Words are a writer’s stock in trade. Good writers can bend words to their will. For them, words are a second skin. One of the ways they learn to master words is by playing with them. Playing with words is not only fun, it breaks down inhibition and shows you that words are your instruments, which can be used to express whatever you most long to express.
In the first creative writing class, I devote a fair amount of time to activities that encourage participants to play with words. Here are three of them.
Invent a Word
I can’t think of a better way to achieve immortality than to invent your own word, and this activity helps participants achieve this potential immortality. Participants come up with a word and a potential definition for that word, and then they write their word and definition on a big sheet of paper for all to see. This goes down particularly well with children, who instinctively understand that language is malleable and all you have to do to create a completely new word is swap round a few letters.
Playing with words can be a building block to creating stories, as there can be surprising links between words. I do a number of exercises that encourage participants to come up with words and weave them into stories. In Story Soup, they write the name of an animal, a colour and a place on a sheet of paper. They drop the sheet of paper into a hat and then the hat is passed around. They take a piece of paper out of the hat which isn’t their own and write a story that includes those three words.
The Kitchen Sink
Playing with words encourages writers to come up with more inventive images and steer away from clichés. Some of the activities I use ban participants from using certain words, which encourages them to come up with fresher alternatives. In The Kitchen Sink, I give participants a theme, often a seasonal one like Christmas or Halloween. I ask them to come up with one word each that’s associated with that theme. They put the words on a big sheet of paper, and then they write a piece about that theme without using any of the words on the sheet.
What ways have you found to be inventive with words? Feel free to spread the word.