by Barbara Linn Probst
If you’re like me, you have a shelf of books and a computer folder (or two) of tips, checklists, bullet points, blogs, and advice about how to write a good story. Even though many of these strategies are, on a closer look, rather similar, it’s still pretty overwhelming. No one can do everything, so we find those that appeal to us.
My Favorite Four Writing Exercises
Here are four of the exercises that I’ve found the most useful. They address character, plot, and the quality of the writing.
Listening to Your Protagonist (Adapted from Donald Maass)
The exercise: Visualize yourself sitting across the table from your protagonist. (I like to visualize the setting, too—in my mind, we’re at my kitchen table, but your conversation might be at Starbucks or in a park.) Ask your protagonist these questions, and listen to what she has to tell you. Write down everything that comes out of her mouth, exactly as she says it. (It only works if you actually write down what you “hear” her saying. Don’t just think it.)
- How do you feel about the way I’ve portrayed you?
- What do you really want to do that I’m not letting you do?
- What are you afraid I might put you through? What do you dread seeing yourself do on the page?
- What about the other characters? You know them better than I do. Whom am I not getting? What am I missing?
- What do you want to say to one of the other characters in the story that I’m not letting you say?
- What’s this story really about—to you? What am I getting wrong?
My experience: I did this with my WIP, and it was one of the most amazing exercises I’ve ever done! My protagonist pulled no punches and told me exactly what she thought of me—how I was projecting my own hang-ups onto her, making her too defensive, and suppressing her kinder impulses. She told me that I needed to love her more.
Luckily, I listened to her—and when I did, the story got so much better.
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