7 Quick Journaling Exercises That Will Improve Your Fiction Writing

7 Quick Journaling Exercises That Will Improve Your Fiction Writing

Maybe you’ve heard that as a writer, you ought to keep a journal.

But have you ever wondered why? After all, what does your boring life have to do with epic fiction?

I know I took my journal for granted for ages. But a couple of decades and more than a million words later, I now credit my journal as one of the primary tools that has helped me become a better writer.

I know of at least seven ways your journal can empower your fiction writing — and I’m not even talking about fictionalizing your life (though there’s nothing wrong with combining fiction and autobiography).

Are you ready to super-charge your fiction writing skills? Try these out in your journal!

1. Recognize a story worth telling

If you’re already keeping a journal, try to observe the topics you write about regularly and the events you leave out.

Why don’t you mention loading the dishwasher every night? Maybe because it’s boring. (Didn’t think of that, did you?)

What you do journal about are the events that are emotionally charged. That’s the same criteria for a good novel!

So go back over your journal and see what was meaningful enough to make it into those sacred pages. It may give you an idea of what’s important enough to write about in your fiction work, as well.

2. Use basic story structure

You probably know your novel needs a bit of structure: Characters, a rising conflict, a climax, and a resolution.

Did you know the events of your life follow that same structure? Next time you sit down to journal, think about the true story you’re telling and try to identify those four basic parts of story structure.

Practicing in your journal will help you get it right when writing fiction!

3. Get in touch with your emotions

A good book is all about the emotional journey. But it can be so hard to connect with the emotions of fictional people, even if you feel you know them like the back of your hand.

Practice getting in touch with your own emotions first, in your journal. Next time you sit down to write, concentrate on how you felt about the events and why you think you felt that way.

Then apply what you learn to your fictional characters.

4. Hone your observation skills

Bringing a fictional world to life begins with observing the real world.

Do you have your author periscope focused at all times, everywhere you go?

To find out, try journaling about the places you go and the things you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. You’ll solidify the real world in your mind and have a wealth of inspiration for your story worlds.

5. Describe your world

“Show, don’t tell.” More cruel words never were uttered. It’s so much harder to show instead of tell!

Here’s the secret: Sit down with your journal. Observe the world around you. Then write about it with emotion. Don’t use language that merely expresses what you saw; use language that expresses how you felt about what you saw.

Boom. One world realistically brought to life.

6. Capture characters

Characters: The heart and soul of your story, and of your life. Everyone knows you should observe people in order to write people.

What better way to practice than to journal about the people you know? Pay attention to how they act, how they speak, and how they look, and once again fill your journal with language that expresses how you feel about the character you’re describing.

7. Find your purpose

You’ve been told a really great piece of literature has a theme. The million-dollar question is, how do you find a theme?

Why not try your journal again? Go back over your entries and find out what topics you write about again and again. These life themes really mean something to you. I’ll bet these same themes could easily be applied to your fiction.

Both your journal and your fiction come from your life experiences, after all.

There you have it: Seven ways keeping a journal can improve your writing without necessarily copying your life into your fiction.

Do you keep a journal? What other ways have you found it helpful to your writing?

Filed Under: Craft


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  • Layla Rose says:

    I’ve always been an emotional communicator, which I think strengthens my writing, but as I’ve also learned to articulate myself better, this definitely shines through in my present day writing. I write in my diary a lot, have a lot to say about a lot of things. For me many things are “emotionally charged”. 🙂

  • Shelly says:

    Hello Danielle,

    thank you for sharing your ideas. I have been keeping a personal journal since the day I could write. I have been raised in a multilingual environment, which made me write in non-English languages the first 10 years of my writing life. And ever since puberty I felt that my English/Irish roots were much stronger in me to express stories of the heart. I agree with your idea that observation requires color. It could be in words of emotion but also with musical fragments, with paintings/drawings or pictures, like Nando suggests. I have used all of the above throughout the writing experience. And reviewing my personal journals from time to time, the stories bring me back to that specific moment or experience including the musical fragment that was played in the background with all the emotions I felt at the time.
    And now I try to put the experience into a creative writing, which is hopefully worthy to share with the audience some day.

  • Nando says:

    This was a very good article with some very strong and valid suggestions. I’ve kept several journals for years just for the need to always keep on writing. I’ve gone back and reflected on them for years and seen some themes constantly coming up in my life. It’s a great way to look at your life “outside” of yourself.

    Now I have my journal on my iPhone which allows me to then write something out really quickly. There are many out there but personally, I use Momento because it also pulls from my social media feeds and adds them to my journal. I round things off by adding a picture (or several) I took during that day and voila, I have a complete journal entry that’ll be visually pleasing as well. Try it out.

  • Besides traditional personal journaling, I also like writing short passages (“sketches”) with no advance outlining and no revision. I find that the tighter the time limit, the less I self-censor, and even a fictional passage ends up speaking straight from the depths of my being, often more powerfully than a journal entry that talks about the real-life events of my day. I spent years keeping a real-life journal, but for the impact on my writing life, I would pick five-minute sketches with short prompts as my daily exercise of choice.

    I’ve gotten a fair bit of experience through the years at compiling collections of prompts or “sketch starters.” Besides providing me with a quick spark for creative writing, they’ve become some of my biggest sellers.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Writer’s Resources, Author Coaching, and Freelance Editorial Services

  • Larry Paz says:

    Excellent ideas. Keeping a “paper” journal has always been a challenge for me. Now I use “OneNote” (there are other comparable electronic apps) to keep up with my journaling needs. I’m able to access this app from my, tablet, computer, and, most importantly, phone via the Cloud. Since I tend to work on multiple projects at one time, I find the ability to organize my journaling by project and content (i.e. your seven points or some other breakdown) has two major advantages. (1) I have designated spaces to enter my thoughts – including copy and paste, (2) retrieving formation when I need it is simple and straight forward. Love the search feature. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Thanks for reminding me in your great post that I should visit my journal more often, Danielle. During the times I do dive into that book of thoughts, the benefits become very evident. Running across encouraging ideas and interesting phrases are two results I sometimes pull from those writings. In fact, Danielle, I’m going to that journal right now . . . Thanks for the push.

  • Tal Valante says:

    Wonderful post, Danielle! I always keep a notepad on me, but I so often fail to utilize it for anything other than shopping lists. This is an important reminder of everything writing a journal can do for your writing career. Thanks!

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