Short Writing Exercises #1 – Writing about ritual

This short writing exercise is based on one suggested by Margaret Geraghty in her excellent book – The five-minute Writer, which we highly recommend.

Sometimes the hardest thing about being a writer is just knuckling down and writing. And many writers live in fear of the dreaded blank page.

Writing exercises can help get the juices flowing and will also help hone your writing skills, preparing them for when you want to apply them to short stories, novels, or whatever else it is you write.

Writing about rituals

Rituals are not just all about religion and festivals, we all have all kinds of rituals in everyday life, many of which we’re probably completely unaware of – until they become interrupted and we find ourselves feeling unsettled or irritable.

When we read stories, the worlds and characters described on the page are not built entirely by the words that are supplied by the author, we use our life experience so far to fill out the details. If this didn’t happen, then authors would need to write reams of words in order to build an entire character or setting. As it is, they can use a few broad brushstrokes and know that the reader will apply stereotypes and personal life experience to fill in the rest.

We can use rituals to the same effect, by describing a common ritual that somebody might be familiar with, such as morning ablutions or making a first cup of coffee. It might be gathering all the things required for a yoga class or a dog walk, or preparing for a short or long trip.

The way in which the character carries out a common ritual will provide the reader with impressions of their character, as well as tone and atmosphere of the scene.

For example:

Janice bounds out of bed and splashes refreshing ice cold water on her face. She hums as she brushes her teeth and sweeps a bit of light make-up on, before heading downstairs for a crunchy breakfast of muesli and bananas with skimmed milk.

Nicole drags herself out of bed and swears at the perpetually flickering bare bathroom light bulb that she still hasn’t got round to fixing. She grimaces at herself in the mirror, squeezing spots of blood out of her gums. There’s no time for breakfast, as usual, so she slams the door behind her, stomach grumbling as she jogs down the road, not noticing the stain on the leg of her jeans.

A short writing exercise about rituals:

Think about the rituals you do in your life – this can be anything you do regularly, you don’t have to feel spiritual about it, or particularly attached, it’s just something routine. It may have a calming effect, but it may not. Write for fifteen minutes about your ritual. 

Try to write with specific detail, but there’s no need to over describe. For example, rather than saying ‘the dog lead’ say ‘the steel choker chain’ but don’t write 500 words when 300 will do.