Recently I got back from our local RWA chapter's writer's retreat, where I am often called upon to concoct creativity exercises for our group. Here are four I've used with good success.
Everyone in your group should bring a paper bag containing 4-5 household items. Switch bags with someone else and write a scene (usually people do the first scene of a hypothetic story) that incorporates as many items from the bag as possible. Sharing these scenes is a lot of fun.
For extra juiciness, before sharing the stories or telling one another about your ideas, switch bags again (without getting your own bag) and write a new scene using a new group of objects. The important part if you double up is to see how two different, wonderful brains MacGyver together the objects to make a scene.
Twist a Trope
Either the instructor (or the participants as a group) come up with a good number of standard romance genre "tropes" that tend to be in place at the beginning of the story. These could be things like secret baby, boss/secretary, family feud, best friends, and so on. Write each trope on a slip of paper. Then, using the same method, come up with the same number of standard romance genre complications that tend to happen a while into the story or often drive the story forward. These could be things like must find a serial killer, must save the world, must save the company, must go on a road trip, must find the treasure. Same deal -- each complication / challenge / conflict, whatever you want to call them, on its own piece of paper.
I think you can see what's coming next! Each participants gets a trope and a challenge and they write a fake book blurb, essentially the back cover copy, for the story that springs into their minds using the pairing. Emphasize how romance readers love familiarity without stories being imitative and editors are also looking for a "fresh approach".
Mad Writing Libs
On index cards or pieces of paper, every participants writes down 7 or so terms according to what the instructor requests -- a noun, an adjective, a verb, a geographic place, an emotion, or whatever seems to fit. As with the other exercises, cards are shuffled and handed back out, making sure nobody gets their own card. Participants write a first page using as many of the words as possible. It's sort of like MacGyver and sort of not since it deals completely with objects. As with the MacGyver exercise, you can double up before revealing the results to anyone to compare what different writer brains can do with the same information.
Cut out many, many pictures of interesting looking people from magazines, the less familiar they are in the media the better, so there won't be preconceived notions about their personality. Give everyone a woman and a man (or any combination they indicate they want) and have them write the "cute meet" for these two individuals. A picture of a location can be added if desired.
The flexible thing about the "Picture It" exercise is it can be combined with any of the above three exercises to add additional constraints and inspirations, although I don't recommend adding the setting picture when you add faces to the exercises.
If the group is shy or unfamiliar with one another, the instructor can create scenes too and use them to break the ice. It seems like with each exercise we would write for about 20 minutes. Sometimes we doubled up on the same exercise, and that was our whole program, and sometimes we did two of the exercises. Leave enough time for everyone to share! The scenes are often hilarious, clever and enlightening.
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