The two I do most are dialog and description related. When I meet a person or I'm just sitting people watching, I try to write their description in my head as if I was describing a character in a novel. I focus on the physical - tall, short, weak chin, high cheek bones, etc, etc.

The other one I do is I try and couch conversations I am party to as dialog. I focus on how words are spoken, nuances of expression, tone, word choice, etc. I then try to convey the natural language in text as close to how it was spoken as possible.

I've gotten a lot of positive feedback since I started this. What other exercises or techniques do other writers have that they use to improve their style?

  • 2
    People who voted to close: I think this is a very real question. Perhaps it could be made less broad, but it's helpful nonetheless. – Maulrus Nov 22 '10 at 19:17
  • @Maulrus - The subject is quite important, and the fact that it covers a lot of ground isn't a problem. The author didn't actually ask anything, and Stack Exchange is about asking and answering questions. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Nov 23 '10 at 1:23
  • If the last sentence was rephrased as a question, would it be acceptable? – Maulrus Nov 23 '10 at 1:30
  • @Maulrus - I took a stab at rephrasing it – justkt Nov 23 '10 at 15:34
  • Locked as per meta thread. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jun 14 '18 at 20:07
  • Take the opening sentence from a short story that you have not yet read (this likely won't work as well if you have read it). Write a story starting with the opening sentence.

  • Find a painting, post card, or photograph. Describe it with as much "showing" as possible. Try to incorporate all five senses.

  • Pick a relative whom you don't know very much about. Starting with what you do know and common traits in your family, create a character portrait. Focus more on motivation questions (loves, hates, wants, desires, fears, needs) than on facts (job, age, sex, location).

  • Write your dreams down.

  • Take a scene from a work of fiction that you admire. Try re-writing from a different point of view, from a different character's perspective, or against a different back drop.

  • Try writing a piece of extremely short fiction in which you manage to convey an interesting character in 55 words or less

  • A lot of my story ideas actually come from dreams. – MGOwen Dec 24 '10 at 1:53

Ask a friend or someone for a random word.

Write it down on the top of a sheet of paper.

Then with a one minute time limit, try writing down as many related words as you can.

I find that fun, and it gets you thinking!

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    I read about an exercise for writing poetry that extends this: Write down the word or theme for your poem. Then write down all the words you associate with this. No go ahead and write your poem WITHOUT using any of the associated words. – erikric Nov 22 '10 at 7:45

Set a stopwatch. I usually do 10, 20, or 30 minutes; don't do less than 5. Take a pen and some paper, or a computer, and start writing. Don't stop until the stopwatch hits zero. Write whatever you have to write to keep writing, even if it's mindless filler. By the time you finish writing "I don't know what to write" you'll have another idea. I find that this really gets my brain working, and the ideas are usually flowing afterwards.

A less extreme alternative is the above, but you can stop writing. (However, don't go back and edit anything.) This is an interesting way to write a short story; the ideas can start to chain up pretty wildly. I find it less effective than the first exercise, but it is more fun.

  1. Pick a city that you've never been to and do some research about it. Then write about going there and try to describe what you see, hear, smell, etc.

  2. Take a piece of your writing, go through it and look for non-descript words, such as 'nice', 'beautiful' and 'wonderful'. List these words, and detail what they are actually supposed to be describing.

  3. On the left side of the page, list tangible nouns. On the right side of the page, list intangible nouns. Combine them in a phrase.

  4. I like to go to public places and listed to conversations. Then, I write down some bits of dialogue that I hear and try to "guess" what that person is really like by writing down what I think they're like.


Here's one I do. Grab a random book, flip to a random page and pick a single sentence from it (assuming that it makes sense). I find this works well if there is some dialog to go along with it.

Now, start with that sentence and start writing from it for about twenty minutes. Don't follow the story that it came from,see what you can come up with.

I find this works really well if you're feel like you can't come up with new and interesting ideas.


Keep a diary. Try to make it more fun. I, for example, use OhLife.com for it.

  • "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train." (The Importance of Being Earnest) – justkt Dec 6 '10 at 16:17

One thing I've seen a few people do on Twitter is post 3 words, ask for a sentence. You get some silly ones, but it actually makes you think and exercise your mind. Someone took that further and asked for a page of writing that incorporated 3 ideas.

I would it was an interesting way to force yourself to be creative while at the same time incorporating constraints. Just as you might have in a story you're writing. You can move in new directions, but you're constrained somewhat by what has already happened in the story.

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