Mini Writing Lessons

This page is dedicated to a collection of writing lessons we use in our home classroom.

In our practice at home, all writing counts.  Lists are the simplest and most basic way to begin.


List Making Exercise:

Our son Elliot is often obsessed with his latest hobbies, which alternate between Minecraft, Lego and the Warriors series by Erin Hunter.  If we are completely uninspired to write, I step back from the expectation that he should be writing complete paragraphs and long essays.

I’ll ask him to make a list of all the things to avoid in Minecraft.

Then I’ll ask him to make another list of all the things to collect.

From those two lists, he could then begin to explain the importance of each while in “survival” mode.

*List making can be rated and varied by creating topics of intense interest, mild interest, dislike, love, hate, need, ect.  This is an excellent habit in the craft of character development.  It also can help to shape plots and story lines, adding motivation to the character’s decisions.

To boost the effectiveness of this lesson, I suggest adding a hands-on, crafting activity in the creation of a handmade book of lists.  Here’s a link to a few simple lessons in crafting handmade journals:




Naming Exersize  

Nothing causes a block faster than needing a name for a new character.   I freeze every time when naming people, places— even the pets in my stories.  So when I’m ready to approach fiction, I now keep a list of names at my side.  It’s ineffective to leave the page to go off in search of a name somewhere online (wouldn’t you end up being lost and distracted for an hour?)  It might be more helpful to have a baby book of names nearby.  But to give your characters emotional weight, color and complex personalities, make lists of real people you remember.  The easiest way to call forward these names is to remember PLACES or long term activities that required your engaged comittment.

I often begin with making a list of my family members.  I find that each name carries with it certain feelings and attributes that might add color and personality to the character.  I would be careful not to use their names in the story, unless it was a memoir and you have permission.  But beginning with a family list helps to open memory files with different names.

Next, I remember the names of neighbors.

I graduated from traditonal schools and have strong memoires of teachers.  These names all appear on my list.  Names of students I knew sometimes appear in this list.

Names can come in clusters of activites, such as first jobs, sports teams, church friends.

Names can come from fictional characters you remember from your favorite books.  I have a special affection for the character Gobo in Felix Salten’s Bambi.  He is innocent and gullible.  He is an obscure character because his story was a tradgedy so painful that Disney left him out when they made the animated film.  (Wasn’t it enough for Bambi to lose his mother? Probably so.  But Gobo needed to be in that film.)


This exercise can be modified for visual learners by drawing circles that extend out from a center point.  Begin with self, with first formative relationships, and like ripples from a stone thrown in water, add widening circles of names that emmanate from your expansive life.


In order to protect the rights and privacy of real people, make sure to combine first, middle and last names into new creations.  Mix up spelling, ages, hailed from locations, professions, relationships and physcial characteristics.



Doodling Dialogue


This exercise is a game.

It requires at least two people.


Begin by folding a few pages into a pamplet.  Draw a doodle of a person, animal, ailen creature, personified vegetable, mineral, object or fantasy creation.  Then draw a dialogue bubble overhead.

Pass your doodle to your friend and invite them to draw their own doodle, also with a dialogue bubble.  They can fill in their bubble with a first utterance.

Respond to that utterance with your own question, statement, expression.

Pass the booklet back and forth by repeating your character drawings and bubbles until the dialoge creates a story to go with the illustrations.


Once the dialoge comes to a natural end, extend the activity by writing the story without the illustrations.  Use as many details to desribe the characters and add in the dialogue.


If you or your friend have writing anxiety, avoid criticism or correction.  Enjoy and praise the unique, spontaneous expression.




Your Personal Archives  Exercise:

Do you have a personal archive including a handwritten journal, private collection of letters, cards or photos?  Revisit these on occasion to find moments of reality, of love, of spontaneous feeling.  You can use these feelings and memories to give life to characters, settings and conflict.

Do you keep maps?  These are great starting points to begin researching setting.  I have traveled and moved around so many times that I often forget where I have been.  It’s interesting to revisit places that I lived but may not have appreciated or explored in depth.

Stored objects.   Do you have something that was handed down to you through generations?  These items are saved for the stories that are attached or for their material value.  Bring out those objects and let them tell you their stoires.  You just write what comes out of the smell, the texture, the flaws.

Books.   I often keep some books to remind me what I love and appreciate.  What was the message or value of that particular book that inspired me?  In that you may discover a theme.



The Notecard Novella:

Blank page too large?  Size matters when writing stories.  The idea of long defeats.  It balks at being written.  Like the idea of running a marathon.  But no marathon was ever completed without weekly batches of miles.  This is why it works:  your heart will not faint at the idea of filling a notecard.

I have written several long stories on notecards.  My basic goal is to create images and feelings with words.  Gather a few cards.

Write the first thoughts that come.

Keep adding the images as they arrive.

If you are stuck for more than five minutes, go do the dishes.  While you are working on a repetative task, the ideas will begin to generate.  Go back to the cards, especially because you love to avoid the stack of dishes.

Use your desire to avoid sticky, messy, physical labor to your advantage.


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