26 Creative writing games for adults

Creative writing games for adults

 

A selection of fun creative writing games for solo and group play. Each game is designed to help you develop story ideas or learn specific writing skills.

 

Writing Retreat in South France

Writing retreat in France
If you already have a novel or other project in progress, you may also be interested in a writing retreat in South France from 23-30 June 2024.

The location is a charming cottage with private pool in 15 hectares of woodland near Lodève, France. Exercises will be organised each morning, with silent writing sessions throughout the day. There will also be the chance to visit the beautiful surrounds and participate in feedback sessions to gain invaluable insights from the host and other participants.

This is the forth writing retreat we've run and the majority of participants are returning, a sure sign of the benefit of previous retreats.
 

 

Intro

The games below have been used with creative writing Meetup group which I've run for 6 years both in Montpellier and online. The group dynamic has changed over the years, however we often start with a short writing game before doing an hour and a half of silent writing, or a feedback session. I've specified whether the games are to be played solo or with a group, however with a little imagination, it's easy to adapt them.

If you're running writing exercises online, I recommend using Zoom, as this lets you use Breakout rooms, enabling you to split into smaller groups when you're sharing your work. This is great for large groups. In my experience, Zoom also has a better connection than Facebook chat or WhatsApp.

You might also enjoy these creative writing exercises and writing prompts for adults.

 

 

  • A Letter From Your Character To You

    Solo exercise

    Letter from fictional character to the author

    If your goal is to write a complete work of fiction, whether it be a novel, a play or a movie script, you will one day need to write to an agent or publisher to ask them to publish your work.

    In this exercise, we turn this around and ask you to instead spend 10 minutes writing a letter from a character in your novel to you, the author, explaining why you should write about them! This serves three purposes:

    If you're doing this exercise with a group of teens or adults, and some of the group haven't already started working on their masterpiece, they can instead choose any fictional novel that they love and imagine that a character within it wrote to the author in the first place to ask them to write their story.  What did that letter look like?

      As you write, it helps you get into the mindset of the character. Ask yourself how they would language this letter and what they would consider important to include.

      It's motivating to know that your character wants you to write about them.

    • It's good practice for when you will need to send a letter to an agent or publisher.

    If you're doing this exercise with a group of teens or adults, and some of the group haven't already started working on their masterpiece, they can instead choose any fictional novel they love. Ask participants to imagine that a character within the book wrote to the author in the first place to ask them to write their story. How did they plead their case?

  • The Opening Sentence

    Solo exercise

    First sentence of books

    The opening sentence has to grab the reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. Many authors achieve this by starting with an action scene. It's best to avoid starting with someone waking up, or a description of the weather. In this exercise the task is to write an opening sentence either to a book you're currently writing, or simply for an imaginary piece of literature.  Here are some of my favourite opening sentences to get you going:

     

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

    George Orwell, 1984

     

    The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship.

    Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni

     

    All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

    Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

     

    It wasn't a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.

    Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

     

    You better not never tell nobody but God.

    Alice Walker, The Color Purple

     

    The cage was finished.

    Gabriel Garcia MarquezBalthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon

     

    Imagine that you are living your life out of order: Lunch before breakfast, marriage before your first kiss.

    Audrey NiffeneggerThe Time Traveler's Wife

     

    Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

    Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

     

    There are a plethora of ways you can start a book, however two ways that help engage the reader immediately are:

    • Set the scene in as few words as possible, so the reader immediately knows what's happening and wants to know what happens next.  The scene must be original and create a vivid image in the reader's mind.
    • Surprise the reader with an unusual event or usual point of view.

    Spend 5 minutes working on your own opening sentence, then share it with the other participants.

     

  • Make your protagonist act!

    Exercise for 2 writers, or can be done solo.

    Make your characters act

    According to John Gardner:

    "Failure to recognise that the central character must act, not simply be acted upon, is the single most common mistake in the fiction of beginners."

    Spend 5 minutes writing a scene where the protagonist is passive in a conversation with one other character. It could be that the other character says something dramatic, and the protagonist just listens, or it could be anything else of your choice!

    Once the 5 minutes is up, swap papers with another writer. If you're using Zoom, or working online, send it to each other in a private chat. Now the other person spends 8 minutes rewriting the scene to make the protagonist as active as possible. This might include:

    Read both scenes together. Which makes you want to keep on reading?

    If you're doing this as a solo writing exercise, simply complete both parts yourself.

    • Showing the emotion this evokes.
    • Getting them to disagree with the other character.
    • Showing how they respond physically (whether it's as a physical manifestation of how they feel, or a dramatic gesture to make a point).
  • Overcoming writer's block

    Small group exercise

    Overcoming writer's block

    Are you staring at a blank page or stuck for any story ideas? This exercise will help anyone who's experiencing writer's block with a particular piece of writing. If this isn't you, that's great, others will value your input!

    If anyone has a particular scene they're stuck with (a pool of blood on the floor they have no explanation for, a reason why the rich lady just walked into a particular pub, etc.) then at the start of the exercise everyone briefly describes their scenes (if working online with a large group, typing it into the chat might be best). Everyone then chooses one scene to use as a writing prompt to write a short story for 10-15 minutes.

    Afterwards, split into small groups if necessary, and read out how you completed someone else's writing prompt. As everyone listens to everyone else's ideas, this can be a wonderful source of inspiration and also improves your writing.

    As an alternative solo exercise, try free writing. With free writing, simply write as quickly as you can on the topic without editing or censoring yourself - just let your creative juices flow. If you're not sure what happens next, brainstorm options on the page, jot down story ideas, or just put, "I don't know what happens next." Keep going and ideas will come.

  • Writing Character Arcs

    Solo exercise

    Character arc

    There are several different types of character arc in a novel, the 3 most common being:

    For this exercise choose either a positive or negative character arc. Spend 8 minutes writing a scene from the start of a novel, then 8 minutes writing a scene towards the end of a novel showing how the character has developed between the two points. Don't worry about including how the character has changed, you can leave that to the imagination.

    The point here is to capture the essence of a character, as they will be the same, but show their development.

     

    1. Positive - Where a character develops and grows during the novel. Perhaps they start unhappy or weak and end happy or powerful.
    2. Negative - Where a character gets worse during a novel. Perhaps they become ill or give in to evil tendencies as the novel progresses.
    3. Flat - In a flat character arc the character themself doesn't change much, however the world around them does. This could be overthrowing a great injustice, for example.
  • Sewing Seeds in Your Writing

    Solo or group exercise

    Sewing seeds in writing

    In this exercise, we will look at how to sew seeds. No, not in your garden, but in your story. Seeds are the tiny hints and indicators that something is going on, which influence a reader's perceptions on an often unconscious level. They're important, as if you spring a surprise twist on your readers without any warning, it can seem unbelievable. Sew seeds that lead up to the event, so the twists and turns are still surprising, but make intuitive sense.

    Groups: Brainstorm major plot twists that might happen towards the end of the novel and share it in a Zoom chat, or on pieces of paper. Choose one twist each.

    Individuals: Choose one of the following plot twists:
      -  Your friend is actually the secret son of the king.
      -  Unreliable narrator - the narrator turns out to be villain.
      -  The monster turns out to be the missing woman the narrator is seeking.
      -  The man she is about to marry happens to already have a wife and three kids.

    Write for ten minutes and give subtle hints as to what the plot twist is. This is an exercise in subtlety. Remember, when the twist occurs, it should still come as a surprise.

  •  

    Cat Chat

    3 to 5 people

    Animal exercise

    This is a fun writing activity for a small group. You’ve found a magic potion labelled ‘Cat Chat’ and when you drink it, you turn into whichever animal you’re thinking about; but there’s a problem, it also picks up on the brainwaves of other people near you!

    Everyone writes down an animal in secret and then reveals it to the other writers.  The spell will turn you into a creature that combines elements of all the animals.  Each person then spends 5 minutes writing down what happens when they drink the potion.

    After the 5 minutes is up, everyone shares their story with the other participants.

    If you enjoy this exercise, then you may also want to check out our Fantasy and Sci-Fi writing prompts full of world building, magic, and character development prompts..

  • I remember

    Solo exercise

    I remember

    Joe Brainard wrote a novel called: I Remember

    It contains a collection of paragraphs all starting with “I remember”.  This is the inspiration for this exercise, and if you’re stuck for what to write, is a great way to get the mental gears turning.  Simply write “I remember” and continue with the first thing that pops into your head.

    Spend 5 minutes writing a short collection of “I remember” stories.

    Here are a couple of examples from Joe Brainard’s novel:

    “I remember not understanding why people on the other side of the world didn't fall off.”

    “I remember waking up somewhere once and there was a horse staring me in the face.”

  • Giving feedback to authors

    For small groups

    Giving constructive feedback to authors

    If you're running a workshop for more experienced adult authors and have at least an hour, this is a good one to use. This is the longest exercise on this page, but I felt it important enough to include.

    Give each author the option to bring a piece of their own work. This should be double spaced and a maximum of 3 pages long. If you're running a workshop where not everyone is likely to bring a manuscript, ask everyone who wants to bring one to print two copies each. If someone forgets but has a laptop with them, the reader can always use their laptop.

    Print out a few copies and hand them around to everyone in the workshop of the guide on:
    'How to give constructive feedback to writers'

    Each author who brought a sample with them then gives them to one other person to review. They write their name on the manuscript in a certain colour pen, then add any comments to it before passing it to a second person who does the same (commenting on the comments if they agree or disagree).

    Then allow 5 minutes for everyone to discuss the feedback they've received, ensuring they are giving constructive feedback.

  • The Five Senses

    Exercise for 2 authors

    Giovanni Battista Manerius - The Five Senses

    Painting by Giovanni Battista Manerius - The Five Senses

    Choose a scene and write it for 5 minutes focusing on one sense, NOT sight. Choose between:

    Hearing 
    Taste
    Smell
    Touch

    This can be internal as well as external (I heard my heartbeat thudding in my ears, or I smelt my own adrenaline).

    After the 5 minutes stop and everyone reads it out loud to each other. Now write for another 5 minutes and continue the other person's story, but do NOT use sight OR the sense they used.

    You can use any sense to communicate the essentials, just focus on creating emotions and conveying the story with the specific sense(s).

    If you need some writing prompts, here are possible scenes that involve several senses:

    • Climbing through an exotic jungle
    • Having an argument that becomes a fight
    • A cat's morning
    • Talking to someone you're attracted to
  • Show don't tell

    2 or 3 people

    Show don't tell your story

    A lot of writing guides will advise you to, "Show, don't tell". What does this actually mean?

    If you want to evoke an emotional reaction from your reader, showing them what is happening is a great way to do so.  You can approach this in several ways:

    Split up into pairs and each person writes down a short scene from a story where they "tell" it.  After this, pass the description of the scene to your partner and they then have 5 minutes to rewrite it to "show" what happened.  If there are an odd number of participants, make one group of three, with each person passing their scene clockwise, so everyone has a new scene to show.  After the 5 minutes, for small groups everyone reads their new description to everyone else, or for large groups, each person just reads their new scene to their partner.

    • Avoid internal dialogue (thinking), instead have your protagonist interact with other people, or have a physical reaction to something that shows how s/he feels.  Does their heart beat faster?  Do they notice the smell of their own adrenaline?  Do they step backwards, or lean forwards?
    • Instead of using an adjective like creepy, e.g. "Mary entered the creepy house", show why the house is creepy through description and in the way the protagonist responds - "The light streamed through the filthy skylight, highlighting the decomposing body of a rat resting on top of it.  As Mary stepped inside, she felt a gust of freezing air brush past her. She turned, but there was nothing there..."
  • World building

    Solo exercise

    Visual writing prompts

    World building is the art of conveying the magic of living in a different world, whether it's a spaceship, a medieval castle, a boat, or simply someone's living room. To master world building, it's not necessary to know every intricate detail, rather to convey the experience of what it would be like to live there.

    Choose one of the above images as a prompt and spend 10 minutes writing a scene from the perspective of someone who is seeing it for the first time. Now, move your character six months forward and imagine they've spent the last six months living or working there. Write another scene (perhaps with an additional character) using the image as a background, with the events of the scene as the main action.

    Click the above image for a close-up.

  • Gossiping about a character as if they're a friend.

    Group exercise

    Easy to gossip with friends about a character

    Judy Blume says that she tells her family about her characters as if they’re real people. 

    Chris Claremont said, "For me, writing the 'X-Men' was easy - is easy. I know these people, they're my friends." 

    Today’s exercise has 2 parts. First, spend 5 minutes jotting down some facts about a character you’ve invented that might come up if you were telling your friends about them. Either choose a character in something you’ve already written, or invent one from scratch now.

    Answer the questions:

    What are they up to?
    How are they?
    What would you say if you were gossiping about them?

    Then split up into groups of 4 to 6 writers. 2 volunteers from each group then role-play talking about their character as if they were a friend (perhaps another character in the story).  The other participants will role-play a group of friends gossiping about the character behind their back and ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, invent it!

  • Degrees of Emotion Game

    Groups of 3 or more

    Degrees of emotion

    This is based on an acting game, to help actors understand how to perform with different degrees of emotion.

    Ask everyone to write the following 4 emotions:

    For groups of 5 or less, write down numbers starting with 1 and going up until everyone has a number, then give them out in order. For groups of 6 or more, divide groups into 3's, 4's or 5's.

    Each person has to write a scene where the protagonist is alone and is only allowed to say a single word, e.g. "Banana".  The writer with number 1 should write the scene with a very low level of the emotion (e.g. happiness), number 2 increases the intensity a bit and the highest number writes a scene with the most intense emotion you can possibly imagine.

    Once each writer has written about happiness, rotate the numbers one or two spaces, then move onto anger, then fear, then sadness.

    It can help to give everyone numbers showing the intensity of the emotions to write about at the start of the exercise, in which case you may wish to print either the Word or PDF file, then use the ones corresponding to 3, 4 or 5 writers.

    PDF

    Everyone shares their scene with the other course participants.

    • Happiness
    • Anger
    • Fear
    • Sadness
  • Three birds, one line

    Solo exercise

    Kill three birds with one stone

    The first paragraph of a surprising number of best-selling novels serves multiple purposes. These are to:

    • Establish a goal
    • Set the scene
    • Develop a character

    Nearly every chapter in a novel also serves all three purposes. Instead of establishing a goal though, the protagonist either moves towards it, or encounters an obstacle that hinders them from achieving it.

    Some books manage to meet all three purposes with their opening lines, for example:
     

    Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

    J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
     

    A little more than one hundred days into the fortieth year of her confinement, Dajeil Gelian was visited in her lonely tower overlooking the sea by an avatar of the great ship that was her home.

    Iain M. BanksExcession
     

    "We should start back," Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.

    George R.R. MartinA Game of Thrones

     

    For this exercise write a sentence or short paragraph that serves all three purposes. If you're already writing a novel, then see if you can do this for the first line in a chapter. If not, choose any combination from the following table:

    Establish goal Set the scene Develop character
    Escape Penthouse suite Reckless
    Succeed in love Castle Cowardly
    Survive Graveyard Greedy

  • Blind Date on Valentine's Day (Exercise for Adults)

    2 people

    Valentine's Day Book
    Here's a Valentine's Day themed writing exercise that you might enjoy, it doesn't require any romantic attachment between writers, but is probably best for adults.

    In pairs one writer spends a minute or two describing a character they're writing about, or alternatively they can describe a celebrity or someone from a work of fiction.  The next writer then describes their character.

    The story is that these 2 characters (or in my case, person and alien, as I'm writing a sci-fi) have accidentally ended up on a blind date with each other. Perhaps the waiter seated them in the wrong location, perhaps it's an actual blind date, or perhaps they met in some other fashion the writers can determine.

    Now spend 10 minutes discussing what happens next!

  • A Success (Works best for online groups)

    Small or large groups

    Winning a race

    This exercise works best for online groups, via Zoom, for example.  The instructions to give are:

    "In a few words describe a success in your life and what it felt like to achieve it. It can be a small victory or a large one."

    Share a personal example of your own (mine was watching my homeschooled sons sing in an opera together).

    "Once you have one (small or large), write it in the chat.

    The writing exercise is then to choose someone else's victory to write about for 10 minutes, as if it was the end of your own book.

    If you want to write for longer, imagine how that book would start. Write the first part of the book with the ending in mind."

    This is great for reminding people of a success in their lives, and also helps everyone connect and discover something about each other.

  • Your dream holiday

    3 to 4 people

    Dream holiday in France

    You’re going on a dream holiday together, but always disagree with each other. To avoid conflict, rather than discuss what you want to do, you’ve decided that each of you will choose a different aspect of the holiday as follows:

    1. Choose where you’ll be going – your favourite holiday destination.
    2. Choose what your main fun activity will be on the holiday.
    3. Decide what mode of travel you’ll use to get there.
    4. If there’s a 4th person, choose what you’ll eat on the holiday and what you’ll be wearing.

    Decide who gets to choose what at random. Each of you then writes down your dream holiday destination/activity/travel/food & clothes in secret.  Next spend 5 minutes discussing your dream holiday and add any other details you’d like to include, particularly if you’re passionate about doing something in real life.

    Finally, everyone spends another 5 minutes writing down a description of the holiday, then shares it with the others.

  • The haiku

    Solo exercise

    Writing haiku

    A haiku is a traditional Japanese form of non-rhyming poetry whose short form makes it ideal for a simple writing exercise.

    They are traditionally structured in 3 lines, where the first line is 5 syllables, the second line is 7 syllables, and the third line is 5 syllables again. Haiku tend to focus on themes of nature and deep concepts that can be expressed simply.

    A couple of examples:

    A summer river being crossed
    how pleasing
    with sandals in my hands!

    Yosa Buson, a haiku master poet from the 18th Century.

    And one of mine:

    When night-time arrives
    Stars come out, breaking the dark
    You can see the most

    Martin Woods

    Spend up to 10 minutes writing a haiku.  If you get stuck with the 5-7-5 syllable rule, then don’t worry, the overall concept is more important!

    See How to write a haiku for more details and examples.

  • Limericks

    Solo exercise

    Writing a limerick

    Unlike a haiku, which is profound and sombre, a limerick is a light-hearted, fun rhyming verse.

    Here are a couple of examples:

    A wonderful bird is the pelican.
    His bill can hold more than his beli-can
    He can take in his beak
    Food enough for a week
    But I'm damned if I see how the heli-can.

    Dixon Lanier Merritt, 1910

     

    There was a young lady named Bright,
    Whose speed was far faster than light;
    She started one day
    In a relative way,
    And returned on the previous night.

    Arthur Henry Reginald Buller in Punch, 1923

     

    The 1st, 2nd and 5th line all rhyme, as do the 3rd and 4th line.  The overall number of syllables isn’t important, but the 3rd and 4th lines should be shorter than the others.

    Typically, the 1st line introduces the character, often with “There was”, or “There once was”. The rest of the verse tells their story.

    Spend 10 minutes writing a limerick.

  • Time Travel - Child, Adult, Senior

    Any size group

    Adult time travel

    Imagine that your future self as an old man/woman travels back in time to meet you, the adult you are today.  Alternatively, you as a child travels forward in time to meet yourself as an adult.  Or perhaps both happen, so the child you, adult you, and senior you are all together at the same time.  In story form write down what happens next.

    Participants then share their story with other writers either in small groups, or to the whole group.

  • Onomatopeai, rhyme and alliteration

    Solo or group exercise

    Onomatopeai, rhyme or alliteration.

    Today's session is all about sound.

    Several authors recommend reading your writing out loud after you've written it to be sure it sounds natural.  Philip Pullman even goes as far as to say:

    "When I’m writing, I’m more conscious of the sound, actually, than the meaning. I know what the rhythm of the sentence is going to be before I know what the words are going to be in it."

    For today's exercise, choose the name of a song and write for 10 minutes as if that's the title for a short story. Focus on how your writing sounds and aim to include at least one onomatopoeia, rhyme or alliteration.  At the end of the 10 minutes, read it out loud to yourself, or to the group.

    Alliterations

    An alliteration example from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

    The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
    The furrow followed free;
    We were the first that ever burst
    Into that silent sea.

    Onomatopoeias

    Buzz, woof, quack, baa, crash, purr, beep, belch,...

  • The alphabet story - creating a story as a group

    Any number of people – Great for a larger group

    alphabet story

    This is a novel way to write a story as a group, one word at a time.  The first person starts the story that begins with any word starting with “A”, the next person continues the story with a word starting with “B”, and so on.

    Keep going round until you have completed the alphabet.  Ideally it will all be one sentence, but if you get stuck, start a new sentence.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t make complete sense!

    It can be tricky to remember the alphabet when under pressure, so you may wish to print it out a couple of times, so the storytellers can see it if they need to, this is particularly helpful if you have dyslexics in the group.

    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

    Here’s an example of an alphabet story:

    A Band Can Dance Each Friday, Ghostly Hauntings In Jail Kill Lucky Men, Nobody Or Perhaps Quiet Rats, Still That Unifies Villains Who X-Ray Your Zebras.

    As I mentioned, it doesn’t need to make sense!

  • Murder Mystery Game

    Groups of 3 or 4

    Murder mystery

    This exercise takes 20-30 minutes and allows participants to create a murder mystery outline together.

    Phase 1 (3 minutes)

    • Split into groups of 3 or 4
    • Decide as a group where the murder occurs (e.g. the opera house, a bar, a casino)
    • Decide one person who will write the details of the victim and the murder itself.  Everyone else writes the details of one suspect each.
    • The ‘victim author’ then invents a few extra details about the scene of the crime, who the victim was (a teenage punk, an adult opera singer, etc.) and the murder weapon and summarises this to the others.

     

    Phase 2 (10 minutes)

    Each person then writes a police report as if they are either describing the scene of the crime, or recording the notes from their interview with a single suspect:

    Victim:

    Write the following:

    • 1 line description of the victim.
    • When they were last seen by a group of witnesses (and what they were doing).
    • How the murder occurred in more detail based on the evidence available.

     

    Suspects:

    Write the following (from the perspective of the investigator):

    • 1 line description of the suspect
    • What they said during the interview (including what they claim to have doing when the murder occurs).
    • A possible motivation (as determined by the police from other witnesses).

     

    Phase 3 (5 minutes)

    • Each person reads out their police reports to the other members of their small group
    • As a group, decide who the murderer was and what actually happened

    See more ideas on creating murder mystery party games

  • The obscure movie exercise

    3 to 6 people

    Obscure movie

    Pick a famous movie and spend 5 minutes writing a scene from it from an unusual perspective.  Your aim is to achieve a balance between being too obscure and making it too obvious.  Feel free to add internal dialogue.

    At the end of the 5 minutes, everyone reads their movie scene to the others and all the other participants see if they can guess what the movie is.

  • Creative story cards / dice

    4 to 8 people

    Creative story cards for students

    Cut up a piece of paper and write one word on each of the pieces of paper, as follows:

    Robot

    Castle

    Longing

    Ice cream

    Happy

    Scream

    Guard

    Evil

    Whirlwind

    Cactus

    King

    Chaos

    Angry

    Desert

    Laugh

    Heart


    Give each participant a couple of pieces of paper at random.  The first person says the first sentence of a story and they must use their first word as part of that sentence.  The second person then continues the story and must include their word in it, and so on.  Go round the group twice to complete the story.

    You can also do this creative writing exercise with story dice, your own choice of words, or by asking participants to write random words down themselves, then shuffling all the cards together.

 

Looking for more writing games?

If you're looking for more writing games, checkout the following:

  1. Writing exercises for adults
  2. Creative writing prompts
  3. Sci-fi and fantasy prompts