November 25th, 2009

Writing Exercises: advice column plot

Ok, apparently I’m not all that busy, so here’s a random writing exercise that I used to use a lot: write a letter to an advice column in the voice of a character in a story you are working on. Have the character summarize his/her concerns at the midpoint in the story.

This is a bit of a specific exercise. When I was last posting writing exercises, most of those were geared towards or at least open to creating an entirely new piece, and that really won’t work with this one (I would be very impressed to see an entire short-story in the form of an advice column letter; it could be done [I once read a good one that was entirely in blog comments] but it wouldn’t be easy).

This one works when you are in the middle of writing something and feel stuck (stories are of course the only thing I’ve tried it with; wonder if a novelist could use it?) It also needs to be a piece that’s fairly plot- and character-driven–otherwise, it will be a very boring letter and not really shed a lot of light on the story itself.

I find this helpful in stories where I feel like I’ve lost my bead on a character’s motivation, and/or can’t quite guess what that person would do next because I don’t know what they want. This exercise can fix that because it concentrates not on what is *actually happening in the story* but how the character sees that stuff.

Whether it’s first or third person, the characters still know a lot less than the author, unless the characters is static, omniscient Mary Sue who doesn’t grow or change at all in the story because he/she is already perfect. Ahem.

It is really useful to lay out exactly how a character sees the world, and what they see as going wrong. This is especially useful to do with minor characters; I often find I know exactly what the central folks are up to, but not at all how the surrounding characters will understand the situation or react to it, what lies they believe, what information they’ve missed or ignored. And I like to know all this–even if someone is only on the story-stage for a couple paragraphs, I’d like them to be realistic and human there, not a prop or a piece of the scenery.

I probably won’t post an example of this one because, I said, boring! But I do find this so useful to do, even if only in your brain.

RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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