I thought I'd share some creative writing exercises, beginner tips and useful links for anyone starting out with creative writing. Extra tips are available on the Instagram @goldreslife.
Creative Writing Exercises
Use a picture as an inspiration.
Write from someone else's perspective.
Character-based exercise: Create a character. Who are they? What makes them tick? What was their life like growing up? What is their life like now? Here is a character sheet to help out:
Use a Wikipedia Random Article as a starting point:
Use a book: Open to a random page, say 28, take the third sentence and use that as a prompt.
Stream of consciousness: Narrative technique which renders a flow of sensory, associative, etc impressions, mimicking an individual's consciousness. In other words, you write down your thoughts on a page (or a character's thoughts).
Write a story told to you. If you can't remember one, play a podcast and then write about what you heard.
Set a timer for five minutes and describe what is happening right now. Think about the senses: sight, sound, touch, smell...
Flash fiction: A short story that is 500 words or less. Don't forget, it still needs a plot.
Blogging. Share your knowledge and thoughts on a topic you are interested in.
Common mistakes beginners make
Something I often see in writers who are just starting out is using cliches. Sometimes it's actually really hard to escape them because they are very convenient. We want to avoid cliches because they read as lazy and unoriginal. A really interesting writing exercise we did at the open day at Goldsmiths was writing a poem using as many cliches as we could think of. This could be your first challenge. It can be funny, dramatic, romantic, whatever you want. But the more cliches you use, the better. Get them out of your system.
Examples of Cliches:
A dark and stormy night
Once upon a time
Man of the hour
Fell like a tree
A chill ran down ... spine
A loose cannon
Against all odds
All fun and games
Back against the wall
Xs love was like a rose in bloom
It was raining cats and dogs
Their arguments became more and more heated
Afraid of ones own shadow
'Show, don't tell'
‘Show, don’t tell’ is a technique authors use to add drama to a novel. Rather than telling readers what’s happening, authors use this technique to show drama unfold on the page. ‘Telling’ is factual and avoids detail; while ‘showing,’ is detailed and places the human subject at the centre of the drama. I have mixed feelings about this one. While there is definitely truth to this very popular tip, some new writers actually do the opposite. They often show too much. Sometimes, telling can be good. What you really want to work on is finding a balance between showing and telling. Specifically, you should pay special attention, not to both show and tell the same thing, i.e. disclosing the same information twice. Eg. He opened the door. He grabbed the handle and threw the door open.)
The forest was dark and snowy.
The whole forest was tinted blue. The tree silhouettes, heavy with snow, bent tiredly towards the ground, threatening to snap at any moment. Dry bushes protruded through the snow like dark needles. The road, which resembled badly aged patchwork, was getting increasingly complicated to navigate.
Showing helps the reader get immersed in the story and really experience with the characters. It can, however, have the opposite effect as it can have the opposite effect of boring your audience or seeming melodramatic. When you need to deliver information which does not have to be dramatic and really involved, you should tell it. Nobody wants or needs to read about a character driving for three hours. Or showing days or months past.
Characters are the driving force of a narrative. Especially if you have one main character. Sometimes it's hard to know your characters at the beginning of the story so there are definitely exercises you can do to get to know them. Some people use character sheets. Some people do freewriting exercises. Here are some articles with tips on writing character:
You won't always nail the point of view or narration on the first try. Sometimes you will start with an omniscient narrator and decide to switch to close third person. Sometimes you'll do the opposite. These changes are a natural part of writing and you shouldn't be scared to experiment.
The plot is the skeleton of your story. That's actually how a lot of stories start: with skeletons. That is, a story often starts with an outline of the events taking place - whether you write it down or just have an idea of where you want to go in your head.
Remember that your first draft isn't going to be your last and it's probably not going to be amazing. Here's a couple of editing tips from Stephen King:
Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart
If you have an unnecessary storyline, character or sentence - get rid of it.
When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you're done, you have to step back and look at the forest.
In other words, when we are in the process of writing, we tend to focus on separate words and sentences. When you finish the story, however, you should look at how the story works together as a whole - are there any plot hole, inconsistencies, etc. Self-editing tips available here.