Writing Exercises

by | February 6, 2012 | Writing Exercise | 4 comments

By Ashley Lister Constant Reader, My name is Ashley Lister and, aside from being a regular columnist and reviewer at ERWA, I’m also a freelance writer and a creative writing lecturer. I’m reminding you of this because so many interesting contributors have appeared in this space since I last blogged here I can understand if you’ve forgotten me. As I mentioned last month, I’m using this space to share some of my favourite writing exercises. This month’s exercise deals with characters. Have you ever met a person that you thought you would like – only to discover they were completely unlikable? Conversely, have you ever met a person you expected to despise – only to discover they were surprisingly charming? This happens all the time in the real world. However, it’s only in fiction – and really, only in badly written fiction – where we encounter characters that are written in shades of unmistakable black or white and absolute flavours of good or bad. As writers creating characters, if we want them to be believable representations of real people, we have to keep in mind that real people are multifaceted individuals who are never wholly good or wholly evil. We also have to remember, whilst some characters and their characteristics will remain consistent, their traits will appear to change depending on who is looking at them. To illustrate this point, I recently read out rude a poem to a large audience. The audience members that laughed and applauded clearly thought I was risqué and funny and deserved to be on the stage in front of them. The audience members that walked out and complained clearly thought I was vulgar and humourless. I was the same person at the microphone. But I was a vastly different person to each of those responding in such diverse ways. Here’s the exercise: Write about yourself from the perspective of someone who likes you. Write for about half a page on this first part of the exercise. Now fill out the other half of the page writing about yourself from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like you. Hopefully there should be a contrast in perceptions here. Ambition and greed are often different sides of the same coin. It’s admired to be relaxed but few people approve of someone being lazy – yet the two adjectives can be used interchangeably depending on whether we like or loathe a person. A beloved bargain-hunter can easily be regarded as a despised tightwad. This exercise is not only useful for self-examination. You can use it to better understand how your characters are perceived by other characters in the fictional world you’re creating. Your fashion-conscious protagonist could be seen as a vacuous clothes-horse by her detractors. A sexually adventurous hero could be seen as an immoral man-slut. Take a shot at this exercise and feel free to share your favourite contrasts via the comments box below. It would be interesting to see how readers of this blog believe themselves and their characters to be perceived. Ash

Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Ashley dear – how could anyone forget you?

    I love these exercises. Let's see what I can do.


    I really admire Lisabet's facility with words. She can write about pretty much any topic without a hint of hesitation, filling the page with her unique visions of the mysterious, the spiritual and the erotic. Her blog posts overflow with insight, voicing truths that I immediately recognize as such, though I could never have articulated them myself. Lisabet gives a voice to the desires of those of us who are voiceless.


    I've rarely encountered such a prolix and pedestrian author as Lisabet Sarai. She appears to believe that her words are God's gift to her readers. Certainly, she produces enough of them, rambling on and on when a more perspicacious and sensitive writer would have long ago brought the blog post to a close. Her verbosity is matched only by her smug self-satisfaction. Every sentence that flows from her pen reeks with false cheer and Pollyanna-ish platitudes.


    Argh. Painful!

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Ashley R Lister


    Thank you Lisabet for such a candid and exemplary response.

    When you read these two character summaries one after the other, it's difficult to reconcile them as being about the same person.

    I think that identifying these rich interpretations of characteristics can help us to create more realistic fictional characters.


  3. Donna

    I absolutely love this exercise, Ashley. It will most certainly remind any writer at any stage of the writer's journey that all humans and all characters are complex, and that varying view points fascinate us. As for the self-examination aspect, that is right up my alley (some might call me self-aware, others self-absorbed).

    And Lisabet, your application of this exercise to the specifics of writing made me laugh out loud. You've nailed the rhetoric of reviewing and reminded me that critics represent a viewpoint and not "truth" necessarily.

    I'm going to have fun with the exercise as I write my new stories!

  4. Ashley R Lister


    The difference between self-aware and self-absorbed is the perspective issue at the heart of this exercise.

    As always, I'm looking forward to reading more of your fiction in the future.


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