As a novelist, you’re always looking for ways to improve, no? The point being to become a better and better writer as you go (the role we all aspire to), utilizing various writing exercises to that end.
But ever feel as though you’ve fallen into a rut? Admit it—we all have. And as a book editor, I see the same mistakes being made over and over, often all the way through a novel.
Comes with the territory. While writer’s block is highly overrated (I mean, we can all always write something, even if it’s a new advertising jingle or a comical personal ad, in order to jump start creativity), falling into, and getting out of, a writing rut can prove harder to do.
So, here are 3 writing exercises to take you to a higher level:
Rewrite a scene using no narrator pronouns.
Especially when writing in first-person narrative, the ‘I’ can get quite redundant. Monotonous even (and one reason writing first-person viewpoint can be daunting). I did x. I saw y.
But even in third-person narrative, this holds true. He did x. He heard Y.
Take a scene from you novel, and simply rewrite the whole thing, without using a pronoun one. Yep—this can be unnerving. And not something you’ll be required to do later! But as an exercise, it bears a whole lot of literary fruit.
Doing so forces you to show what the narrator is seeing, to evoke the sounds of what he hears, the aromas he smells.
But most importantly, it takes the focus off of the narrator, and onto what’s going on in the scene.
It helps you, the author, to refocus what’s shining off the page.
Rewrite a scene using no ‘to be’ verbs.
No, I’m in no way advocating banning passive voice! Or even the use of the less-active ‘to be.’ There’s absolutely a place for this—when you want to slow down the narrative, or for effect.
But again, we’re talking about an exercise to refocus your eyes and your pen.
This should end up being fairly comical in places, as your writing machinations to always use active verbs can become like standing on your head to avoid getting your feet wet.
But it’ll challenge your vocabulary, and the way you look at all scenes. And, laughter itself spurs on creativity J
Dump the first 20 pages (or 50) and begin your novel there.
This is one of the most important writing exercises you’ll ever do.
As a book editor, what I see so commonly is a novel that actually starts 50 pages in. It’s so easy, especially when beginning as a novelist (although I see this from established pros as well), to tell the first chapter. Or two. Or . . .
The thing is, you’re getting to know your characters as you’re going along too, seeing where they take you even though you have an idea (or an outline) as to the plot. But often this results in several chapters of character info dump, and no story to go along with it. Or, background as to the time and place, etc.
What I hear most often from writers about this is, “But I have to establish the characters! How will anybody make sense of what’s going on if I don’t get all this front matter out there first?”
I’ll tell you how—you, as the author, have to know all of this stuff. You have to know everything about everybody, at least once the first draft is down.
But your reader doesn’t need to know all of that. Your reader needs only what’s important to the character in this book, this story. He’s trusting you to give him all he needs, but only what he needs.
It’s up to you to use all of that background to cause the hero to jump from the page, to become real to your audience.
But that happens through the events of the story, as the protagonist navigates the plot points that come. We want to get the story going, with the events that force him off balance, cause a call to action, and plunge the hero and reader into the plot.
Now, don’t toss all that background—save it in a separate file. And then weave in what’s truly important as you go.
I teach my authors many tools to help them see their people and places from a different angle, which adds richness and texture to the read. These are just 3 writing exercises, but they’re great ones to start with.
So, go ahead—plunge in! What have you got to lose?