9 Writing Exercises to Get Your Characters and Story Unstuck

by | Apr 19, 2021 | Fiction, Writing

There’s not much worse than a blank page when you sit down to write or being bored with your characters or story. Focusing on the problem doesn’t help, and it’s sometimes hard to get into your creative flow in this state.

I learned some writing exercises yesterday from a great masterclass with J.P Pomare held by the Queensland Writer’s Centre that might help.

Writing Exercise #1 – Start in the middle

Imagine you have your book in hands and you open it to the middle. Start writing 500 words from that point. When you’re done, consider:

  • What made you choose that point?
  • What if you made that the start of your book? Could you jump back to what happens before that if needed?
  • How does it change the timeline or order of events?

Writing Exercise #2 – Genre Change

Maybe you’re writing a sci-fi fantasy. What would happen if you changed it to a different subgenre, for example, a dark fantasy or sci-fi punk? Write a chapter in the style of this new subgenre.

  • What’s lost or gained?
  • Does it make the story more or less intriguing?
  • Are there any elements you could incorporate?
  • Which genre best suits your character?

Writing Exercise #3 – Draft Summary

Often you get stuck when you’re unclear about the story direction or character journey. If you’ve written your first draft, write a 1-2 line summary for each chapter and an overall plot summary.

  • Would you read this book if you heard the plot summary?
  • Are there any gaps?
  • Is there a climax, something that moves the story forward in each chapter?
  • Who is your reader? Would they enjoy this based on the plot and chapter summaries?
  • Does your book contain all the essential elements expected by readers in your genre?
  • What changes can you make?

Writing Exercise #4 – Word Association

Settings have elements common to them, such as roads, buildings, and sidewalks in every city, or sand, the ocean, and seashells at the beach. There’s also always one unique aspect that can’t exist anywhere else, like Central Park in New York or a lighthouse on a headland.

Write 15-20 words associated with your setting, including the unique element. Now write a scene using NONE of those words, except for your unique element. How does it change or improve it?

Writing Exercise #5 – Character Diary

This will help you get into the mind of your character. Choose a point just before or after the inciting incident; the thing that disrupts normality and sets off a chain of events. Write a diary entry from your character’s perspective about it.

  • What do they notice?
  • How do they feel?
  • Who’s involved?
  • When did it happen?
  • Did they foresee the consequences? If not, what did they think the outcome would be?

Writing Exercise #6 – Setting Change

The setting can serve as a character in your story that moves it forward rather than acts as just a backdrop. What would happen if you changed the setting from say the city to the country, or from present day to the past or future? Write a chapter of your book in a completely different setting.

  • How does it change the story?
  • Does it work with your characters?
  • Is it harder or easier to write?

Writing Exercise #7 – Origin Story

I wrote a post about character backstory, which is important for you to know, even if some of it doesn’t make it into your book. It provides you with your character’s motivation and allows you to slowly reveal their flaws through their actions and inactions.

For example, your protagonist might have a fear of fire, because they lost their family in one when they were a child. Now they freeze at the doorway of a room with an open fire and immediately extinguish any burning candles. That’s how you show rather than tell.

Pretend you’re interviewing your character; you can do this for each character in your story. What’s their:

  • Darkest secret
  • Deepest fear
  • Secret desire
  • Greatest ambition
  • Guilty pleasure
  • Scariest childhood event
  • Favourite memory

What do they hate most about themselves and about society? What would they change if they could?

Writing Exercise #8 – The Road trip

Point of View (POV) is the perspective or voice the story is told from – first person (I, my, we), second person (you), third person (he, she, they, it), or omniscient (the all seeing narrator or God perspective). Reedsy has a quiz to help you decide the right POV.

Imagine three of your characters are taking a road trip and are trying to decide what to listen to. Write their thoughts and opinions from each POV.

  • Whose is the strongest voice? Why?
  • What POV is it in?
  • Where are they sitting in the car?
  • How do you decide who wins?

Now write a chapter of your book from this perspective. How does it change the story or your writing of it?

Writing Exercise #9 – Conflict Creation

If your story lacks conflict or tension between the characters, it will fall flat. Conflict drives character’s actions by forcing them to move towards something or away from it. If a scene is boring, re-write it from a different angle.

Raymond Chandler advises having a man walk through the door with a gun and seeing how the scene unfolds. A suggestion from J. P Pomare is to have your character notice a stranger looking at them and explore what happens next. A third option is to ask, “What else could happen here?”

I would love to hear your techniques to get unstuck. Please post them below.

Cheers to your writing success!