hometeacherenglishwriting exerciseslong writing

long writing

writing long fiction is an exercise in organization. here are some ideas to get started. they aren’t writing prompts as much as questions to answer. all long fiction is either driven by character or plot, rarely both at the same time. i have divided the ideas in two – a section on character-driven writing and one on plot-driven work. select the list that best fits your writing procedure. (if you don’t have a systematic, organized writing procedure, pick one of those first.)

in terms of academic writing, the subject is significant, as is the content. but the most important thing to focus on is to organize your thoughts and communicate them effectively. nobody learns from jargon-heavy academic tracts overcomplicated by the writer. make the content as simple as possible but no simpler. i have given some questions to focus your academic writing but these are not prompts or suggestions in the same way.

character-driven writing

  • how would i describe the character to my grandparents? no, not in a single sentence. if i had ten or fifteen minutes to do it in detail. remember, they have to be interested. they might not be my target audience but they’re definitely a good portion of the target purchasing audience for gifts.
  • what would the character ask for in prayers? would they expect to receive it?
  • how would the character respond to finding a crying child sitting on the ground in the middle of a deserted playground?
  • what would the character want their name to be if they could change it?
  • who is the character’s role model?
  • who would the character have voted for in a recent election? would they have voted at all? and how much would they have cared about whether their friends did the same?
  • what was the character’s favorite animation as a child? do they still enjoy watching it?
  • what is the character’s dream vehicle? will they ever own one? will they ever actually want to own one or is it not worth it for them?
  • if the character hosted a party, how many people would they want to show up? how many would be likely to come?
  • what color would the character want to dye their hair? would they actually do it?
  • what did/would the character say at their mother’s funeral? would it be true?
  • what does the character think about the ethics of owning pets?
  • what language would the character learn given the opportunity? would they put in the effort to learn it in reality?
  • what is the one place in the world the character would feel most at home? least? have they lived/do they live in either of them?
  • what is the character’s favorite book? how often do they read? do they talk about it or is it secret?
  • what would the character say in a one-on-one meeting with a significant religious or political figure? (president, prime minister, pope, patriarch, chief rabbi, etc)
  • if they were an animal, which animal would the character be? which animal would be their ideal partner?
  • what is the character’s viewpoint on the desirability/disgust of sex?
  • what does the character think about exercise? do they put those thoughts into practice?
  • who does the character truly care about? is it a long list? do they care at all about the general public? is that level of caring put into practice or only theoretical?
  • who is the character’s favorite philosopher? how much time do they spend thinking about deep ideas?
  • how much light does the character like to have when working? eating? sleeping? reading?
  • when does the character sleep and how regularly does that change?
  • does the character write letters? journal? diary entries? blogs?
  • is the character more comfortable with a pen or a keyboard?

plot-driven writing

  • what is the specific date and time when the story begins?
  • will the story be told chronologically? flashbacks? memory?
  • how long does it take to get from the first scene to the last?
  • who is the story for? how closely does that audience align with the primary characters? the secondary ones? the narrator?
  • what is the weather in this scene? the temperature? the quality of the light?
  • who is watching the events occur? is everyone aware of their presence?
  • why does this scene exist? what does it change about the characters? the plot?
  • are the main characters changing in this scene or is it driving only the events? if they were real people, would they be changing?
  • are descriptions of scenery, time, clothing, etc helpful to describe what is happening? more than helpful, is it necessary to explain why things occur?
  • are there clocks showing the time? windows showing the weather and time of day? trees showing the season?
  • for secondary characters, why are they necessary? do they suddenly function as primary characters for this scene or are they only facilitators? background? embellishment?
  • how long would this scene take to act out? is the description of how events occur time-accurate?
  • what is the mental/emotional state of each character? the narrator? do those shift during the scene?
  • what is the level of education of the narrator? is that reflected in the choice of words describing the scene?
  • is the progression from the previous scene logical? to the next? does there need to be a shift in narrative style? an explanation? a time-lapse? or does there need to be a change in scene at all?
  • is this scene referencing another work of literature? is there music playing or art present? is that reference obvious? is it intentional?
  • who else in the story is aware this scene is taking place? what do they think of it? how does that impact the events that follow?
  • why is this scene happening at this specific point in the story? is it because it’s chronological? remembered? does it make more sense to have it talked about at another point?
  • do your characters dream and how important are those fragmentary thoughts to the progression of the plot and development of the story?
  • how deeply do you want to explore the characters’ motives for their actions compared to describing their actions?
  • how distinct are characters’ speech patterns from each other? how often should those differences be highlighted, if at all?
  • is slang/dialect significant to how the characters communicate? how consistent is their use of it, if at all? if not, how consistent is their formal speech? do they speak in preformulated patterns repeating themselves obviously through the story or is it a general style?
  • is there a moral? are characters’ ethical perspectives on their actions obvious? the narrator’s? are they the same? what is the moral/ethical implication for the reader intended to be?
  • is the storytelling style consistent? is it intended to be? does the narrator evolve during the telling? during the story? is this reflected linguistically either through consistency or obvious change?
  • why does the story end when it does? are there unanswered questions? is that intentional?

academic writing

  • what is the target academic level of the audience? college or high school? graduate or doctoral students? lifelong academics? does the level of technical language and stylistic choices reflect that audience?
  • what assumptions have you made before the first paragraph? are those reasonable?
  • are your references standard works in the area or unusual? have you explicitly addressed your collective choice of works to cite?
  • is this work part of an ongoing discussion, debate, controversy, etc in the field or something removed from its central issues?
  • how significant do you believe your work to be to the general research area? do you expect your audience to agree with that assessment?
  • have you made your arguments as simple as possible without losing any of their detail or specificity? if not, are you being intentionally obstructive to comprehension?
  • what do you expect will be the delay before the work reaches its target audience? does that timeframe change anything about how the information should be presented? will there be time to update for any changes in the interim?
  • to what extent will the target audience have an opportunity to judge the content? if this is work for a specific individual, what is their expected emotional response? if for a generalized audience, what is the range of potential responses? is that significant? how can that be shifted? is that shift necessary?
  • would the work be easier to understand with figures, graphs, images, photographs, renders, etc? if yes, will those be added and where will they be sourced, created or purchased? if no, are any present simply for decoration?
  • what information in the work is secondary? is it possible to shift any of that information to sidebars, footnotes, endnotes or other separate works? is division wise?
  • is this work building on other documents you’ve written in the past or plan to write in the future? to what extent is its lineage visible in your writing? are your assumptions about things you’ve already written or plan to write changing the information required by the audience to understand this work in isolation?
  • how difficult is the work to read aloud? how many complex words appear in close proximity? will this be presented in that format? many readers, especially academics, read work aloud when they receive it so this is a serious possibility even for text submissions – stumbling over unfamiliar terms and names or words borrowed from other languages is common in academic work but frustrating if it occurs too often in a short block of text.
  • what is the subtext of the work? is there an implication you haven’t explicitly stated? is this intentional?
  • are there ethical/moral contexts or outcomes for the work? have you addressed this issue thoroughly? is that a necessary part of the work?
  • what is present to address readers outside the target audience? remember, not every potential reader is in your intended target group and it is often wise to give them direction – this allows the target audience to self-identify correctly and be aware you are consciously addressing them.
  • what is the expected lifespan of the work? a single reading? publication in a time-restricted journal or collection? part of a longer work with a significant expected reading period? how does that impact the content? the style? the visual presentation?
  • what is the frequency of common words in this work? is that repetition necessary? intentional?
  • how many new terms or phrases have you created in the work? is it necessary to provide popouts, footnotes or even a glossary to address this or are they clearly-defined in context to the extent they aren’t confusing for later use? is term-creation necessary for your idea to be thoroughly understood? are these optimal terms or have you simply become used to them? if your target audience can’t be expected to define any of your new terms a day after reading your article, you may not have explained or defined them thoroughly enough.
  • how much description of the circumstances surrounding the work is necessary? to what extent does methodology need to be self-referential to justify its existence here?
  • does the inclusion of complex sentence structure create any difficulties for comprehension? the more complex the concept, the more problematic complex grammar and vocabulary become for many readers, even those with the highest levels of education and literary experience.
  • does a significant portion of your audience belong to a non-native language group? has this been reflected in your writing style, grammar, vocabulary and decisions about the use of visual aids?
  • how do your stylistic choices compare to those of other similar work being written and published today? is this intentional?
  • are the gatekeepers to presentation (editors, publishers, etc) in your target audience (students, academics, researchers)? how much does this impact the decisions of inclusion, style, technical language, etc?
  • is there potential for this work to become something else? (if a journal article, is there potential to become a book chapter or even a book, for example?)
  • are the conclusions obvious from the introduction? is that connection intentional?

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