Writing Exercises

Yesterday I submitted my first ever fiction piece for publication. I doubt it will get accepted (it is my first submitted piece, after all), but I figured I should try.

Writing non-fiction is easy for me, but fiction is harder. Much harder. However, as any good writer knows, there are three rules to writing: write, keep writing and write more.

I generally have interesting ideas, but my characterization skills are a bit weak and I'm not terribly good at establishing the setting and atmosphere. To rectify that, I have am working through some writing exercises and thought I would share one with you.

The exercise is to pick up a book at random (preferably one you do not know), pull one sentence out of it and, without referring to the context, write keep writing from that sentence, without stopping, three times, each time taking off in a different direction. The sentence I read at random was:

"A man called Bruno seems to be their most colourful victim. Perhaps he chattered with angels too, so to speak."

So let's see how I handle this.

1. "A man called Bruno seems to be their most colourful victim. Perhaps he chattered with angels too, so to speak."

Clearly they weren't going to let this matter lie, but if Bruno was really chattering with angels, perhaps he really was communicating with the Angels. This was bad, but perhaps not as bad as if they were communicating with Bruno.

The trio sat and stared at the campfire, its sparking and crackling the only hint of a conversation. It mocked their silence, seeming to be bright and happy, casting playful shadows about their grim faces. The ladies knew that Bruno's disappearance was a problem. More important, though, was whether or not he really was chatting with the Angels.

2. "A man called Bruno seems to be their most colourful victim. Perhaps he chattered with angels too, so to speak."

At this, Angel Raphael looked up. His solemn, beautific, almost painfully perfect face turned to each person in turn, the light from his gaze illuminating their faces as he regarded them. One by one, they met his piercing blue eyes, cold as ice chips but warm as a mother's love. Raphael's wings fluttered nervously when he finally spoke.

"Fuck off. I'da heard about it if Bruno was grassing on 'em. Ain't no shit goes down that I don't know about."

And with that, a collective herd of shoulders slumped in relief.

3. "A man called Bruno seems to be their most colourful victim. Perhaps he chattered with angels too, so to speak."

Sally, a broken down street walker if there ever was one, protested loudly. "Bruno wasn't going down. He woulda beaten 'em to death with his cock with one testicle tied behind his ass!"


The nun coughed nervously. She knew that no wimple was white enough to overcome the black stain on Sally's soul. Plus, like the rest of the gathering, she had no idea what the hell Sally meant. Usually Sally didn't either. The nun quickly made the sign of the cross, her fingers automatically tracing out the seven points.

Hmm, I have a lot of work to do, but I think the disturbed direction of my thoughts is giving me hints as to my voice. It's a dark voice with a tendency to hysteria. This is going to be harder than I thought.

Way too frilly. You’re writing descriptions of scenery and people, with a bit of plot mixed in; too static. It should be the other way around. Also, in the first one, you repeat yourself about what the sentence means and what’s important. Here’s an attempt to show what I mean, keeping in mind I’m not exactly the greatest writer either…

The trio sat and stared grimly at the campfire. They weren’t going to let this matter lie anyhow, of course. But perhaps that meant Bruno was really communicating with the Angels. The fire sparked and crackled cheerfully, the only hint of a conversation, mocking their silence. Were the Angels communicating with Bruno too? That could be worse. Playful shadows danced about their faces. They would have to find out.

Aristotle, thank you very much! Posting something like this in blog a lot of my friends read has the danger of not getting honest feedback. I like how you interlaced the description and the plot. Your actual sentences aren't quite in the style I would write, but the mixture leavens things out a bit.

No problem. :-)

I wasn’t suggesting this is specifically how you should write it, just trying to illustrate what I meant. Showing beats telling for this sort of thing, past a point.

What I was getting at is to not try to paint a photographic picture of the scenery in your head; that’s a pretty common mistake. Pick just the salient bits of the image, and then flesh them out only as much as the pace of the story can tolerate. Don’t get too florid with the adjectives. Keep things moving and unfolding, so the reader will stay engaged; exploit their imagination to achieve that, instead of trying to impose on it.

And don’t try to get things just so right away; the first thing you write is raw material that will need deliberate moulding, so don’t go putting so much effort into it that you’d get attached. Writing is rewriting. (OK, I’ll stop here; I’m getting into generics and you probably know all this already.)

(And don’t consider me some kind of guru. This is all merely advice from much better writers than me. My main asset is an appreciation for all the intricate ways in which things can be flawed, not so much a talent for getting them right.)

Hope this helps. :-) Good luck, it’s hard work.