Three Creative Writing Challenges You Should Try
Because I enjoy the art of writing, I also enjoy presenting myself with the occasional challenge. There's nothing quite so invigorating as pushing the limits of my imagination, seeing what new worlds and characters and stories I can lose myself in for a few hours, months, years.
These are all challenges that I have tried myself, and they have given me a new perspective on my personal style as a writer and my personal methods. They also served as lessons well learned.
Still with me? I can hear you yawning from here, so let's get to these challenges.
Write From a Different Perspective
There are three different perspectives you can write from: first person, second person, and third person. Just to make things simple, I'll clumsily give an example of each, as well as the pros and cons.
First person perspective: I really hate peas.
The entire narrative would be written this way, from the perspective of one character, who usually refers to themselves with "I" and "me."
Some writers like to switch this up and have multiple characters using first person perspective every other chapter, after a chapter break, or even per book in a series. I recall K. A. Applegate's Everworld series did this.
Personally, I really dislike writing in first person perspective, so I challenged myself to write a book that way. While it turned out to actually be a fun learning experience . . . I still avoid first person perspective when I can.
I prefer telling my stories from multiple perspectives, from third person perspective. It allows for a little mystery when you don't know exactly what the character is thinking but just enough to apply your own imagination to the story.
It's also really fun to write from the perspective of various characters, allowing the audience information the other characters don't have. I'm not saying this can't be achieved with first person perspective. My reference to Applegate shows that it can. I just prefer using third person to do it.
Second person perspective: You really hate peas.
You actually don't see this used often in speculative fiction, and probably for good reason. Having the narrator talking directly to you like that mailman in the Santa Claus special isn't all that endearing unless we're talking children's literature here.
An example of this would be The Nightmare Before Christmas where the narrator says,
"You probably wonder where holidays come from. If you haven't, I'd say it's time you begun!"
Yeah. It's fun having the narrator addressing you when you're a kid. Makes you feel like part of the story, and that's exactly why it's done. But in adult stories?
Adults are harder. Adults have forgotten how to pretend and no longer understand Make Believe. So you have to pull them in with a bit more effort than the occasional whimsical nod to their presence in the audience.
The easiest way to pull an adult into a story is to give them a character they can project onto.
This is something I myself am still struggling with, but I know it's effective and that it works because I'm as much an avid reader as I am an avid writer -- which is the way it should be.
And that brings me to the third perspective (we were headed that direction anyway, though).
Third person perspective: She really hated peas.
This is the perspective I generally write my fiction in, and I prefer it because I enjoy being the invisible narrator guiding the audience through the story. But as I mentioned above, the downside is that it's more challenging to draw the audience in when writing in third person perspective. At least, it is for me, dagnabit.
The easiest (and perhaps more cliched) way to draw an adult audience in is to create the standard Every Man Character (allow me to pause and cringe at that phrase . . . Okay. I'm good). This character is usually a mediocre slob who anyone -- and I mean anyone -- can relate to. This tactic ensures that the audience can project, inserting themselves into the fantasy and its world and therefore, giving them the escapist fantasy they paid for.
Some key examples of (ugh) Every Man Characters would be Arthur Dent, Link from The Legend of Zelda (whose name literally means he is a Iink to Hyrule -- see what they did there?), and Spiderman before he was all . . . spidey.
The point of this challenge is to drag you out of your comfort zone and teach you different ways of delivering a story. Challenging myself to first person perspective was fun, taught me a lot about the pros and cons of third person, and . . . I wrote an entire novel out of it.
The glass was half-full.
Use a Word Prompt
I admit it: this is more of an exercise than a "challenge." It's something I believe most writers do. You get stuck, you can't think, so you look for one of those word generators to get your juices going.
I personally enjoy using word generators because of the spontaneity you can produce in your stories from them. I've gotten a few very interesting chapters based on a random word that popped up in the generator. One of my novels opens with a character publicly tripping and pretending he didn't because the word generator gave me the word "tripped."
What I did was, I turned this exercise into a challenge. I decided that for every novel I wrote that year, I would use a word generator for the very first chapter. Whatever word I was given would have to be in the first sentence of the novel. This produced some . . . amusing results. And interesting stories!
I also went a bit further by choosing random letters that would be the first letter in the name of each chapter. For instance, in one novel I chose the letter "w" and then every chapter title had to begin with "w."
Make writing fun, go wild! That's the way it should be -- not some hair-pulling drudgery we do out of desperation while crawling on our bellies through hot coals for validation.
Write Shorter Fiction
Or longer fiction, as the case may be.
The point is to try something different and new. If you're used to writing very long novels, try writing flash fiction. If you've only ever written flash fiction, try writing a novel.
Last year, I tried writing flash fiction, and it gave me a new appreciation for writers of short fiction. The challenge of squeezing beginning, middle, and end into a spare few words was incredible for me, the long-winded novelist whose 600 page books always have to be butchered down to 250.
As it turned out, I was rather bad at flash fiction. A very gentle editor told me so, suggesting that I should lengthen the story I submitted into an actual novel.
You can't take the novel out of the novelist . . . or something.
Again, the point of these challenges are to try new things and discover new ways of storytelling.
So get to it!
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© 2018 Ash Gray