If you haven’t noticed already, these are just about my favorite thing ever. To tie in with my upcoming article on Setting, I’m presenting this collection of writing exercises.


Prompt: A man just committed murder besides a lake. Describe the lake and surroundings through his perspective, but make no direct mention of the murder.

Purpose: Demonstrate the way character vastly changes perspectives of setting.


Prompt: Two friends visit a rundown building in the slums. The first friend has been having hard times lately, and this building is his inheritance from his father. The second friend has just has the best day of his life. Describe the building through their dialog.

Purpose: Practice indirect description through dialog, and again, show the ways characters see setting differently.


Prompt: Write a character sketch of animal that is not a common pet.

Purpose: Practice characterization through things besides dialog. Characterizing an animal can force you to describe the animal through its actions and movements.


Prompt: Write a dialog between two characters where they grapple with a difficult issue, but avoid addressing it directly. An example would be a large family inheritance.

Purpose: Hopefully this illustrates some of the subtler aspects of dialog. People say a lot through what they don’t say, and other subtle cues.


Prompt: Pick a fear of yours, then write about it coming true from a third person perspective.

Purpose: Some issues are hard to write about. It’s good to pick deliberately hard or sensitive topics as practice.


Prompt: Write a craigslist or equivalent newspaper ad that your character might write.

Purpose: See how much about your character you can convey through things like what he wants, what he owns, or what he is looking for.


Prompt: Describe the setting the moment a character steps outside, after being inside.

Purpose: Practice changing scene.


Prompt: A friend of yours is wanted in four states for a crime. Then he shows up at your doorsteps and asks if he can stay a while. Write the scene where he asks.

Purpose: An uncomfortable conversation had better sound uncomfortable, or else you aren’t writing it correctly.

I’d love to hear any you might have. I’ve trying to build an extensive collection.


  1. Virgil on 26 October 2008, 18:20 said:

    I can do a quick one for number 7.

    The blast of light hit his eyes as soon as he stepped over the threshold. The clear, cold air seemed to attack his eyes, unlike the warm soothing air from inside.

    A children’s playground painted in reds and blues stood out from the snow around it. Trees were gray and leafless, and stood without shadows in the brilliance of the snow.

    A cold air blew across his face, a grey minivan drove slowly across the street.

    I probably would not go into this much detail unless there was plenty about to go on in the scene. This is also the setting just outside my house in the winter.

  2. RandomVisitor on 26 October 2008, 20:49 said:

    Thanks. Very cool idea; I like.

  3. SubStandardDeviation on 26 October 2008, 21:35 said:

    In (5), do you mean third-person limited, from the POV of the one experiencing the fear, or third-person narrator, from a detached observer?

    Here’s my brief submission for (1) (which took way more than five minutes to plan, write, and edit):

    No Fishing

    Davey shook the water off his clothes and stared out into the distance, feeling calm as the surface of the still red lake. Birds twittered in the pines around the shore, and if a man looked close, he could see the shadows of swimming fish. The ramshackle log cabin, the only sign of human interference for miles, lay hidden in the shadow of the setting sun.

    Pristine. A shame this would all be disturbed in the next few days.

    When traveling in the wilderness, the saying goes, one should take only photographs and leave only footprints. Davey respected the environment. He did neither. He also didn’t leave trash lying around. So when he found the diamond ring in the scuffed-up dirt at the water’s edge, he scooped it up, then hurled it toward the rapidly-sinking rowboat in the middle of the lake.

    Yes, I’m using a creative interpretation of “just” and there’s an action in it, but it’s hard to characterize a person standing and staring.

    I want to do (5) next, or (3). When inspiration strikes, I guess…

  4. SlyShy on 26 October 2008, 21:58 said:

    In (5) I mean a detached observer. Your generic narrator/god figure.

  5. Artimaeus on 27 October 2008, 17:42 said:

    Here’s a stab at (1)

    Greg rubbed his hands vigorously together underwater, stirring a could of silt from the shallow lake-bed. He lurched forward at the sound of a screech from behind him, collapsing on his hands and knees in the water. It smelled like rotting algae. Hardly daring to move, Greg held his breath and listened. No one was there. He could only hear the whispering crickets, the flutter of birds in the treetops, and the sound of traffic from the distant road. Must have been an owl.

    Hastily Greg stood and wiped his hand on his Jeans, leaving two dark stains. For a moment remained motionless, staring across the dark expanse of water. Headlights drifted along the road on the lake’s far side. No one could see him; he was too far away. A dead tree floated slowly towards his end of the shore.

    He had been there for too long. His shoes had sunken into the muck on the lake’s shore. With a grunt, he wrenched his feet free and trudged off, leaving a trail of soggy earth between the lakeside and his jeep.

  6. Euphrates on 27 October 2008, 19:49 said:

    Here’s my meh attempt for number 8.

    I opened the door and standing there, his arms wrapped around him to ward away the chill, was Michael. I stared at him, frozen.

    “Kelly?” he said.

    I just nodded. Even my fingers had gone numb.

    “Could I – could…” he trailed off.

    I blinked and looked over my shoulder into my house. How easy it would be to slam the door, lock it, and run to call the police! So easy…

    “Michael,” I said. “You’re wanted in four states. Wanted! By the police! Why did you come here?”

    He swallowed. “I-”

    “They’ll think I’m working with you! That I’m – that I’m harboring domestic terrorists or something, for Christ’s sake!”

    He shut his eyes as if searching for a response on his eyelids. “And I was just going to ask if you could do exactly that.”

    My response died on my lips.

    “I guess the answer is no, eh?” He glanced up at smiled faintly at me.

    I avoided his eyes. “Look, Michael. I’m not going to let you stay here. Not while the police are after you.”

    He paled slightly, and I could guess what he was thinking.

    “I won’t call them and tell them you’re here, but I swear, Michael, if they try and connect me with what you’ve done…”

    He nodded. “All right. I get it. Whatever.” He took a step backwards down the stairs. “You’d rather save your own skin than help a friend. I get it. It’s not hard to get.”

    No, it isn’t.

    “Goodbye, Michael.” And I shut the door in his face, feeling sick.

    Couldn’t figure out the italics, so…

    Anyway, thanks for these. =) I’ve used three so far…

  7. SlyShy on 27 October 2008, 20:07 said:

    You do italics by enclosing the text in underscores.

    _italics_ would become italics.

    I’m glad you are finding these useful. :D

  8. Virgil on 27 October 2008, 20:18 said:

    I’ll do a quck number 8, being in the mood.

    My doorbell rang, and I set down my spoon from my cereal, scowling. I got up, and as I neared my door, the bell rang again.

    “Hold on!” I said, opening the door. I started, and shut the door.

    “Hey! Nick, don’t be that way!” said a voice.

    “Leave me alone, Nathan, I don’t want anything to do with you,” I said through the door. I saw him climb over to look through a window, and I saw his face.

    “Come on, I just need some help doing-”

    “I am not helping you Nathan.”

    “Nick, it will be just like old times.”

    I paused, then opened the door. He stood, facing me. “Like old times.” He smiled. I gave him a mocking smile. “No. I stopped that years ago, and we split afterward. Now you come here!? No. Leave, Nathan.”

    His smile vanished, and he took a step back. “Maybe I’ll go find Robert.”

    I snorted. “Robert stopped speaking to us, remember?” Nathan nodded, remembering. He nodded, turned, and walked away. He was almost at his car, when I said, “Nathan.” He turned back. “Good luck.” He gave me a cold look, and disappeared inside his car.

    Hopefully the ending didn’t come down too trite.

  9. SlyShy on 27 October 2008, 20:23 said:

    I’m beginning to think I’m the only person who let him in. Haha.

  10. Virgil on 27 October 2008, 20:26 said:

    Heh, wasn’t it supposed to be uncomfortable? Mine probably came off as angry, though.

  11. SlyShy on 27 October 2008, 20:29 said:

    It was uncomfortable. He still got to come in though. :P

  12. SubStandardDeviation on 27 October 2008, 23:46 said:

    Okay, I lied. Here’s my (7):


    The afternoon sun was bright and harsh, warming Jana’s face. An eerie silence pervaded the dusty air – or have I gone deaf from the shelling? Out here it was more of the same. More bodies. More craters. More rubble and glass and scorched wood. The only difference, Jana realized with horror, was that now she could see for hundreds of feet in every direction.

    A carrion crow skimmed overhead and glided towards the last shadow, a distant half-tower to the right.

    And my (5), a tad longer to make up for the first one:

    Hoc Mordet

    Victoria skipped past the pretty white house with the big white dog, same as she always did. The dog followed her with its eyes. It lifted its nose, nudged at the latch, and gently stepped through the gate.

    Victoria heard the jingle of dog tags. She whirled, slowed to a stop. The dog loped closer. She turned and quickened her pace. She heard the jingle again. She ran. Then the dog was on her.

    Victoria slammed face-first into the concrete, scraping her forehead. As the dog clamped down on her arm, she screamed – not for God or for Mother or even for help, but a blind, panicked, pathetic, piercing scream – which only agitated the dog more. It stood atop her, clawing bloody gashes into her flimsy tee-shirt and jeans. It snarled, worrying her arm like a particularly tough chicken wing. Then after a lifetime, or perhaps half a minute, it released its grip, padded forward, and positioned its bloody jaws around her head.

    By the time the EMT received the first 911 call, Victoria was no longer screaming.

    You Sly b-tard, you’ve got me writing for the first time in a year! (shakes pen angrily)

  13. SlyShy on 27 October 2008, 23:52 said:

    Heheh. Now, have you signed up for NaNoWriMo yet? :P

    Also, I have a bunch more of these prompts hidden in reserve somewhere…

  14. SubStandardDeviation on 28 October 2008, 00:09 said:

    I don’t “NaNo” so much as “nano”, heheh…

    (Translation: None of my plots ((not characters)) are long enough to sustain 100+ pages. This is probably for the best, because all of them are Paoliniesque “homages” to better, published writers, or entries on TVTropes.org.)

    Besides, I should probably be studying for tomorrow’s midterm.

  15. Purple on 31 October 2008, 02:36 said:

    Ooh, I like these, Es! They’re better than a lot of prompts I’ve seen before. I’m assuming you wrote them?

  16. LiquidNitrogen on 9 November 2008, 18:50 said:


    The TongueScraper! The most clean, most pure, most elegant tongue scraper every made! You can scrape of soft debris, hard debris, even cancer on your tongue! It is absolutely amazing. Just watch this (pulls out tongue scraper, drags it across tongue)just like this! Works like a charm! But wait, there’s more! Call 1800-999-999-9999 within the next 20 seconds to receive a HairScraper (shows countdown timer), absolutely free! A $20 dollar value, yours for only $5! A 75% cut! How ‘bout that! Call now!

  17. SubStandardDeviation on 9 November 2008, 21:13 said:

    It only looks long because of the dialogue, really!



    He is sitting on the couch, as always, watching the game. She is late, as usual.

    “I saw Matty today,” she says.


    “He smiled at me.”

    Another grunt.

    “You should come too, sometime. Maybe if you could ask for a day off—”

    “No. We’ve been through this.” He picks up the remote, just as the commercials start, and flips through the channels. He is not watching her. He is not watching the TV.

    “I tried to talk to them, but they wouldn’t listen. They’d listen to you, I know they would, if you’d just come see him.”

    “He wouldn’t see me.” Still flipping.

    “How would you know, when you never pay him a visit? Just once, Peter, just—”

    He then throws down the remote in a rage and springs from the couch. It takes all his strength not to seize her by the neck. “All this talk of paying! Who do you think pays the bills? Here I am, slaving day in and day out, trying to provide, while you take the car off on your little day trips! Who do you think drives Nina home from daycare, or Alex to soccer practice, eh? Why don’t you start being a mother to your real children?”

    She grips him by the collar, surprised at her own fury. “How dare you say that.”

    He pushes her hand away, brusquely, but not harshly.

    He turns and picks up the remote, whispering, perhaps to himself, “Good thing all of this nonsense will soon be behind us.”

    “He is your son.”

    “No.” Another game unfolds on the screen. “He is not my son. And I was never his father.”

    Funny, I never write this sort of stuff. Usually SSF fanfic.

  18. SubStandardDeviation on 10 November 2008, 01:41 said:

    And now for some silly stuff:


    Looking for a good strong MACE to help me defend myself. One- or two-handed does not matter, Medium size please. Will accept cursed items (will deduct for removal of curse though). Magic items preferred!

    Asking price 300G$ for non-magical, up to 2000G$ magical. PRICES NEGOTIABLE!

    I am sick and tired of getting molested by random beggars on the street. Won’t you help a sweet, innocent girl out? God will love you forever!

    Arawan Morningstar
    Temple of G’h‘k’r’
    Street of Sin, East District, Medias Res

    [Just playing a little with the conworld.]


    Mara’s Teeth

    The big male lounges on the bank of his river, mouth open to absorb the heat. His river is very crowded today. Through small green eyes he can see brown lumps gliding through the water, hunting, as they constantly do, for fish or birds or the odd mammal. The big male has no need for this. His keen hearing picks up the sounds of thousands of hooves, beating against the ground. Soon the yearly meal will come.

    The big male kicks his feet and slips into the water.

    A short glide over and a display of teeth remind the smaller males of his dominance, and afterward he pays little attention to them. Such a feast is not to be squandered over fruitless fights. Rather, he focuses all his senses on the wildebeest slowly gathering on the high far bank.

    The big male has lived at his river for many years, and he knows that many will drown or be trampled in the struggle. Easy pickings for juveniles. He has no interest in them. This is his river, and he will take the first kill.

    The first wildebeest jumps. The big male waits. It is never the first one.

    Soon his river is cut in two by a surging stream of brown bodies. The big male swims closer, but the wildebeest can do nothing against him – only forge ahead. That one. That one is weak, slipping behind its fellows. The big male dives, his eye-guards sliding into place, and lunges. Snaps. Sinks.

    Hundreds will bleed his river by day’s end. But for now, only one will sate his hunger.

    [Yes, I watch too much Discovery Channel >:)]

    Care to post any more of those prompts, SlyShy?