Being a Better Writer: Writing Exercises for Viewpoints

Welcome back, readers! And welcome to Tuesday! As you probably guessed, I had work shift yesterday, and as low as hours have been lately, there was no way I wasn’t taking it.

Just gotta make it to the end of August. The end of August.

Anyway, you guys aren’t here to hear about how close to the edge a writer’s life is. You’re here to hear about how it can be you at the edge!

I’m only sort of joking. Anyway, you’re here today for Being a Better Writer, and today we’ve got another request topic to tackle. Which, if you’ve glanced at the title above, you already know of: writing exercises.

Okay. I’ll give you all a minute to think on that one, and then I’m going to change the game. And again, if you saw the title, you’ve already guessed how that’s going to change.

I won’t be offering a comprehensive breakdown of dozens of writing exercises. Because, honestly, it’s easy to find writing exercises. Just type “good writing exercises” into Google and you’re bound to find hundreds. My offering, in that respect, of retreading the same ground? Not so useful.

However … that doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer. I’m not going to retread a bunch of exercises you’ll find elsewhere, but I will go over some of the exercises I did in college, as a young writer in creative writing classes, and discuss what made them stand out and why I still remember them today.

Sure, it’ll be a bit unconventional for a BaBW post, but I’m allowed to do that. It’s my site, and I answer to me. So, looking back, here are several challenges and exercises that helped me improve at my craft: what they were, what they each entailed, and how they helped me get better.

Let’s rock.

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Being a Better Writer: Sex Appeal, Attractiveness, and Character Description

Could someone please get a fire extinguisher and have it standing by, please? Because this is one of those topics that, thrown before the wrong crowd, can have torches lit before the title has even finished appearing on screen.

Which, obviously, is not the goal of Being a Better Writer … but torch-lighting is the goal of others online, so there’s still a chance. Hopefully the comments on this one don’t devolve—or worse, dive—into a flame war.

Because, if I’m honest, this is a topic that I think needs to be discussed more among writers, if only to keep them from falling into what is, quite frankly, a bit of a trap-like pit that can drag multiple aspects of their story down if tackled poorly. And … let’s be fair here, a lot of works handle this poorly. Which is why I chose to write on this topic in the first place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, here. So let’s back up and start where these things ought to start—the beginning—and get some context out of the way. Such as “What do I mean when I say this post is about sex appeal and character description?”

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Being a Better Writer: Order of Operations

Hello again, readers, and welcome to yet another Being a Better Writer post with an ominous, math-based title!

I know, I know. Forty percent of you clicked away after reading that sentence. Another fifty percent didn’t make it past seeing the title. And the twenty percent that are left? They know what’s wrong with that last statement.

Actually, if you’re quick on the uptake, you might have realized that there’s more than one error in that last paragraph. The first most probably spotted, but the second …? Well, it has to do with our title, which means that this is as good a point as any to dive right in and get into things.

So, let’s go ahead and start then. Except … unlike normal, I actually want to start today with a bit of a hands-on moment. A writing prompt, if you will. You may have noticed that there’s a scenic picture below. See it? You might need to hit the jump. Anyway, it’s a picture of the Kennecott Copper Mine ghost town in Alaska. This particular picture was shared to Reddit, IIRC, so hopefully it’s all right to use it here. I didn’t take it, is what I’m saying, and the goal here is to use it for educational purposes. You can click on it to see it in all its glory (which I recommend).

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Being a Better Writer: Empty Details

Today’s topic is a bit of the inverse of the one I wrote last week. I didn’t intend for this at first—in fact I had no plans for an inverse article when I sat down last Monday; the appearance of this one is entirely coincidence brought about by something I was reading.

But coincidence aside, it’s a worthwhile topic to discuss, because it’s something that can crop up all to easily in fiction … even among experienced authors. For example, while I tend to notice empty details occurring pretty regularly among young writers, I also occasionally find them in finished works as well (one such notice being the result of today’s topic). Given all the time that I’ve spent on this blog discussing the importance of little details and how we can feed things out to our readers, I feel that it’s important, then, to discuss the inverse: empty details.

Empty details are the result of trying to add too much detail to one’s writing. It can stem from a number of sources. Maybe the author in question feels that the isn’t enough going on and tries to liven a scene up by adding more detail. Maybe they’re worried that their dialogue seems sparse (this is one area where this issue seems to crop up most often). Or maybe they’re just trying to reach an arbitrary word count for the day.

It could be any number of reasons. Well, the end result is that they fill their scene with these empty details.

Right, I’ve used that term a couple of times now. What do I mean by it?

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Being a Better Writer: Character Descriptions

This post was originally written and posted November 17th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s topic inspired was by a bit of a firestorm I saw with regards to a story that someone had written. And while the firestorm in question will definitely not be the subject of today’s post, nor do I wish to get into that as it is nearly an entirely separate topic, today’s topic will brush up against it for a brief moment.

Today, I’m going to talk about character descriptions.

Character descriptions are something that every new writer struggles with, and often many somewhat experienced writers as well. Because when we get right down to it, character descriptions fall into one of those writing areas where no one teaches you how to do it, and everyone assumes that it’s fairly straightforward and to the point. “You shouldn’t need to be taught about this,” the public mindset seems to say. “How hard can it be? You just describe your character!”

Well, as it turns out, and as most new writers discover when they put their pencil to paper for the first time, describing your characters is much more difficult than it appears. It’s hard. Many writers, in a fit of panic (or without realizing it), will simply throw out a narrated description of basic looks—eye color, hair, figure, etc—and then just jump right into the story, without realizing how jarring and unappealing to the reader such a description is. Only upon going back do most of them realize how truly unappealing it is for a story to start off with “Bob was Asian, five-foot-seven-inches, with brown hair and brown eyes … etc, etc.” Only when they do realize how unappealing it is does the real panic set in, when they realize that they have no idea how to do any differently.

Which is why I’m talking about this today. Because to many readers, how you describe a character can be a make-or-break point for the entire book. Young writers don’t quite realize how important something as simple as a character description can be to the reader’s acceptance of a work. Plenty a time has been the moment when a reader has picked up a book, read only a few paragraphs, run across a poor character description, and put the book back on the shelf. Why? Because even if they don’t consciously realize it, a poor character description is often an indicator of other problems with the book, be they weakness of story, poor attention to detail, or just in general a low-quality read.

Yikes. Suddenly the amount and care for detail you put into your character description takes on a whole new level of importance, doesn’t it? It might not just be something that’s a nice part of your work, it’s something that the very reading of your work may hinge upon.

Kind of makes it important to get right.

So, where do you start? How do you go about making sure that your character description is going to be something that keeps your reader flipping through your pages? Well, to start, you’re going to need to know a few things about your work.

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