The Think Tank #4 - Writing Exercises

The only way to get better at anything is to practice. With that in mind I’ve found a few writing exercises which should really get your creative juices flowing. These exercises are designed to help you with character building, story structure and writing action sequences.

People You Know

This simple exercise will help your understanding in creating realistic characters. Even seemingly dull people can be highly interesting or funny when placed in certain situations.

For this exercise write out a list of ten people you know. Try to pick a broad spectrum of people from your family, friends, work place and neighbours…you don’t necessarily have to like the people you pick!

For each person on your list write out a single paragraph character description. Come up with one characteristic for each person that makes them unique. Who knows, somewhere within the list of people you know, you might just find a gem of a character to write about!

It’s Not Paranoia If They’re Really After You!

They’re after you! You don’t know why, but you’re being chased down relentlessly. Write out a chase scene where you are the only being chased. Imagine the panic and fear you’d be feeling as well as the confusion. Really get into the frame of mind of someone being chased, and fearful for their life. To make it even more interesting write out three different scenes, each with a different method of travel.

  • On foot.
  • In a car.
  • In a helicopter, being chased by a UFO!
This exercise helps you learn how to empathise with characters and feel what they’re going through. This will allow you to write your characters with a lot of emotional depth. If the danger doesn’t feel real to the character then it won’t seem real to the audience.

Scene List Practice

A scene list is a set of one sentence descriptions of each scenes in a movie. Scene lists are done to keep track of story and character development. If a scene achieves nothing to develop either the story or a character then it’s probably a good idea to either rewrite the scene or lose it all together.

Writing a scene list before you start writing your script proper is an excellent way to make sure you don’t get halfway through your screenplay and end up lost with no place to go.

To practice writing a scene list, try this little exercise using the following steps:

  • Chose a movie from your home collection.
  • Download a copy of the screenplay, preferably a txt file. You can use either FSW Scripts or SimplyScripts.
  • Get yourself a pen and a pack of note cards. If you can’t find any note cards then you can up some paper into 3”x5” pieces. It’s much easier to buy them though as you’ll need a hundred or so to be on the safe side.
  • Watch the movie closely. Keep pausing the movie after every scene and write a one-sentence description of the last scene on a note card.
  • Once the movie is finished, put your notes to one side.
  • Pull up the screenplay you’ve downloaded. Copy and paste every scene heading into a notepad file or any other similar program.
  • Compare your note cards to your list of scene headings. Did you miss any scenes?
  • Write out a page-long report on what you’ve learnt from this exercise. Things you might notice include how the story is kept going in every scene, the pacing of the movie, use of subplots and how characters are developed.

I hope you enjoy these exercises. Just as you can’t expect to run a marathon with discipline and training the very same can be said for writing a script.

Keep on trying!