compiled by Erin Nuttall
Sidewriting Takeover brings together writers of picture books, middle grade, and young adult to explore how writing outside of a draft can help deepen your drafts and revisions. Each writer shares an exercise that they’ve found helpful. If you missed our initial post: START HERE.
Writer Friends! You shared with us the ways you sidewrite, and we listened. It was so fun and enlightening to get the scoop on your favorite exercises and tricks to get deep into your characters and figure out your plot. There was a lot of love thrown at Lisa Cron’s Story Genius and her insightful sidewriting exercises. You gave us exercise ideas as well as specific ways that get your brains going. Thank you for your contributions, we were motivated and inspired by them. Your ideas have already made their way into my work, but don’t worry, I know that’s not why you posted, messaged, and tweeted at us. So let’s get to the glory, laud, and honor I promised. More amazing sidewriting ideas, courtesy of you, dear readers. —Erin
If I’m being honest, I don’t do a ton of #sidewriting. That being said, I consider daydreaming, even if it never makes it to paper, a form of sidewriting. In THAT case, I side write all the freaking time. I can’t stop sidewriting. ACTUALLY, I want to amend that—daydreaming as #sidewriting ALWAYS makes it to paper, I’m just not always aware that it has. I don’t think I’d have anything to write if I didn’t daydream in all directions.
Think of the last place in the world your character would ever want to be—a place they’ve avoided, a place they fear, a place that makes them uncomfortable, or holds memories. Tell them they must go there (for a day/week/indefinitely), but let them pack a bag of three things. GO!
I write short stories. Things which happened in their pasts, often little things like memories of their grandparents, first day of school, best demon vanquish. I’ve done a lot of short stories for my current WIP, but most of the ones for the book I’m querying are in my head.
I love that! I do something similar [to Thea Lyons] — a moment where they’re heartbroken, a birthday gift, etc. Most don’t make it into the novel, but it gives so much depth to the characters. And it’s fun.
Before I write a scene, I list as many sensory details as I can think of.
I find it really helpful to have someone else interview me as my character. You get such different insights into your character when you say your answers aloud, on the spot, without notes than when writing.
Best friend plans a Bday party for MC! Although I knew my WIP’s MC was an introvert, the breakthrough of the exercise was that MC relied heavily on BF to make friends and socialize. That’s why BF is very skeptical of MC’s new friend since he met him without her help.
Ooooh! Love this! My all-time fav: have your character write you a letter. This got me through early days of pandemic. I was too consumed with what was happening in real-world but my character was happy to tell me what was happening in his! Good topics for letter: -what’s happening? -what are you angry about? -who do you want to apologize to? -what’s your biggest fear/shame or hope/love/goal? -what’s your secret?
I have my main character write me (the author) a letter where they explain something I’ve gotten wrong about them — in motivation, in aspiration, in action. Shaking up preconceived notions is freeing and revealing.
Ooh! I love this! I’m a big fan of asking your characters questions. Imagine you are interviewing them, but pay attention to where you are, what’s around them, what they do, and if this is happening in the past or the future. All of this can feed your character development.
My go-to sidewriting (didn’t know it had a name until now!) exercise is writing scenes for sequel books or just future times following the end of my current WIP. Breaking out of my current WIP’s timeline and jumping to a place where my character’s maturity has grown and experiences have shaped them helps me see them in a new light.
I have my MC write me a letter every day. He/she tells me all their secrets and dreams. It is a diary of sorts.
When I’m stuck on a chapter that’s not working, I like to get away from the keyboard and hand write it fresh. There’s just something about scratching out a scene on paper that feels like you’re connecting more personally with the story.
I love using templates to help me flesh out heart, character, and arcs. I have a bunch on my website. www.LaurenKerstein.net. One of my favorite activities is to create a word bank of all of the expressions my character might use. It really helps me find voice and personality. Another activity I enjoy is what I call a character situation challenge. I think about different situations and how my character might react in their own unique way. Finally, I turn my sand timer over for 30 minutes or an hour and just let myself write in the notebook I’ve started for that particular manuscript. I write about arc possibilities, character back-story, and whatever comes to mind. It is unfiltered brainstorming and it usually helps me move forward more effectively.
–Lauren Heller Kerstein
Tune in tomorrow for our final SIDEWRITING TAKEOVER post!
If you’ve missed some earlier posts, check these out:
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter: it’s full of writing tips, featured author content, and inspiration.
Erin Nuttall holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an active member of SCBWI and ALAN. She lives outside of Chicago with her family where she writes stories for middle grade and young adult readers that offer a humorous take on friendship, identity, feminism, and romance.