Thursday, August 31, 2017

THE WRITERS' BLOCK: Exercises for Overcoming a Creative Slump (#1: Setting the Scene)

In this new series, Operation Awesome is providing exercises to help you break out of writer's block, or a creative slump. Too often, we get stuck with writer's block because we believe when the words don't flow organically, or when the sentences don't come out perfectly structured, or when the plot has holes, we've failed. Usually, it just means you're having an off day, and forcing yourself to write on these days can perpetuate the feeling of being stuck. It can really help to take a day off from writing, but that doesn't mean taking a day off from working on your book. These exercises will help you work on your book when you're not actually writing.

So, none of our exercises involve narrative writing, per se. Instead, they require you to think, daydream, talk to your characters, and CREATE. You can jot down notes as you go, or you can record yourself talking through the exercises, or you can keep everything in your head.

For Exercise #1, we're going to focus on SETTING. A great setting engages all the readers' senses, and more. It's of course important to create a rich visual setting, but don't forget all the other senses while you're at it. And go the next step: think about the emotional (and sometimes even physical) impact the setting has on your characters.

Close your eyes, or go into a dark, quiet room, and put yourself into the setting of your story world, or any given scene from your novel. Can you describe your story world in terms of all five senses, along with the emotional impact on your characters?

VISION: What colors permeate your world? What objects are situated around the landscape? Are you outdoors or indoors? Are there natural or manmade structures? Are there plants, animals, other people? What do the other people look like? What kinds of clothes do they wear? Does your main character find the land beautiful, the people attractive, or the opposite?

HEARING: Setting aside the characters' voices, what other sounds exist in your world? Birds chirping, leaves fluttering, typewriters clacking, bedsheets rustling, TVs droning, machines whirring? Sometimes, authors get so caught up with visual description, they neglect to show the auditory richness of their story. Close your eyes and listen to your world.

TOUCH: Is the setting cold, hot, rainy, snowy, or a combination? Is the air thick with humidity, or does the wind move your characters' hair? If your character runs her fingers through the grass, are the blades stiff, pliant, wet, or sticky? When your character kisses his love interest for the first time, do their lips feel soft, slick, chapped, or dry? We are incredibly tactile creatures, so don't forget to take advantage of that when imagining your world.

SMELL: Odors can be very powerful, both the delicious ones and the disgusting ones. Bread baking, freshly-mown grass, and burning incense can all evoke positive thoughts and emotions. Smells like garbage, dead animals, and spoiled milk can all do the opposite. Play with what your world smells like.

TASTE: This is probably the least utilized sense in writing, but it can work for you. When your character bites into a steak, how is that taste different from biting into a chocolate bar? What about your character tasting her first-ever alcoholic drink - remember what that tasted like? What about a vile, disgusting taste - spoiled food, or something like Marmite that many people don't enjoy?

EMOTION: Does the setting evoke memories? Sense memories (such as hearing an old song, smelling bread baking, etc.) can be powerfully evocative. Does some aspect of the setting evoke strong emotions in your characters, whether it's anger, sadness, happiness, etc.? Does it drive them to action?

How'd it go? Were you able to better actualize your story setting?


  1. Great tips. I always need to remember to include all five senses. The more real the world feels, hopefully it helps the characters come more to life, too.

  2. These are great tips! Thanks so much for sharing them.


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