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Activities for Remote Creative Writing Classrooms

While remote instruction allows instruction to continue in situations where in-person meetings are impossible, some aspects of in-person instruction are difficult or impossible to replicate. Thus, ideally, exercises in asynchronous or remote creative writing classes should not aim to produce completed creative work, nor should they attempt to recreate every component of an in-person class. Rather, they should prompt students to generate ideas that can later be built upon to produce more fully realized art.

Thus, the following prompts are general writing exercises designed to spur creative writing output, but not necessarily to replace major course projects. These projects can (and should) be tweaked as necessary to fit your course. You might, for instance, modify them to make them specific to the texts used in your course, or you might modify them to fit certain genres of interest.

Write a scene with two characters in which each character’s perspective is explored.

  • First write the scene from the perspective of one character, then write the scene from the perspective of the other. Exploring the same scene and the same sequence of events from multiple points of view allows writers to gain a greater understanding of the things that make two characters different (and, by extension, the two characters themselves).
    • While this exercise usually involves two characters from a student writer's own work, it's also possible to modify the exercise to have students re-write a scene in an existing work from a different character's point of view.

Imitate the writing style of a favorite author.

  • A classc exercise. This activity can help students practice their ability to write with a distinct voice as well as begin to understand what goes in to making a given authorial voice “unique.” These considerations can help students start to develop their own voice as well.
    • If students do not have their own stories to use for this exercise, you might consider providing an excerpt from a well-known story for your students to rewrite in another author's style.

Describe a conventional object in a non-conventional way.

  • In this activity, students must write a passage describing an everyday object without using any of the vocabulary ordinarily used to describe it. Given how many objects that can be chosen and how many restrictions you can impose on students' responses, there are virtually infinite variations of this project.
    • Here is an example of how this project might proceed. First, think of a common object (e.g., an apple). Now, think of three adjectives that describe that object (e.g., red, juicy, and round). Finally, free-write a description of that object without using any of the three adjectives initially used to describe that object.
    • Note that this can student responses can be either prose or poetry.

Experiment with using unusual sentence structures in writing.

  • Having students write under unusual grammatical constraints can help them become more flexible writers. This is another endlessly customizable activity, though some choices will probably be more generative than others.
    • For example, you might have students write a short, 500-word scene using only simple sentences containing a single clause. Then, you could have them write the same scene using only compound sentences. Afterward, you could have students reflect on how the rhythm and musicality of the language changes when the structure of the sentences changes.

Free-write around a made-up word.

  • Have students invent a completely fictitious word that sounds like it could mean something, like “Snordricioius,” for instance. Have students then write a short poem, or short scene, that uses that word. Instruct them not to define their word explicitly in their writing. Instead, they should try to make their writing connote the definition and “feel” of the word via context. 

Write two versions of a mini-fairy tale.

  • First, have students write a very short story (e.g., 500 words, if even that) that begins “Once upon a time,” and ends with “And they all lived happily ever after.” Then, have students write the same story, but have it end this time with “And they all lived miserably ever after.” Instruct them to change whatever they need to in order to achieve this new ending. By reaching very different conclusions from the same starting point, students can practice modifying the key components of story structure: conflict, rising action, and so on.
    • This exercise can be modified to use a variety of endings. Feel free to use a different ending than the one we've suggested here.

Take a character from a pre-existing book, movie, or television show and drop them into a haunted house.

  • Students should write short (e.g., 500 word) responses to this prompt. What would this character do in this situation? Where would they go? What would their strategy? This exercise can get students to consider characters' personalities, backstories, and motivations, which are important considerations when actually creating an original character. Moreover, this exercise can illustrate how “character drives plot,” and not the other way around.

Do a memory write.

  • This activity asks students to write about an aspect of a recent reading that stuck in their memory. They should write “I don’t know why I remember...” and then continue writing for fifteen minutes, or however long feels necessary. Writing about one's own memories can sometimes spark creativity in ways that students may not realize, as memory is a key impetus for creative work, regardless of genre.