Exercises and Writing Prompts


A few folks have asked me to provide more writing exercises and prompts. Writing exercises and prompts are a wonderful way to generate story ideas and hone your craft skills. I just love them and I aim to please my readers so this month’s column is full of exercises and prompts.

Just like athletes practice their game before they actually compete, authors should practice their craft. Writing prompts and exercises can be used as warm-ups; to help you hone your craft skills; explore different styles or topics; and, most importantly, to stretch outside of your comfort zone. I use writing prompts in my column as well as in workshops and classes that I teach.

I’ve pulled together exercises and prompts from all of my old columns and class as well as adding in some new ones. I’ve loosely organized them by topic but many of them over lap and address multiple areas of interest simultaneously. I hope you enjoy them and are inspired by them.

General Writing Exercises

Interview Exercise
Interview another author or a friend for 5 mins. Now write a story about their past based on what you have learned but using your creative powers to fill in the details you don’t have to create an exciting story.

Picture This Exercise
Use a magazine or table top photo book and randomly select a picture. Look at the picture for no more than 3 minutes then close the book. Write a two page story about the picture. This exercise can also be done with photos from your childhood if you are interested in writing memoir.

Exercises for Generating ideas

Slips of Paper Method
The Slips of Paper Method is one of my favorite writing exercises. Use the Slips of Paper Method to generate just about anything from characters to places to story ideas to conflicts by changing what you list on the slips. Essentially you will have three piles of slips and select one from each pile to generate whatever it is you are looking for.

To get started, cut about 40 2×2 inch slips of paper and separate them into three piles. It is best to have at least ten slips in each pile, but feel free to have more and to reuse them.

To generate a character: list 3 physical traits on each slip of paper in pile A; 3 personality strengths on each slip in pile B; and 3 personality weaknesses on each slip in pile C. For example: Character A: A: blonde, 5’10, c-cup; B: driven, focused, loyal; C: self-centered, compulsive, fear of failure. Character B: A: short red hair, muscular, 5’5; B: committed, determined, honest; C: closed minded, sneaky, stubborn.

To generate an erotic short story: list one to two conflicts on each slip of paper in pile A; list a location on each slip of paper in pile B; and list two sex acts on each slip of paper in pile C. Select one slip from each pile and use them with the characters you have generated to write a story. For example: A: Character A is dating character B’s best friend; B: at a ski resort in a hot tub; C: oral and bondage. Use these with the two characters above to write a story.

Be creative with what you list on the slips and daring with the combinations you make.

Personal Ads
Personal ads are one of the best free tools for inspiration for story ideas. In addition to character traits, many of the ads contain ideas for locations and activities, and, when put together with another randomly selected ad, they often include built in conflict.

Cut out 20 or 30 women-seeking-women ads and put them into an envelope. Keep the envelope near your writing area for use when needed. Randomly select two ads from the envelope and read them. The ads will provide basic character information that you can build on and often activities and settings can be drawn out of the descriptions.

What’s not written in the ads is as important as what is. Contemplate the ads and consider what you know about psychology and human nature. Then, ask yourself:
What is the person who wrote this ad like physically? Emotionally? What is she looking for in a partner? Are there hints of potential areas of conflict, locations for scenes, activities you might write about? Now write a story about the two people in the ads as a couple or having a sexual encounter.

Couples Sex Books
Sex-Aid and How-To Books are a great resource for both learning about sexual acts that you aren’t familiar with and for finding inspiration for a story idea. Reading about different sex acts can inspire you to write a story centered on that sex act. Likewise, books like 101 Nights of Grrreat Romance, where the pages are sealed and need to be torn open to reveal a predetermined sexual scenario, can be great fun and a source of strong inspiration. Page through them until something inspires you, randomly open the book to a page and start there, or select a sexual activity you haven’t written about and read the entry in the resource book of your choice. Write a story centered on that activity.

POV Exercises

Consider these questions after each exercise is completed:
Who is telling this story? Who is the best narrator(s) for this story? How does the point of view affect your responses to the characters? How is your response influenced by how much the narrator knows and how objective he or she is? What else has to change when I switch the POV of the piece? How does switching the POV affect the tone and feel of the story? Does it change which events you can depict or how you depict them? The story’s meaning?

  1. Take four pages of a current story and switch it to (1) First-Person POV; (2) Omniscient Point of View; (3) Limited-Omniscient Point of View.
  2. Write a two character sex scene in (1) First-Person POV character A; (2) First-Person POV character B; (3) Omniscient Point of View; and (4) Objective Point of View.

Character Building Exercises

Who is Your Character? Exercise
Consider these questions in relation to your character:
Based on the construction of your character, who is she really from a nonjudgmental perspective? We all have a view of who we are. This view isn’t always held by those around us. With that in mind: How does your character view herself? How do other characters view her? How will/should the reader view her?

Basic Character Sheet Exercise
Basic Character Sheets are great fun and theyallow you to map out a character. The more you know, the better you will be able to listen to what she wants to tell you and to determine what she will do next. For example, not only do you want to know where she went to school but how she did, what her favorite and least favorite classes and teachers were. You may not include any of this information in your actual story, but in real life these things affect who we are and the choices we make and so they should also affect who your character is and the choices she makes.

Character sheets can be found in many forms all over the web and in writing text of all kinds. Review what is available and then create your own sheet. Here is a general list for a basic character sheet:

Physical traits: a description of your characters body including age, race, body size, hair color, tattoos, etc…
History: Birth to start of story
Life history details: work, school, hobbies, interests, family, friends, pets, etc…
Religion or lack of and/or life-ideology or lack of
Psychological make-up: Behavior traits and patterns
Key events time line: include both positive and negative events that shaped the character into who she is at the start of the story
Speech traits and patterns
Sexual history and tastes

Researching What You Do Not Know Exercise
This exercise encourages you to experiment with different types of characters. It will help you to broaden your character base and write outside of your comfort zone. Use an existing story (at least 4 or 5 pages, but no more than 10) to do this exercise. Change one of the following elements for your main character: gender, race, age, class. How does this affect the details of your story? How does it affect the actions of your main character? What information are you lacking to fully develop your new main character? Once you have finished the rewrite, research the missing information.

Ten Things
Make a list of 10 things your character: Hates, Loves, Wants, Has, Needs, Regrets, Envies, Cares About

Five Strengths/ Five Weaknesses
List your character’s top 5 strengths and weaknesses

Character flaw and saving strength
What is the one flaw that directs and effects your character’s actions the most? And the one saving strength that allows her to pull herself out of bad spots?

What Would My Character Do?
Find a writing buddy and ask each other questions about the characters you are currently working on. All of the questions should start with “what would (CHARACTER’S NAME) do if …”

What Makes You You?
Do this exercise for yourself and a close friend and compare answers. Understanding how you see yourself and how others see you will give you a greater insight into characters. Answer the following questions about yourself and your friend: What makes you you? What makes your friend herself? What similarities do you share? What differenced do you have? Consider additional questions regarding situations your characters will face. How would you react if confronted with the situation and why? Use fact-based evidence from your life to support your answers. Now apply what you have learned to your characters.

Exercises for Verb Tenses

1. Scan your short story manuscript or a chapter of your novel solely for verbs and circle each one. Is it in present, past, or future tense? Do you switch tenses within sentences, paragraphs, pages?

2. Determine the overriding tense for each passage. If a verb does not conform to this tense, ask yourself if there is a logical reason for the nonconformity. If there is no logical reason for switching the verb tense, change the verb to conform to the presiding tense of the passage. You may have to rewrite sentences.

3. Play with verb tense (as well as first vs. third person narrator) to see which works best for the story you are writing. Often there are a number of combinations that will work. Select one or two pages and rewrite it in a difference Tense and from a different narrator. What changes? How do the changes affect the tone and feel of the passage?

4. Study the experts. Pay attention to how verb tense is used in works you read. How do the authors shift from tense? Does it work? Why? How? Compare a shift in tense you feel was successful with one you think is a failure.

Dialogue Exercises

1. Pull all the dialogue from your current project. Can you identify the character who said it without the tag? What makes your character an individual?

2. Things people say. Make a list of expressions, conversational tics, and other phrases that your friends, associates, family use regularly. Make a list of movements, such as adjusting glasses, looking down, etc…) that people use when talking in different situations (stress, anger, love, etc…). Use the list as a reference when writing dialogue.

3. Write as much dialogue as you want in your first draft then go back and apply the prime directive to it. If the dialogue does not (1) advance the plot (2) support characterization, and (3) provide relevant new information. Get rid of it.

4. Read your dialogue aloud. Re-write the awkward sections.

5. Make a transcription of a conversation two people are having. I find coffee houses good for this task. Write down only the things they say not their actions. Edit the transcription into good dialogue.

Taboo Topics

These writing prompts are designed to allow writers to explore their own personal Taboo Topics for a writing class I taught of writing about taboo topics. Regardless if you are interested in writing an essay, memoir, or fictional scene, these exercises should provide you with access to your Taboo Topics.

1. Taboo Topics List:
A. On a single piece of paper make four columns. Column One should be (1/4 inch), Column Two and Three should be (2 inches), Column Four should be (1/4 inch).

B. In Column Two make a free thought list of topics that are uncomfortable for you to write about. Topics that you are fearful of addressing, cause anxiety, or make you nervous.

C. Next, carefully examine each topic on your list. Is it a cultural taboo or a sub-cultural taboo? Or is it a family or personal taboo? Put check marks in Column One next to the items that are cultural or sub-cultural taboos.

D. Carefully consider each topic on your list with a check mark. In Column Three, indicate why you are uncomfortable, fearful, anxious, or nervous about writing about that item.

2. Pick one item from your list in prompt #1 and explore it in depth. What do you want to say about that topic? What story do you want to tell? What value do you feel your words could add? What fears does the topic cause you to have?

3. Why are taboo topics hard to write about with honesty? What are the “real” risks when writing about taboo topics with honesty? What are the “perceived” or imagined risks? How much do the perceived risks affect our choices? What are the “real” benefits to write about taboo topics with honesty? Personal? Political? Social?

4. Revisit your original list from Prompt #1. In Column Four indicate the potential risk and potential benefit you associate with writing about the item you listed.

5. Write about the one thing you have done that you wouldn’t want anyone else to know. Why do you want to keep this a secret? What is it about this piece of information that makes you uncomfortable? Does it indicate a character trait you don’t feel is representative of your character? Does it break a taboo or go against social grains? Does it embody/break beliefs, moral codes, traditions that you don’t hold/hold? What would happen if you did reveal it?

6. What is the one secret desire you have that you wouldn’t want anyone else to know? In detail write a description of your secret desire. Why do you want to keep this a secret? What is it about this piece of information that makes you uncomfortable? Does it break a taboo or go against social grains? Does it embody/break beliefs, moral codes, traditions that you don’t hold/hold? What would happen if you did reveal it?

7. Write a bigoted diatribe against your ethnic heritage. Use all the common myths and stereotypes. Then write a defense to it.

8. Write about how you came to hold a particular belief, beginning with the event or the person who led you to your conclusion. Move from the specific to the general. After you finish the explanation, review it, asking questions of yourself to lead you to deeper explorations. Does the logic of your conclusion hold up? Does it require a leap of faith? Do you believe this truth more strongly than ever? Have you been too hasty in your conclusion?

9. Write about a time when you did something hurtful but did not feel guilty. Explore the emotional complexities of the situation and your reaction to it.

10. Write about something that makes you feel guilty—a memory that still has the power to create this emotion inside of you. Describe the source of the guilt and how you cope with the feeling.

11. Write about a family secret. Write about a family shame, something that simply isn’t discussed.

12. You are afflicted with a rare (and getting rarer) disease in which you can only tell the truth, the whole truth. Now introduce yourself to someone you don’t knowon the page of course. Explain to the stranger who you are. Go into detail. Tell your life story.

13. Write about a secret you’ve held for a long time, which you have told no one. What would happen if you did reveal it?

14. Write about a lie you’ve told—a whooper, as they say in the old movies. Did you fess up later? Were you caught in the lie? What were the consequences? Depending upon how honest a life you’ve led, you can do this prompt more than once.

15. Select one of your Taboo Topics and write an essay on it. Since you will be writing about a topic that you feel strongly about there are a few things to keep in mind. First, don’t approach the argument with such strong attitudes that you ignore evidence that contradicts your thinking. Maintain an open mind as you research your issue and, after careful thought, choose the position you will take. Remember that frequently several possible positions exist. Knowing all the positions will help you avoid a shifting position or a weak argument. Also, keep in mind that the more you know and understand your opposition’s strengths, the better you will be able to counter and neutralize their claims. Be critical of the evidence you choose to back up your argument. Ask yourself the following questions: What kinds of evidence support my view?; How substantial is the evidence?; If the evidence includes statistics and authoritative opinions, are they reliable? Are they flawed for some reason?; What are the objections to my position? How can these objections be countered?; If the issue I am discussing involves taking some action, what will the consequences of that action be?

Erotic Fantasy Exercise

First address these questions:
What turns you on? What are your secret sexual fantasies? What do you want to do? What have you tried? What are you afraid to try? What do you desire, but cannot get?

Now using the following questions turn your original answers into a story.

1. Where does it take place?

2. Who are the characters/players in it? Have you had sex with them before?

3. Describe them physically? What do they look like?

4. What sexual acts are included in it? Are any of these acts things you have not done before?

5. What time of day, year, weather, etc…?

6. What are you wearing?

7. What is/are the other(s) wearing?

8. Are there any toys involved?

9. Does safer sex play a role?

10. Is there any S/M/B/D involved in it? Is this a new sexual element in your real life?

11. What is your motivation? Why are you introducing these fantasies to the reader?

12. How do the characters/players get to the point of the sexual interaction?

13. What makes you want to share this fantasy (or to have sex) with the character(s)/player(s)?

14. What makes them special to you?

If there is an issue you would like me to address in Two Girls Kissing, please email it to me with the column title as the subject line. To be added to my confidential monthly email list, please email me, Amie M. Evans, with ‘subscribe’ as the subject line.

NEXT TIME: Revision and Rewriting

Amie M. Evans
May/June 2008

“Two Girls Kissing: Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica” © 2008 Amie M. Evans. All rights reserved.

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