creative writing,creative writing exercise

Writing Exercise: Writing Around the Edges

As many of you already know, I’m an English professor. I’ve been at this since 2016, and over that time, I’ve built up a slew of my own writing exercises. As promised in my newsletter signup, I’m going to start revealing some of these, along with a few tips, in order to show my other literary side. The exercise below is one of my favorites in that it helps you shift the focus of your writing away from the character and toward what the character is actually doing or thinking. It creates a bit of an out-of-body experience while getting hyper-focused.

This isn’t something you would necessarily want to do for a full piece (though I did with my example story below), but it helps flex those muscles of detail and precision when it comes to providing fresh ways to denote the actions and observations of your characters. As for me, I had a blast with this technique and still sprinkle out throughout my writing. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Last note before you jump in: If you delve into this little beastie of an exercise (it’s not easy for most people), please let me know what your experience was like in the comments below. Also, if you get a story published that started out with the exercise, please link it below and let us know how it went. Happy writing!

Exercise: Writing Around the Edges

Corded phone hanging with the shadow of a hand reaching out.
  • Write a short piece (500-1000 words max).
  • Set in an interactive moment with a single main character in an immersive scene set in a physical place where they have to interact with people or things around them.
  • No nouns (title/name) and no pronouns (he, she, him, her, they, them, it, me, I, etc.) for the main character.
    • Give your characters dialogue and specific actions but focus on movements, intentions, and outcomes with the parts of the body doing the actions, not the character. Zoom into the granular details of the character’s interactions.
  • Even though the other characters can be mentioned by name and pronoun, I suggest you employ this zooming-in technique for them as much as possible as well.
  • Example Story: Death Wish | Short Fiction by Judah Mahay
  • Tip: Remember that each character must have his/her own paragraph. If you switch to someone else’s dialogue, action, or thought, you must create a new paragraph.
  • Exercise Outcome: This will help you zoom in on the granular details of a character’s body parts (hand, feet, lips, ears, fingertips, knuckles, nails, toes, etc.) or objects they interact with (turf, grass, coffee mug, wine glass, sword, toothbrush), having the overall effect of creating a more immersion experience for the reader and heightening tension. When writing a story, you wouldn’t want to employ this technique too much (it might slow down the flow too much and render the main character out of focus for too long), but it can be great if sprinkled in.


If you want me to provide some feedback (putting on my professor hat here), feel free to request in the comments below and then shoot me an email. I can only do this for a handful, so first come, first serve.

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