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Writing exercises to help you go deeper

The other day, I was thinking about the types of memoirs I enjoy reading and what it is about them that sets them apart. Mostly, they were memoirs, such as Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, that weren’t just, “this happened to me,” type of stories.

The strongest memoirs are stories that show us how the person’s circumstances changed them. They answer the question, “What did I learn from my experience and how did I grow from this experience?”

I designed a couple of writing prompts based on my thoughts about memoir and decided they would be good prompts to ask of the protagonist in my fantasy novel as well. I uncovered some interesting material for my story.


Set a timer for 10 minutes and, while thinking about the events of your memoir or novel, answer the following question: What did I learn from this experience? If you’re writing a novel, answer the question from the protagonist’s point of view.

Next, set your timer for another 10 minutes and answer the following question: How did I grow from this experience?

Now, review what you’re written and highlight two sentences or ideas that grab your attention the most.

Pick one of the sentences, set your timer for 10 more minutes, and go deeper.

In my first timed write, “What did I learn?” my protagonist wrote that she learned from a young age that “everybody she loves, leaves her.” Wow. I had no idea she felt that way. As I went deeper with this idea, I learned more about my protagonist. I learned this is the reason she became a veterinarian–because the animals never left her, they depended on her. I also learned that as a girl, she thought people she loved left her because she wasn’t “good” enough. This is all material that I didn’t know before doing the exercise. I may not use it all in the book but at least I’m uncovering more of her motivations and what makes her tick.

Try this exercise and let me know how it works for you!

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love this exercise. Now I just have to do it!

    March 19, 2013
  2. Thank you I have tried this once and plan on doing the exercise for every main event in my novel. I struggled with the How did I grow? question and was hoping you could give me a couple of examples as i had lots written under what the character learnt but very little under how she grew.
    Thanks again

    March 20, 2013
    • Great question and thanks for the idea…I’ll address this in an upcoming post!

      March 20, 2013

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