We asked Cheri Pray Earl: What is your best writing exercise to help someone get stronger as a writer?
Cheri’s writing tip:
My favorite exercise is Routine, Disruption, and Drama from The Portable MFA. It goes like this:
Frank O’Connor says (in his book, The Lonely Voice) that a story requires three elements: exposition, development, and drama. You know that your beginning plot portion is strong if you can summarize your story in three lines, with each line relating to one of these elements. For example:
- Exposition: John Fortescue was a solicitor in the little town of X. (Routine)
- Development: One day, Mrs. Fortescue told him she was leaving him for another man. (Disruption of routine)
- Drama: “You’ll do nothing of the kind,” he said. (What the protagonist will struggle for, in this case, his marriage.)
Another favorite is a writing exercise that sort of mimics what Hemingway (and Steinbeck, too) does with setting up a scene. This one works for me and for my students because we all need to work on creating richer settings. Here it is:
Write six descriptive sentences without a character (second three sentences elaborate on the first three). Then have the character(s) enter the setting you have created; write at least 4 lines of dialogue. No more than 500 words total.