You hear all the time that you should write every day, that if you’re not working on a particular project then you should at least be doing writing exercises. You do them all the time in the creative writing classes, but I have a confession to make.
I hate traditional writing exercises.
Writing about something random has never felt relevant to me, and I hate to feel like I wasted time. I also hate it if I feel I didn’t do something well. So when I’m forced into a ten-minute writing stunt, I actually find myself blockaded instead of freed to write.
As much as I hate writing exercises, I know I should be doing them. I guess the truth is I’d rather skim through a million prompts and excuse myself from using them because they aren’t relevant to my projects. Instead I could find a way to change them so they do apply or even come up with my own.
So, in an effort to free you to explore new possibilities, and to stop making excuses for myself, here is a writing exercise that will hopefully intrigue you enough to use it.
I have been fascinated with the concept of silence ever since I read Patrick Rothfuss’s (uncompleted) series The Kingkiller Chronicles, better known as The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. I highly recommend both books, but if you only want to know a little about how he describes silence, at least read the prologue.
Silence is something that every character has to deal with at some point. And every character will think about it differently or notice something different about it. Some characters will never hear silence because they notice other noises even when no one speaks. Some revel in the silence; others chase it away, fearful it will overtake them.
So, the exercise?
Describe silence from three different character’s points of view. It can be the same silence all in the same scene or completely different scenes. If there’s a scene where you already use silence, then describe that silence. The important thing is to change this exercise to something that will be relevant to you or your characters. Even artists can use this exercise—what does silence look like?
Too broad of an exercise? Then describe an awkward silence from one character’s point of view, a peaceful silence from another’s, and a fearful silence from yet another’s. Or describe those silences all from the same character’s points of view at different points of time. See if doing so reveals something you didn’t know about that character.
I could end the post here, but what’s the point in coming up with a writing exercise if I’m not willing to actually use it? So here goes. Same moment in time, three different characters:
To him, their silence was a wall made up of the one’s patience and the other’s pride. And like anything else, he was most content just atop it, comfortable in their nervousness of whose side he would choose to take.
Neither of the men in front of her said anything else or moved, and their silence pressed against her, until she crossed the room. The hesitant scratch of her boots against the wood was a sketch of noise but better than nothing at all.
If this particular silence had a sound, he imagined it would laugh at him. He was just one of two puppets whose strings had been so twisted and knotted together that they might as well share a string. And his friend would quicker play marionette and join the laughter than help untangle the mess.
These three characters are from a story that I never finished. Or even started really. I’ve been revisiting the idea this year and admittedly have struggled with it again, trying not to make the same mistakes I have before. One of my main problems has been with the characters, and doing this exercise has helped me think about them and distinguish them so that at least I have something to work with and explore.
Silence can be an emotionally charged moment to examine your characters, which is why I chose it as an exercise. I will admit that this concept has been marinating in my mind for about a month. And I thought about this exercise in particular for a week or two before actually writing it. But progress is still progress right? If all you take from this blog is the thought of silence, I certainly won’t judge. It’s enough for now. Keep thinking about it. If you find yourself in silence, describe it, first from your point of view and then from a character’s. After all, that’s how I finally got this post done.
By Tracy Buckler