstorming
comedy. We also use it in my comedy workshop. Choose something
that's weird, stupid, hard and scary. There. You've thought of
it already, before you started thinking "oh, no, can't use
one or two of them, but it's not all four." Yes. That one,
Write it down. Well done. Now write what's weird about it. This
is your weird line. Write what's stupid about it. This is your
stupid line. Write what's hard about it. This is your hard line.
Write what's scary about it. This is your scary line.
Now for Level Two, where the dollar values are double. Write
four separate lines about your weird line, one line each for
what's weird, stupid, hard and scary about your weird line. Then
do this for your original stupid, hard and scary lines. Now you
have twenty lines about what's weird, stupid, hard and scary
about your topic. That's six more than you need for a sonnet.
The magic happens at Level Three. Take your favorite line from
Level Two and make another set of weird, stupid, hard and scary
lines for it. Comedy erupts at this level because at this point,
you're explaining the humorous nature of your humorous explanations,
which puts us in the mindset of being funny in a way that keeps
the writer's editorial voice out of the way of getting something
on the page.
Cat, Bad Cat"
In a pet store: he wants a cat; she does not. Write 5 lines he
could say; then, write 5 lines she could say. Briefly describe
the cat in question. If you have time, write the scene.
Through a Keyhole"
Today's exercise is courtesy of Pat Schneider, a poet, writer, playwright,
and librettist who lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
memory or imagination, peek through a keyhole. Write what you
The object of this exercise is to generate material and insights
about a character. (Note: the fast pace and randomness of the
questions help quiet the "censor.")
1. What is the character's name?
2. Where was the character born?
3. Does the character have a pet? If so, what is it?
4. What is the character's favorite snack?
5. What would the character wear to a wedding?
6. What is the character's favorite music?
7. What is the one possession that the character is most proud
8. What does the character do on Sunday morning?
9. What adjective best describes the feeling of the character's
10. How does the character get along with his/ her neighbors?
11. What does the character believe about God?
12. Describe the character's best friend.
13. What does the character do for a living?
14. Describe the character's hairstyle.
15. What jewlery does the character wear?
16. What is the character's biggest regret?
17. If the character could change one thing about his / her appearance,
what would it be?
18. What does the character eat for lunch?
19. What is the one thing the character is procrastinating about?
20. What adverb best describes the way the character walks /