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Posts tagged ‘writing exercises’

Use rhetorical devices to evoke readers’ emotion

My mom loved puzzles. She spent most of my childhood in our little mom amd pop grocery store, and in between ringing up customers, stocking shelves, and keeping me occupied, she loved to work on puzzles. Crosswords. Cryptograms. Hangman. Word search. Maybe this is where my love of words came from.

I never enjoyed puzzles like Mom did, but it dawned on me a few years ago that writing poetry is my form of puzzle work. I enjoy hunting for just the right word. Sometimes I wonder if the joy I feel when a poem finally comes together is what Mom felt when she successfully completed a crossword.

Another part of puzzling together a poem is the fun I have in playing with rhetorical devices. What are rhetorical devices?  Read more

Get rid of filter words: Freshen your manuscript with this exercise

I’m a big fan of the online Lawson Writer’s Academy. When I earned my MFA, I was a poet learning how to write prose and put together a complete manuscript. Mission accomplished.

And now, through Margie Lawson’s academy, I’m learning writing craft I didn’t learn in my MFA program: How to develop deep point of view, what makes a scene click, the importance of MRUs (motivation response units) and having them in the right order, how to use dialogue cues (Margie’s term) that evoke emotion in the reader, how to use body language effectively and many other aspects of a well-written novel.

In a recent post, Margie writes about the importance of writing fresh and shares some great examples.

After reading her post, I found several places where I could freshen up my own writing. Here are some examples (I bolded the trouble spots):

Example 1:


“How are you getting home?” Noah frowned and I found my eyes tracing the outline of his lips. Lips I’d recently felt pressing against my own. Lips I’d recently tasted.

“I’ll get a ride from Lily…”


“How are you getting home?” Noah shot me his I-think-you’re-making-a-big-mistake scowl.

I loved the way his lips puckered. Lips that had recently pressed against my own. Lips that tasted of sea and mountains and home.

I cleared my throat, struggling to dial down my hormones. “I’ll get a ride from Lily…”

Comment: in the before example, “frowned” is boring and overused and doesn’t describe much. The following bolded phrases, “I found, I felt, I tasted” are all filter words…it’s much better to just give the reader the experience.

Filter words are words that remove the reader from the action and filter the character’s experience through the writer’s point of view.  Instead of seeing the action through the character’s eyes, the author is filtering it first. Examples from first person point of view: I saw, I thought, I felt, I heard, etc.  Read more

Try these writing (and reading) exercises to hone your skills

Musicians riff and play scales to practice. Athletes have training routines. Why shouldn’t writers do writing exercises? Sometimes, a writing exercise turns into a poem or short story or becomes the seed of a novel or essay.

Writing exercises offer a way to experiment without the pressure of “getting it right.” They can prompt ideas for your work in progress and warm you up to write for an extended period. If you’re facing a blank page, a writing exercise might be the way in to something new.

Daily writing exercises help establish a routine. The hardest thing about working on a goal can be getting started, whether it’s exercising or writing. Just getting to the gym, putting your running clothes on and stepping out the door, or sitting down in front of your computer or notebook is the first step. Once you’re there, the rest isn’t so hard. And once you’re done with the “workout,” doesn’t it feel great?

Try this exercise: Find a random object in your house. It could be a souvenir you brought home from a vacation, a piece of art, a gift someone gave you, or a memento from your childhood. Write for 10 minutes about the object. Write about what it means to you, how you acquired it, why you keep it. Tell this object’s story.

Read more

How to create your own “dialogue cue” practice

In an earlier post, I wrote about some of the great tips I learned from writing guru Margie Lawson at the recent Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference.

Lawson coined the term “dialogue cues” to describe the psychological/emotional subtext around dialogue. (For a great discussion of subtext with examples, read The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter).

I’ve been experimenting with creating dialogue cues since Lawson’s class and made up my own “dialogue cue” practice as I did with metaphor practice.  Here’s what I do:

1.  Using one word or a short phrase make a list of attributes of your character—try using what Lawson calls “power words,” words that have an emotional or psychological impact on your reader.

The list for the antagonist in my current work might look like this: Sexy, Sensual, Ancient, Devious, Infectious, Hypnotic, Charming. Read more

Developing character emotions to create resonance

In my last post “Writing exercises to help you go deeper” I wrote about developing a writing exercise to help me delve into my story and focus on what my protagonist learned from her experiences and also how she grew from this knowledge or information.

It was pretty easy to come up with what she learned. For example, one of the things she had learned from her life experiences so far was that those who love her, eventually leave her. This is what she comes into the story with and, because she’s afraid of getting hurt, she guards her heart.

Over the course of the story, she learns to trust again. She learns that “leaving” is an illusion and that love is never-ending. Read more

Use your “firsts” to propel your writing

Firsts are powerful: your first kiss, first love, first car, first death of a pet or loved one, first child. If you think back on your firsts, they will mostly contain a tremendous amount of emotion.

Talking with Carly yesterday about curse words, she mentioned that she remembered her father rarely, if ever, swearing. I told her that every other word my father spoke was the “f” word. Because I heard it so often growing up, the word had little meaning to me. To my ears, it was the equivalent of someone saying, “damn.” Read more

Liberate your writing mind with these prompts

Some people think writing exercises are a waste of time. I heard one writer once say, “just write your story.” But I’ve found that writing prompts can be a doorway for something surprising – an intriguing plot or the birth of a character.

In one writing workshop I attended, participants were instructed to write about the tools they needed to do their job. I didn’t expect anything compelling but found that as I wrote, the words picked up steam, spilling out a very emotional essay about a story I had reported on as a journalist.

Since then, I’ve collected interesting exercises and think of them as warm-ups when I need to flex my writing muscles. As I was doing some reorganizing recently, I ran across a favorite book called The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing, by Bonnie Neubauer.

Here are a couple exercises from “The Write-Brain Workbook.”

Exercise 1 – Spoiled Rotten Read more