The Element of Surprise

An exercise in a Writer's Workshop group gets your pen or keys moving with surprise. Our writer-minds are ready to romp with imagination. All that stops us is deciding where to go. We provide exercises while I keep time, so you can focus on following the direction we offer.

Example: Lines of shared dialogue

We pass out index cards. Everybody writes one line of dialogue from a movie or a book, or even a conversation they overheard or remember. We turn our cards over and pass them to the left. Everyone writes another line on the blank card they just got. We pass the cards once more to the left. You now write for 15 minutes, using one or both of the lines of dialogue on the card you just received. It works because of the surprise.

Example: Postcards and photos


Some of our exercises use visual prompts. We track down images that just beg to have a story told around them. You pick a card that compels you, or we choose cards and then pass ours to the left. Again, surprise unlocks the words.

Example: Polishing craft

People in our groups get a prompt like "I know you, Joe (or whatever name you want to give your character), you're the person who..." and then you fill in the blank: hates Monday, leaves the dishes in the sink, licks a pencil's tip before he writes with it. When you get down to specific traits they spark an idea about a character. You read your selections and choose one or two to develop further. (Courtesy of Richard Russo from his novel Straight Man. His finest novel is Empire Falls.)

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