The Short Story: A Creative Writing Exercise that Worked for Me, You Can Try It too!


In my creative writing class at school we use a little gem of a book called Writer's Gym: Exercises and Training Tips for Writers by Eliza Clark. The book is not only handy for its tips on how to write intriguing dialogue and advice about developing plot and character in a story, but also provides a number of writing exercises to help get ideas flowing.

 I wrote the following short story for my creative writing class a couple of weeks ago. It was the result of a writing exercise we did in class that was taken from Writer's Gym. I'll provide an explanation about the exercise at the end of the story, but first I invite you to read my story and see if you can guess what the writing exercise might have been!

A Date for John

     Cassie Sorenson smoothed the worn fleece blanket over her thighs and leaned back against the pillow pressing between her shoulder blades and the living room couch. This is how she spent her days — stretched out, re-reading Jane Eyre and Little Women and listlessly flipping through Home and Garden and Canadian Living magazines. She loved to garden and she loved to cook and since she accepted she could no longer manage either, she vowed to commit to memory as many classic narratives, gardening tips, and recipes she possibly could.
“How was your day?” Cassie’s husband John asked her from the front foyer, shrugging off his coat and placing his briefcase on the hardwood floor.
“Oh, it was fine.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Did you remember to take your medication this afternoon?”
“John, you called to remind me to take my medication an hour ago. How could I possibly forget?”
Acting as if he hadn’t heard her, John walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge door, peering inside at the contents. 
“Are you hungry?”
“Not really.” Cassie looked up from her magazine in time to see him frown.
“But I could eat, I guess.” She said quickly. “What were you thinking for supper?”
“How about chicken, rice, and vegetables? Or beans instead of vegetables? Dr. Phillips said we should increase your protein intake to help you retain muscle.” 
“What’s wrong?”
“Well, why did you say, Mmm?” 
“No reason.”
“Cassie, Doctor Phillips said-”
“I don’t care what Doctor Phillips said!” Cassie said, closing her magazine abruptly. She felt her cheeks warm and she immediately felt bad for being so sharp. 
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I really don’t care about chicken or rice or protein.”
It hurt her to see the stunned look that crossed his face but she needed to tell him what was on her mind.  
“I’m bored John. I’m so very, very bored and I just want to have some fun for once. I can’t stand spending all day moving from the bed to the couch to the bathroom.”
     John regarded her silently from where he stood behind the stove in the open-concept kitchen they had saved for years to remodel. His eyes traced over Cassie’s small frame, hidden under her favorite blanket. She was getting so small. He just wanted her to eat more.
The silence stretched between them until John turned and opened the freezer, taking out some frozen chicken which he set in the microwave to thaw.
“Would you like to see a movie tomorrow night?” He finally said. 
Cassie looked up from her lap where she had been tracing shapes on top of the fuzzy blanket and smiled. 
“Are you asking me on a date Mr. Sorenson?” She asked trying to sound coy.
“Yes, Mrs. Sorenson.” John replied and Cassie saw him crack a smile.

     Cassie stirred awake to the sound of John opening the front door and closing it behind him softly. She kept her eyes closed as she listened to John take off his shoes, remove his coat, and place it on a hanger in the hall closet. His sock feet moved quietly over the hardwood floors and the plush carpet in the living room as he walked toward the couch where he had tucked Cassie in that morning. She breathed in his familiar smell and snuggled in to the warmth of his arms as they moved around either side of her. 
“Hi” he whispered.
“Did you sleep well?”
“ was more of a doze than a sleep, but yes thank you.”
“Are you hungry?” He asked hopefully.
“Not really” she said and immediately regretted disappointing him. 
“Okay. It’s six o’clock.”
“The movie starts at seven...Do you still want to go because we can—”
“Yes, yes, I want to go.” Cassie said, her voice hoarse.
“If you’re not feeling—”
“Please, John. I want to go. I feel okay enough to go.”
John studied her for a moment deciding whether to believe her.
“Okay.” He said after a few moments.
Cassie smiled and was surprised to feel the unfamiliar prickle of excitement. 
“I got you something.” John said suddenly.
“Okay...” Cassie said, immediately curious.
     John stood up and crossed the room to where his briefcase sat on the floor. He picked it up by the handle and brought it over to Cassie, placing it gently in her lap on top of the fleece blanket. John popped open the brass clasps holding the briefcase closed and pushed the lid open wide as far as it would go, revealing what was inside. 
“It’s made from real hair almost exactly the same colour as yours.”
Cassie stomach churned but she remained still, staring blankly at the dirty blonde hair wrapped in clear cellophane plastic resting inside the briefcase. 
“Cassie?” John asked when she didn’t say anything.
“Cassie? Are you going to be sick?” John placed his hand on her back and moved it around in gentle circles.
“Why did you buy this?” Cassie finally whispered.
“I thought it might help you feel more comfortable in public. It might take some getting used to but...” 
“Some getting used to? John, I’m terminal.”
Although they weren’t touching Cassie felt John’s whole body tense.
“John...” She began carefully, “we both know my diagnosis. I’m not going to get better. No matter how much I sleep or how much I eat.”
“I know.” John said in a defeated voice. “It’s stupid of me, but I just thought...we could pretend.”
  Cassie’s heart surged with love for her husband; for her kind, caring John who could not accept what was happening to them. Her John, who she would soon leave behind to pick up the pieces and carry on with life without her while she was set free. She leaned forward and kissed him with all the spirit and energy that remained inside her and he responded, wrapping his arms around her and squeezing her tighter than he had allowed himself to do so in months. Skin against skin, they gasped for breath as they moved together, salty tears stinging each other’s cheeks and hearts thumping loudly in their chests.
Breathless and invigorated, Cassie untangled herself from John and stood up.
“Where are you going?”
Cassie walked toward the wig that now lay strewn on the floor and bent down to pick it up.
“I’m going to get ready for our date.”

The End

Here is the writing exercise I used to write this story and one you might want to try as well: 

Part 1: Head to your local thrift store. Buy an item that you find interesting. It can be anything from a flashy belt to a vase — anything will work for this story, you just have to be creative! This is what we did in our creative writing class, but choosing an item from home will also work. Just make sure to have the item present because it helps to have a visual when you're writing.

Part 2: Write a story about two characters who have some sort of relationship — a married couple, boyfriend and girlfriend, best friends, siblings, co-workers etc. In the story, one of the characters must give the other a gift (the item you chose). The gifted item should symbolize or reveal to the reader that something is not quite right about the character's relationship. Miscommunication, conflict, and/or a breakdown in the relationship should be symbolized or initiated by the gifted item.  

I bought I wig when I went with my class to the Goodwill thrift store and I really didn't know what to do with it until I started writing. I eventually got the idea to use the wig to convey a husband's struggle to accept that his wife has a terminal illness.

I found this exercise useful in helping me form an idea for a story. I also think the exercise helped me stay on track while writing the story as I had to keep the item in mind at all times, which in turn helped me to write all the important moments in the story such as the rising action and climax.

What are some writing exercises you have tried? Were they useful? Share your comments!


  1. Goodwill is full of inspiration! I just like browsing in all the stuff and imagining the characters who used to own it all.

  2. The dialogue is fantastic in this, great job Meghan.


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