Staying Writerly During Quarantine
En Medias Res
Start a scene in the middle of the action. Put the reader right in the thick of it without explanation. Slowly reveal things to the reader so that as the scene continues they begin to understand the before of the event. Better yet, start your reader off right at the peak of the action.
Try starting mid-dialogue. Are your characters arguing? Start at the end of the argument. Don’t explicitly explain to the reader. Let the context, tone, and word choice explain for itself.
This is an exercise in slowly revealing information to your reader through context clues. There is a careful balance to be found between revealing too much too fast in which case the excitement is lost to the reader or, on the other hand, leaving your reader utterly lost and confused. This exercise will help you to find that balance.
Write a scene entirely using dialogue, no tags, nothing except the characters speaking. I recommend limiting this scene to two characters. If you are really looking to challenge yourself, perhaps try three, but no more than that.
It should be clear who is speaking not just by the line breaks but by the tone and context. Play around with character voice. Really try to find a particular distinction between how these two characters speak. Read these lines out loud. Try to get at how your characters would say a certain line.
Since you don’t have dialogue tags to help show the reader if a character is angry or excited or being sarcastic, you have to let the words themselves and the tone do the talking. Really pay attention to word choice. And of course, have fun with this!
Have your character pack an emergency backpack. What do they put inside? What is the very first thing that they absolutely must bring with them? Do they choose to bring practical survival items or do they grab money instead? Would they even know how to survive on their own in the wild?
Where would they be going with this backpack? Is there a reason behind this emergency backpack? How do they go about packing, is it a rushed shoveling things in haphazardly or is it an organized process?
Is there something quirky in their backpack that seems out of place in an emergency? Why is that item there? What is its significance? This is a great way to really get into the mind of your character, see how they think, what is important to them, and what they prioritize in an emergency.
Back and Forth Story
Have a writerly friend? Try creating a back and forth story. One person writes a scene or chapter then the other person takes over and writes the next scene or chapter.
Really try to create a cohesive character, whether or not your styles of writing mesh well. Try to make the character and their perspective appear as if they are a singular mind.
I recommend using google docs as a quick and easy way to do this but emailing the document back and forth works just fine too. This is also a great way to keep in touch with your writerly friends during this time! Seriously guys, this is so much fun and can also be a really great test of your ability to adapt your writing style to vibe with another writer’s.
Switch It Up
If you only ever write fiction try writing poetry and vice versa. I started out thinking I would never ever touch poetry. I was a fiction writer. I wrote stories. Period. End of sentence. But despite my reservations, dabbling in poetry has improved my fiction writing to no end. I cannot recommend this enough. Push past the discomfort and just try it.
The techniques used to write poetry can help your fiction writing and the techniques used to write fiction can help your poetry.
If you are already familiar with writing both poetry and fiction, good for you! Try to write in a form you’ve never touched before, flash fiction, screenwriting, play writing. Pick your poison and go for it!
Create a List of Twists
Come up with a list of “twists”, for example, a side character discovers they are terminally ill, your main character finds out they are adopted, your love interest is actually the villain of the story, etc…
You can have a particular story in mind while writing this list, or it can be completely random. This is an exercise to help you see the plot possibilities in your writing. Nothing is off limits. Later on, if you are writing a story and feel that it needs something unexpected, pull out this ready made list!
Take a story you have already written and switch up the setting. If it is in a rural mountain area, shift the story into the middle of the city. How would this change the narrative and the characters behaviors.
Get as creative as you want. Change the setting to something historical or even futuristic. Set the story in an entirely new world with different rules. With this exercise you can take it as far as you want.
Like the new setting? Write the story in that new place. Just feel like thinking and brainstorming how the setting would change the story and characters, that’s fine too. Use this as a tool to get deeper into the minds of your characters and the momentum of your story. If nothing else you will better understand the original setting and its importance to your story.
Write a Prologue
Even if you already have a prologue to a novel, write a new one. Haven’t written a story yet? That’s okay, just write the prologue to a story idea. You can also do this with short stories, screenwriting, play writing. Poetry may be a bit difficult, but difficult can be fun too!
Write the before of your story or try introducing the end of your story at the beginning. Try writing from a different character’s perspective. Foreshadow, play with tone, reveal something to the reader that will keep them reading just so that they can get to that point later on in the story.
Remember that this is just an exercise. Be as crazy as you want. Take it in a direction you wouldn’t have originally gone. If you fall in love with your new prologue, keep it! If not, no harm done. Either way this is a fun exercise.
Look Up Writing Prompts Online
Here are three great articles I found for this…
This article has writing prompts separated into genre so if you have a particular genre in mind you can skip straight to those prompts. These prompts are written in a lead-in or idea based style, meaning they give you a lead in sentence or a base idea to prompt your imagination.
I love this style of prompt as opposed to a more general “write a story in the past”. When I go looking for prompts I’m not looking for a vague suggestion. If I’m looking for prompts it’s because I am seriously stuck and need something specific and unique to spark my imagination. Check this site out and tell me what you guys think!
This article not only has creative writing prompts but a whole range of non-literary type prompts as well, from fitness and health to business. Whether you are looking for creative writing ideas or perhaps ideas for a new blog post, I found this to be a useful and fun read.
Along with the fun prompts this article also explained some of the benefits to using writing prompts, all of which I agreed with. I highly recommend checking this site out and giving it a read through.
This site has a wide variety of prompts ranging from story starters to general suggestions. It is easy to navigate and has near endless content. While some of these prompts are not as creatively inspiring as others, the sheer amount and the easy navigation entirely make up for this small drawback.
I guarantee you will find prompts on this site that spark your imagination and make you want to write!
Write Your Own Prompts
Creative writing prompts are a great way to generate new writing but that writing, at least for me, never feels fully my own. Writing your own prompts can get around this while also being a useful and fun exercise in boiling your ideas down into a concise format.
Carve your ideas into an opening sentence prompt or a base idea from which a story could be formed. Try to use as few words as possible to get across your idea. Be concise!
Writing your own prompts can be a great way to come up with new story ideas or simply exercise your imagination. Even if you don’t use these exact prompts when writing, they can be a base for new and exciting ideas.