Friday, September 18, 2009

Writing Exercises...

It came to my attention – well, it was said in the comment section of Karyn’s last post – that I am due to post a writing exercise on the Saskatchewan Romance Writers’ private blog. I believe there was mention of being held at knifepoint, but I’ll ignore that. And it’s true, it is high time I got my butt back in the chair and focused on my writing. That includes keeping the private blog up to date with exercises; catching up, commenting, and posting on another private writers’ blog I belong to; and preparing for the Surrey International Writers Conference in October. But today, let's focus on writing exercises.

I must admit, I don't do a lot of writing exercises. Many 'how to' books on fiction writing suggest that practice makes perfect. It works for runners, swimmers, skaters, so why not writers? I do try and keep up with my journal writing, but that's only one kind of practice. To really stretch my writing skills, I need to do a variety of exercises. Here's what we've been doing on the SRW blog.

The first writing exercise was character interviews. What a hoot! I posted a list of questions and then the members could (this was voluntary) choose one of the characters in a WIP and answer. I had no idea what to expect, but was blown away by the creativity and discussion that simple exercise generated. The comment section was used to ask more questions inspired by the interview itself. Once the comments dwindled, I posted another set of questions – the author could choose to continue the interview with the same character or switch characters.

I chose to have Mac answer the questions the first round. Just by letting my fingers skim across the keyboard, no worries about revisions/editing or how it related to the WIP gave me a freedom to really explore his psyche. I went into the exercise confident and came out wondering if I really knew my hero at all thanks to the ladies asking more detailed questions. Here’s a portion of that exercise:

Why don’t you start by telling us your name and if you go by any nicknames.

"My name is Mackenzie Griffin. My friends call me Mac." Mac waited for
Janet to leave the room before plunking down in the office chair and glancing
around the room. Soft colored walls, a beautiful writing desk, comfortable
chair, perhaps this interview wouldn’t be as bad as he thought. When she had
told him what he would be doing this weekend, he had flatly refused. Sit around
and answer questions about his life! He had never voluntarily answered questions
about himself, nor involuntarily. He fingered the deep scar over his right eye.

He repositioned the chair, stretching his legs out, crossing them at the
ankle. He hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. Yet, here he was in a
room most definitely feminine, answering questions from a group of women he
didn’t know. All because Janet had blackmailed him into it. He read the next

Then, if you could tell us, do you have a birthmark and if so, where?

His lips curled into a smile at the thought of birthmarks. Gillian had a
birthmark. A blotch she called it when he had rolled her over and discovered it
high on her inner thigh. Mac twisted in the chair, searching the ceiling for
security cameras. Then he leaned forward and inspected the computer for a
webcam. It would be just like Janet to stick him in this room and then position
herself in another room to study his reactions. He straightened and crossed his
arms over his chest.

"No, no birthmarks."

Then Karyn asked Mac what superpower he most wanted. Mac answered quickly, too quickly, "Invisible!" Well, that gave me pause.

Another exercise I posted on the blog dealt with titles. I wrote out blurbs for some romantic movies and those who played along created a title. This was a lot more difficult than it seemed and I have new reverence for those who can chose a title for their novel on the first go. Then we moved one step beyond and posted the titles of our WIPs with a brief explanation as to our decision. The comment section was left for questions and other suggestions.

My favorite exercise on the blog so far has been writing loglines/taglines. If you’ve been following The Chicks since our inception, you know my dilemma with a tagline for The Seduction of Lady Bells. I think I’ve written a hundred or more taglines with none of them really standing out. The exercise gave us a chance to show our taglines and then comments/discussion ensued. This is where I discovered that Karyn is brilliant at taglines. Really!

So now the fall/autumn has arrived and I must get back to posting writing exercises. I’m also going to try and complete a writing exercise every week – to step away from the WIP and stretch my writing in a new and different way. Here are some great links if you, too, are thinking of dabbling in writing exercises: Hilarious (but I warn you of language and content – read with that caveat in mind) Weekly-writing prompts combined with a blog. Read the blurb at the top – it’s great. Great exercises for going solo or using in a group setting. And be sure to click on the link to the 6 foot ferrets to discover how the group got their name. An extensive listing of other websites that offer daily/weekly writing exercises.

So, People of Blogland, how many of you exercise your writing? Do you do them occasionally or everyday? Do you think writing exercises would be useful? You can answer my questions and/or try your hand at this writing exercise. We have a varied group of writers that visit us and I would love to read your take on this. I’ve included mine.

Write a short scene from the point of view of a tree as summer changes to fall/autumn and winter slowly (God, I hope it’s slowly) approaches.

"What’s the date? What’s the date?" Tree asked the first two birds that flew past his branches that morning. They either didn’t hear him or were ignoring him.

"Stupid birds! I hope you’re late and some other proverbial bird beat you to it!" Tree’s leaves rustled loudly as he shook his longest branch.

He looked down again annoyed at the crisper sound this morning. Yesterday, it had been a whoosh as he had attempted to flick a woodpecker off the very same branch. He twisted around to check his backside, always the first to discolor and wrinkle.

"What’s the date?" He inquired of the squirrel sprinting past his nether roots.

"September 18th. Gotta go!"

Fall! Oh, how he hated fall. A season by any other name, well some called it Autumn. Summer had come and gone and within weeks he would be naked. 150 years of continuously shedding his protection at the absolutely wrong time. Who came up with that brilliant idea?

Janet (not sure of the formatting, so I apologize ahead of time - I know Hayley gave us a lesson on how to use the quote thingy. Sigh :)


Jana Richards said...

Sorry Janet, I'm at work and can't do the tree thing (presently trying to wolf down lunch without toppling the stacks of paper on my desk).

I admit I'll not a great one for writing exercises. I want to get to the writing itself. But I know you're right. Sometimes we don't know our characters at all and have to spend some time with exercises learning about them.

My soon-to-be-released novella "Burning Love" was the result of a writing exercise that I did at a writing meeting. From a hat, we choose a male character, a female character, and occupations for them both. Then we made up a story for them, kind of a blurb. I got Riley the firefighter and Iris the travel agent and I took it from there. So exercises are good not only for getting to know your characters but for sparking ideas.

Have a lovely day. It's 28 C in Winnipeg today! Too bad I'm stuck in an office.


Helena said...

Hi! This will be short, because I am already late leaving Calgary:)

I used to cringe when writing exercises were mentioned, thinking: "What? Do something on the spot. Ten minute limit. Crikey, you have to be kidding." But now I think they are a great part of the workshops I have attended. So, here goes, tho I have been cheating by thinking about this as I pack my vehicle, etc.

Blue looked down at all the activity in the yard below him. Little gusts of wind scattered dry leaves over the grass, now looking a bit mournful now that its summer sheen was gone.

"I'm glad I don't have to look as naked as you do for the next eight months," he said to Mr. Oak, who still had a few stray leaves clinging to his branches.

"Blue Spruce, you are the most hypocritical tree I know," shot back young Oak. "I heard you whining not so long ago about not getting a colourful display on your branches like I do. Or particularly like Virginia Creeper. Wow, anyone would love to look like Ginny in the fall!"

"Well, it's just a little seasonal depression that hits at this time of year," sniffed Blue. "Wait until mid-January. You'll see the most gorgeous display, with frost and snow clinging to my branches. Sometimes, I think I'm at my very best in winter. Have you every noticed how many pictures are taken of me when there is a clear blue sky on a sunny day? Oh, by the way, do they ever put Christmas lights on your branches?"

A sigh rustled through the trees. Mr. Oak settled back into his autumn nap, and Blue Spruce gazed contentedly over the yard. "It will be a good winter," he whispered to the chickadee flitting around his upper boughs.

Karyn Good said...

Well thanks, Janet! I don't why but I love creating taglines or loglines, any short!

I really enjoyed the writing exercise on the SWR blog. I learned a lot about my wip and my characters. I'm also working my way through a how to book that includes writing exercises. My first thought was, I don't have to write, let alone writing exercises. But they actually helped me figure out a couple of things and helped solidify what I'd learned by putting it into practice.

And here's my attempt at a partial scene.

Tired, so tired, and she got progressively more tired as the autumn days pressed down. You wouldn’t think leaves weighed more than a feather, but try producing and feeding thousands upon thousands. Her trunk hurt thinking about it.

She couldn’t wait to be free. Couldn’t wait to shed the weight of responsibility. To sleep. She listened for the first few notes of autumn’s song to begin, to play in the harvest. But most of all she waited for her change to begin. For the first leaf to turn. And winter.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I really should do more free writing and exercises, but I don't. I just want to sit down and work. Occassionally though, I'll dive into something either when inspiration strikes or when I simply cannot get cracking. More often I do notes and brainstorming to unearth what I'm missing in a character. The SRW blog interviews were really helpful though, not so much for Alkaia, who I know so well, but for DaHannen, unearthing his filial devotion, that pedestal he's placed his father on, and the fact that he can be downright evasive and deceptive about things he doesn't want to explain. Handy stuff.

I think part of it is I have trouble finding anything to latch onto with an exercise, any reason to put an effort into it and make it good. If I don't care and don't relate, I don't bother. So, in that spirit, here's my attempt at latching on to your writing exercise.

They don't come around anymore, those identical pairs over and over. She in white, he in black. The man in the staid suit, the rows of spectators. The fresh-hacked flowers crammed in pots beneath my branches as though my grandeur weren't enough to make their day. 'Oh but darling, it's just so natural to marry out-of-doors,' she whines. The woman with the glasses smiles and takes their cheque. The blood pumps hot, sap runs deep. They gather beneath me and chatter like so many starlings, 'My what a beauty this old one is, how lovely!" as though I spread my leaves and dapple the grass with sunlight for them. They don't come around anymore.

When leaves turn, it's not so lovely to marry out-of-doors. They leave me be, until I'm arrayed to their liking again next year. Earth cools, air stills, fox-red and hare-brown leaves cover the ground, conceal the worn path of so many open-toed heels. Conceal the roots working their to the surface. Winter comes soon, and I need sustenance.

Brown blob among brown leaves, a robin hops, searching for food. Winter is coming, we both need food. Closer, closer. Leaves stir. It freezes. I can feel the rapid pulse beneath its blood-red breast.

It flies. Too late. Roots snatch, grasp, crush, drag it down. Under the leaves, under the ground. Winter comes soon, and I need sustenance.

The sap grows slow. I wait, sleep, conserve, and in the spring I will put on a display so grand and green. It's natural to marry out-of-doors. They will come in pairs, she in white, he in black. Then they won't come any more.

Ban said...

With the exception of the two character interviews I did on my blog (does blogging count BTW?) I've never done writing exercises. I know I should, just as I know I should lift those 5lb weights sitting over there on the floor, staring up at me hopefully but todays' not looking good for exercise ;D
Excellent shorts you two !!! Can't compete and we know I don't have a competive bone so ... I won't. Hee hee (ever tell you I'm one of the hardest people to motivate ?)

Janet C. said...

Hey, Jana - sorry you are stuck in an office on such a beautiful day. Consolation - it is Friday!

Burning Love was the result of a writing exercise? Wow - that's amazing. I've read it and it's fabulous (big promo here for Jana Richards' nouvella Burning Love). I think that's the best thing about a writing exercise - playing 'what if' games and perhaps finding a new story idea.

Thanks for taking time out of your hectic day - and over your lunch hour no less :)

Janet C. said...

"Seasonal Depression" from a tree - that was great, Helena. Wonderful job bringing in the two different kinds of trees into your scene.

I remember doing writing exercises at one of our meetings and the poem you wrote off the cuff about a picture you had chosen. Beautiful. A lot of people become painfully shy when it comes to sharing their writing exercise, but in the right group, it can be really motivating and satisfying. It also gives you that thicker skin everyone needs if she's going to try her hand at this career.

Hope you have a very safe drive and a wonderful retreat. I expect to hear all about it next week.

Janet C. said...

Love your scene, Karyn. Another very different take on the exercise - which is what I love about doing group exercises. Like the SRW interviews - we all approached it a little differently and our voices shown through in that simple writing exercise.

And you really are good at taglines.

Janet C. said...

Well for someone who had to find something to latch onto, Hayley, I must say your scene is very moving. Another totally different view point on the scene - and very creative. Did you find it tedious or useful?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, you have a very lyrical writing style. Well done :)

Enjoy the retreat.

Janet C. said...

ban, ban, ban! This is not competitive in the least. Like I said to Helena, group writing exercises really helped me to grow a thicker skin. It's one thing to write and share over the net, but to actually sit and read your work out loud can be very intimidating.

Glad you stopped by - and I've read your interviews on your blog, very, very good.

Silver James said...

I'm late. Dang deadlines. I do the occasional writer's prompt here and there, and a couple of them have stuck in my brain as ideas for future books in my paranormal series (IF I ever get back to writing it! *SIGH*)

It's great to have you and your humor back, Janet! Wish I had time to play but I'm still working through blogs and email. Catch y'all "for real" next week when things are more normal!

Janet C. said...

Glad you stopped by for a visit, Silver. I know how busy you are. Good luck with the deadlines and writing/revising this weekend. Looking forward to Saturday Brunch, as always.