The creepiest (and best) creative writing exercise for character-development

Writers are constantly asking: “how can I write believable, compelling characters?”, “how can I write realistic characters?”, “how can I write characters with depth?”
The answer is, it takes practice: and here’s one way to do that.

Characters are strange things. As writers, we like to think we’re in full control of our characters, that we decide who they are and what they do in a given situation. We like to think that we’re masters of their destiny. But this is a writing exercise that’ll make you think a little differently about the imaginary people we use to populate our stories, that’ll help you get to grips with their particular traits and foibles, and could just freak you out a little along the way.

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Finding your beginning – An unpopular method

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If pieces of writing bore the physical marks of their editing process like scars, it’s the beginning of most people’s stories and novels that would bear the worst of them. Here’s a creative writing exercise that’ll help you cut through the noise and get to the heart of your beginning.


The world of writing advice is brimming with tips on how to write a good book or story beginning.

The opening of a work of fiction needs to immerse a reader on page one, we are constantly reminded. It will change the tone of the book or short story to come, it is easily the hardest part of the book to write, and it is of course the first thing that an agent or publisher will read.

It must start with a hook to draw their interest, it must establish the character of the narrator or narrative voice instantly, but also foreground an exciting event, a moment of momentum and motion. It must introduce all the information that the reader cannot infer or assume. This gamut of contradictory and confusing advice is what causes most people’s beginnings to undergo so much more editing than any other part of their work. I know this is true of myself.

Trying to write an effective beginning with all this in mind seems to always lead to overwrought and overthought writing. This is the bad news. The good news is that the perfect beginning is not lurking somewhere out there in the creative ether, just out of reach. It’s likely that you’ve already written it, and it’s hiding somewhere in the rest of the work. Here’s a creative writing exercise that will help you draw it out, but you’re not going to like it. Continue reading “Finding your beginning – An unpopular method”

Writing mugshots – how a reprehensible website could make you a better writer

I’m always looking out for unorthodox writing exercises, and one I struck upon recently has become a bit of an obsession, though something of a guilty one.

Arrests.org is a site that publishes every mugshot released by police in the US. It’s a very strange place, splitting mugshots into categories like ‘hotties’, ‘winos’ and ‘tatted up’. The whole thing stinks of the attitudes that underlaid falacies like phrenology: the returning idea of a ‘criminal class’, now divided into easy-to-navigate categories.

Here, comments sections have the atmosphere of a public pillory.

The website makes revenue from advertising, but also links to several services that charge to remove your mugshot from public documents, which is apparently not extortion.

This is a shady site, no matter its pretensions to being some kind of instrument of transparent government.

That being said, this is humanity. These are humans, and for a writer, this is an invaluable source of material for character creation. 

So this is how a reprehensible website could help you become a better writer.

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