Working Your Writing Muscles

Guest blogger of Working Your Writing Muscles, Ursula Nicol, is a University of the Sunshine Coast student. She's completing a Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in Publishing & Creative Writing. Ursula is currently undertaking a 208-hour internship with Gail Tagarro

Working Your Writing Muscles

Good fiction involves a plethora of ingredients, including dialogue, characterisation, suspense and scenery. However, just chucking in these ingredients doesn’t make your writing a flaming baked Alaska. A gourmet chef doesn’t become one overnight, just as a writer doesn’t become a great writer overnight. These ingredients need delicate handling. The best way to do so is by working your writing muscles.

stacks of books in cupboard for post working your writing muscles

Advice from the Famous

Honing your writing skills needs time, work and focused daily practice. The most famous and talented authors don’t rely on talent alone. Abilities and talent need to be kept sharp in order for inspiration to keep flowing.

In 1956, C.S. Lewis replied to a fan letter, outlining his five instructions for writing well. His fourth point:

Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing was ‘terrible’, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do my job for me.

Here is how you can turn Lewis’ advice into a writing exercise:

  • Look at a piece you are working on. Identify adjectives you have used and replace them with a thorough description. Focus on making your audience ‘feel’ the emotion you are trying to convey.
  • Jot down several emotions such as mesmeric, revolting, disturbing. Similar to (a), write a depiction of each to make the reader ‘feel’ those adjectives themselves.

A Practical Use of the Senses

John Matthew Fox of Bookfox lists a number of exercises to perfect dialogue, characterisation, suspense and scenery in writing. Five of these involve parts of the human sensory system which we tend to ignore: smell, taste and sound. Using all the senses is a powerful tool in engaging your audience in a story that does more than tell. Similar to how replacing adjectives with sensitive description will create a vivid image for your readers, taking advantage of the human senses will create relevance and reality in your writing.

Some Exercises for Working Your Writing Muscles

  1. What is the most annoying sound you can think of? Write a thorough portrayal. A character hearing this sound can be used as an introduction to a story.
  • Picture a character finally scoring a date with their crush. Have the character bake for their love interest and have the second character describe the smells in such detail that it’s clear they’re falling in love.
  • Identify the dominant emotion in a verse from one of your favourite songs. Write about a character feeling that emotion and then discovering that song. Make the reader want to hear the song through your description.  
  • Picture one of your characters at a restaurant where they cannot see anything. There is no light in the restaurant, all the waiters are blind and the character has to rely on touch. Describe the atmosphere, the clothes they are wearing, how the chair and the table feel. Maybe describe what it would be like for your character to be on a date in this restaurant; how their partner’s hand feels, the effect of their voice. 
  • Choose a food that represents a specific store, culture, nation or race. Have your character describe it as a lengthy riddle so that the personality of the character is then discovered.

These writing exercises are a fantastic way to give your writing skills a workout and your writing extra muscle.

As Lewis warns, let’s not drown our sentences in adjectives. Let us instead write vivid stories that don’t just tell. Adding passion to your pages makes your audience view the world you have written through the eyes of you, the creator.

Communicating an experience so that your readers can see the colours, feel the room, smell the roses, hear and know the world you are sharing with them is what makes a good writer great.

Acknowledgements

Bianchi, N., 2021. 5 Powerful Writing Exercises From Famous Authors. [online] Medium. Available at: <https://medium.com/copywriting-secrets/5-powerful-writing-exercises-from-famous-authors-1c648c7810d2> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Fox, J., 2021. 50 Fantastic Creative Writing Exercises. [online] Bookfox. Available at: <https://thejohnfox.com/2016/05/creative-writing-exercises/> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash


Have you enjoyed reading Ursula’s post Working Your Writing Muscles, and learnt something new? Let us know what you think in the Comments section below.


Some Resources

C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing: What the Essayist, Poet, Novelist, Literary Critic, Apologist, Memoirist, Theologian Teaches Us about the Life and Craft of Writing by Corey Latta

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell audiobook

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