Writing Exercises 181-200 are on this page.
Exercises 1- 20
Exercises 21- 40
Exercses 41 - 60
Exercises 101 - 120
Exercises 121 - 140
Exercises 141 - 160
Exercises 161 - 180
Exercises 181 - 200
Exercises 201 - 240
Exercises 241 - 260
For writing exercises for kids, click here.
For teens, begin here.
Exercise # 181
I never used to admit that I like to write things related to holidays. Here are a couple of valentine exercises:
What is the daily life of Cupid like? In this case I mean the little Cupid who appears in advertisements and commercials, not the one from mythology.
Write a monologue poem for your Cupid.
Write a personification-- that is, describe an individual or creature called "Love." Try something other than the little chubby toddler above with the wings too small for use, and be sure and include objects Love has, Love's clothes, etc.
Exercise # 182
Here's something different to try. Can you find the original poem in this wordy version? For prose writers like me, learning to tighten and cut can be one of the great challenges of revision.
For the original poem, a translation from the Japanese, click here.
It is a beautiful morning
The sun is shining
The sky is blue
At my grandmother’s farm
in the country.
I see a little small tiny
brown and black sparrow
chirping and pecking.
He is in the road
Suddenly I see danger!
Hey, sparrow, I say,
Quick! Quick! Move fast! Hurry!
Move out of the way,
A huge white Horse with big feet
And a long rough mane
Is coming right at you!
Exercise # 183
Write the address of an apartment or house where you once lived. Close your eyes and put yourself back there, experiencing it with all your senses, not neglecting smell, touch and sound. Walk through it. Write in detail a description of the place.
Now write something that happened there once...
Exercise # 184
Describe a person you have seen, or a character in something you are writing, in the form an introduction. Have the character speak to the reader, describing himself or herself directly. This is a good way to explore a character's perception of self. Model your writing on these opening lines of Par Lagerkvist’s novel The Dwarf:
I am twenty-six inches tall, shapely and well proportioned, my head perhaps a trifle too large. My hair is not black like the others, but reddish, very stiff and thick, drawn back from my temples and the broad but not especially lofty brow. My face is beardless, but otherwise just like that of other men. My eyebrows meet. My bodily strength is considerable, particularly if I am annoyed. When the wrestling match was arranged between Jehosophat and myself I forced him onto his back after twenty minutes and strangled him. Since then I have been the only dwarf in this court.
(Opening lines of Par Lagerkvist's 1944 novel,The Dwarf as it appeared in the 1958 Hill and Wang translation.)
Exercise # 185
I am writing this latest exercise on May Day, which was for many, many centuries a celebration of spring, and then, for many more years, a holiday celebrating labor called International Workers' Day.
Write a passage of prose or perhaps a poem celebrating work. This could be a detailed description of the beauty of someone gardening or making tortillas or running a piece of heavy equipment. Focus on the beauty of the physical act of labor.
If you are engaged in a novel or memoir, try to make this have a place in your work.
Exercise # 186
There's an amazing webcam trained on an Allen's Hummingbird somewhere in Orange County, California. People have gotten totally fascinated by this tiny bird's life, her frequent egg laying and babies, the occasional attacks by lizards and crows.
Visit the website, then write
(a) a description of what you see
(b) an ode to Phoebe Allen
(c) a revision and improvement on the annoying chat dialogue running alongside the webcam image. Can you make more sense of it? This in itself would be an interesting experiment in the difference between boring reality and sharp, presumably meaningful fiction.
Exercise # 187
Write a scene in which someone (you, if you're working on memoir) attends a religious observance that is unfamiliar. Begin with the concrete observations that the individual makes, and then move into the reactions, which can range from admiring to frightened to critical with a million variations. Then try to have the character make some generalization, correct or off-base.
Here is a sample from the prologue to my novel Trespassers about a very small difference in the translation of a prayer in two Protestant sects:
That week-end, her friend...invited her to sleep over on Saturday night and to go to the Methodist church on Sunday morning. Our girl, a Baptist, had never been to a Methodist church. She hoped they wouldn't think she had switched sides. Everything went smoothly until they said the Lord's Prayer.
She had been taught to say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” but at the Methodist church, they said, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
She went cold and sucked in her breath.
She vowed she would never say those wrong words, not even if it offended the strange Methodist God, who owned everything and knew what she had done that afternoon up on the hill.
Exercise # 188
Here is an interesting writing prompt, courtesty of Suzanne McConnell Her response to the prompt follows.
The exercise is simply to write for ten minutes beginning with this sentence:
You better not never tell nobody but God.
“You better not never tell nobody but God.”
“And he ain’t listening,” Grady said.
“He listening all right,” his mother said. “You b’lieve me, he can listen. He seeing you right now.”
“I done spect he is. But even He cain’t do nothing about it now.”
“Someone can,” his mother said. “Your girlfriend. The po-lice. “
“I ain’t telling them. “
“I said, you better not never tell nobody. You get to drinkin, you get to thinking, you prone to talking. Better quit drinking. Better go somewheres. Get your jaw wired tight.”
“I gonna light out at the end of the day. Shouldn’t a even tole you.”
“I’m your Mama. Not telling you to git, just telling you not to tell nobody else, son.”
“Reckon you are. All I done was seen it. Thas all I done.”
“You tell your loudmouth girlfriend, she go tell that preacher. Word gets out, them hoses will come around, and a cross will burn right on my lawn, you know that. One life, a couple of lifes gone. No need for another one, yours or mine. Jes’ keep what you saw in the dark to yourself.”
“I doan know, Mama, if I can do that.” He heard himself say it so softly, as softly as he’d ever heard anything, and the kitchen floor creaked, creaked all by itself. He’d seen that big white man, and the skinny one, in the dark dead of the night, going down the Ozark road, and he’d seen who they were dragging behind, that body bouncing along the dirt road, and he’d brought her the headline in the paper. He knew who those men were, even knew their names, and now he felt the burden of knowledge in a way he’d never known.
He looked around the kitchen. The tin pot on the stove, the yellow flowered potholder she’d made, the dishtowel from flour sack. He knew this kitchen, man he knew it. Lineoleum beat up, tore up near the icebox. Light green squares. The dishes, Sears Roebuck, with the red wheat pattern in the middle, the red line circling the edge. Fake bone-handled silverware, Sears too. The curtains she’d sewed, the hems ready-made from the hems of the sack, now a little ragged, and how his Pa liked to tease her about her corn bread made with too much white flour just so she could get her hands on those flour sacks. The window and outside the blue bottle tree.
Exercise # 189
Take an old passage of your writing-- something you haven't looked at for months or years, or a passage you've been having trouble with. Try revising it in some particular genre: that is to say, try giving it a tone or romance or some of the suspense of a thriller. Imagine it is being prepared to be read by young adults or even children. Could it be a cowboy story or a fantasy? I'm not so much suggesting a parody here (although that could be fun) as a new way of looking at the material: what if there were a mystery? Would this still work without the sex? Give it a try, and see if anything comes out that you might use...
Exercise # 190
Does your main character change during the course of your story or novel? Where does the character start? Where does she or he end? Write a one paragraph report just on this change. "As the novel begins, Lester is a typical thoughtless vampire who finds himself as the story goes on, falling in love with one of his victims. He doesn't like the feeling of responsibility that comes with this. By the end..."
Exercise # 191
Here is an interesting writing prompt, courtesty of Suzanne McConnell. Her response to the prompt follows.
This prompt was visual. Suzanne used this image: Girl looking in a window from outside. Inside there’s a lamp shade turned oddly up, the other way, over the end of a couch.
What’s in here, Louise thought. She’d stopped because she saw that no one was home, it seemed. She wasn’t prone to peering into people’s windows. But there was no car in the driveway, no lights on in any other room but this, and she could see from the outside that there was something awry. Or she sensed it, maybe, because really, she told herself, she hadn’t seen the shade until she’d already peered in. There was a pile of pages on the couch, typed pages. Part of it was neatly stacked, part turned over and fanned out, like someone had been reading them.
“Hello,” a voice said. She turned around but no one was there. She heard it. She swear she did. Then a woman came into the room, a woman about her age, and sat down on the couch and picked up the stack. She looked as if she were going to read, but suddenly looked straight out at Louise.
I know she can’t see me, it’s dark out here, Louise thought. But the woman continued to look straight at her. She had quite piercing eyes, a frank, pointed stare. What are you staring at, Louise stopped herself from saying aloud.
“You are the audience,” the voice said. Now it seemed the voice of the woman. “You are unknown. I am the one in the light, exposed. These pages expose. You are staring in, staying outside in the darkness, with nothing to lose, or be judged by.” Louise knocked on the door. It was a front porch, in the front of the house. She’d had to go around. She didn’t hear anyone coming. She knocked louder. Still, the woman did not stir. “Let me in,” Louise said. She began banging, banging, banging on that door.
Exercise # 192
Urban Dictionary is an interesting resource online where people put in their own definitions of current slang and catch phrases. Most of the contributors also give examples of usage to show what they mean-- and a lot of these are really funny bits of dialogue. For example, Chris G. writes that "violent agreement " means when two people think they are arguing, but fail to realize they actually agree. His example is
Ross: This arena is bigger than the old one.
Morgan: Not much bigger.
Ross: It is bigger.
Morgan: Barely, hardly enough to notice.
Ross: It's definitely bigger!
Morgan: But NOT MUCH bigger!
Chris: Uhhh, guys? You're in violent agreement.
Try a passage of dialogue that makes clear some slang term that has always amused you-- either with or without a definition. Or, get a term from Urban Dictionary and use that.
Exercise # 193
Read the scene below in which an ill-matched but very rich couple is passing time on their yacht on the Mediterranean. We are, of course, in Victorian England where the rules are different from now. Try writing a scene in which a modern ill-matched couple is subtly acting out their bad relationship.
From Chapter 54 of George Eliot's Daniel Deronda:
For their behavior to each other scandalized no observer--not even the foreign maid, warranted against sea-sickness; nor Grandcourt's own experienced valet: still less the picturesque crew, who regarded them as a model couple in high life. Their companionship consisted chiefly in a well-bred silence. Grandcourt had no humorous observations at which Gwendolen could refuse to smile, no chit-chat to make small occasions of dispute. He was perfectly polite in arranging an additional garment over her when needful, and in handing her any object that he perceived her to need, and she could not fall into the vulgarity of accepting or rejecting such politeness rudely.
Grandcourt put up his telescope and said, "There's a plantation of sugar-canes at the foot of that rock; should you like to look?"
Gwendolen said, "Yes, please," remembering that she must try and interest herself in sugar-canes as something outside her personal affairs. Then Grandcourt would walk up and down and smoke for a long while, pausing occasionally to point out a sail on the horizon, and at last would seat himself and look at Gwendolen with his narrow immovable gaze, as if she were part of the complete yacht; while she, conscious of being looked at was exerting her ingenuity not to meet his eyes. At dinner he would remark that the fruit was getting stale, and they must put in somewhere for more; or, observing that she did not drink the wine, he asked her if she would like any other kind better. A lady was obliged to respond to these things suitably; and even if she had not shrunk from quarrelling on other grounds, quarreling with Grandcourt was impossible; she might as well have made angry remarks to a dangerous serpent ornamentally coiled in her cabin without invitation. And what sort of dispute could a woman of any pride and dignity begin on a yacht?
Exercise # 193
Pick an event from history, perhaps one you lived through, and write about what you (or some characters) were doing at the time. Where were you (if you're old enough) when Kennedy was shot? How about when the World Trade Center went down? What was happening in your life (or your characters' lives)? Was it influenced by the historic event or in contrast to it?
You might also try an event from before you were born, and imagine what it would have been like to be there-- or just to be alive at the time.
Exercise # 194
Write a story about a marriage (or other relationship) that is affected by a secret. First read these two classics: Kate Chopin's “ Desiree's Baby.” Your story, of course, can have a very different outcome.
Exercise # 195
Write about an event that happened before you were born-- as if you were alive and part of it, or at least alive and aware of it. Do some research if necessary-- what was the weather like? Differences in technology? Did men and women wear hats and caps on a daily basis?
Exercise # 196
Write a monologue or other speech for a character or a person you have met. If it's a real person, make it fit the person, but not necessarily be verbatim from something you heard. Have the person explain why they did something or tell about something important to them or even an obsession.
Exercise # 197
Halloween is coming, and the Mexican Day of the Dead: human efforts to deal with what we feel when faced with the mysterious end of life. We make fun of it or we make it familiar, or we make it terrifying. Here is one of my favorite horror stories, an old one by W.W. Jacobs, called "The Monkey's Paw." Read it, then try writing a horror story of your own. It can be a real ghost story, like the W.W. Jacobs one, or something funny. Just make your reader shudder!
Exercise # 198
A rich source of writing for memoir, children's literature and certainly for adult stories and novels as well is material from childhood. Try this: write the story of some secret you or someone close to you had as a child. This could range from the humorous (like my younger sister trading toys for a huge white buck rabbit that she tried to hide from my mother and named Secret) to something serious that caused repercussions later on.
Exercise # 199
Have you ever been to Florence? If you have, pick another city-- a city where you have never been, but always wanted to go. Google for an image of it, study it for at least five minutes, then write an imaginary trip there-- what do you see? Smell? What happens?
Exercise # 200
Thanksgiving has come and gone. Write a family Thanksgiving (or other holiday) story in two versions: one, a heart-warming happy family moment, and two, something contentious, cynical or otherwise opposite to heart-warming. This can range from a true serious family conflict to something funny to something totally made up. The challenge is to use the same basic situation or material and come up with two very different versions of it.
out of the way,
Horse is coming!
By Kobayashi Issa
Translated by Robert Hass
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