The Writer’s Sketch

What is a writer’s sketch? Well, it’s not a short story. It’s far less complicated than that. It’s an exercise for any writer; good for the mind, good for speed, good for new ideas, and good to practice new writing techniques.

Working on a full-length story is great — but sometimes following the rules can be exhausting and can often prevent a writer from having the fun they used to have. Working a lot on a single story can start to form mental blocks and hurt self-esteem because you constantly feel like you’ve accomplished nothing, even when you’ve accomplished so much.

Sketching is not only a good activity for clearing your mind and exercising your creative muscles, but it’s also good if you need a new idea. When I sketch, I never have ANY idea of what I’m going to write before stepping in — that’s where the magic happens.

Everyone will sketch different — short stories, blurbs, etc. Because I’m a fantasy writer, I have a very specific way I handle them that I’m going to share today. Take from it what you will.

What does a Writer’s Sketch even look like?

The best way to understand what a sketch is would be to see one.

Today, I’m going to share the first sketch I did when I was faced with world-building for one of my WIPs. Then, I’m going to explain my thought process to help you learn how to sketch yourself.

Consequently, this makes today’s article a little long.

Going into this manuscript, I had nothing but the name of the world, a plague, and a few other considerations picked up from friends. I knew I wanted a plague — but that was it. Hell, I didn’t even have character names. It is best to go into a sketch having little to no information.

Anyway. On with the show. Here’s one of my 500 word sketches. (Will explain in detail after.)


Tara was told to never look down, but she did anyway.

Those who lived on the floating isle of Bilda never looked down because it was a daunting sight. On a clear day, when the space between the lost marches and the floating isles were free of clouds, the corruption below was visible for hundreds of miles.

Squinting, Tara could see the massive crater left behind where Bilda had been lifted from the Old City, hundreds of years ago, during the first outbreak of the plague. Everything beyond the crater was lost. Darkness had swallowed all of the Old World; the forests were covered in a nightmarish haze, the animals were rumored to be dead.

Tara had come to the edge of Bilda for more reason than to break the rules.

She wanted to look over the edge to see if she could see past the darkness — if she could, it was possible for her to become a Lunamancer. Even the youngest Bildians knew that those who could see through the devastation were said to have the potential to use magic. It was a rare occurrence – even rarer than seeing an angel. Still, Tara remained hopeful that when she stepped to the edge of the floating mountain, she would look down and see the Old World.

She frowned.

She couldn’t see any of it. All those years spent dreaming to be a Lunamancer, gone. All she could see were the undulating rifts of nightmare swimming over the land below. There were no visible temples, or traces of the fabled green grass supposedly laying crystallized beneath the nightmare.

“It’s over, let’s go.” Tara took the reins of her steed and turned away from the edge.

“So fast?” the stallion said to her.

“It’s simple,” Tara said, looking the horse in the eyes. “You either are a Lunamancer, or you aren’t. I’m not, so we go home, and we don’t tell anyone we came to the edge.”

“You don’t think those who discover they are Lunamancer stay longer? You think they just look out for a second, and they can see the Old World that fast?”

Withering and War, some days she wished that damn witch Fanny would have never blessed the creature with such a mouth. “Yes, I do.” She stepped forward and pulled at the stubborn black horse and started back toward the mountains – back toward the dingy alleyways of Fallen Arbor.

“If you say so, your majesty.” The horse stepped away from the edge and followed obediently.

I do say so.

So that was it, then.

Tara would be doomed to be a Horologist, just like the rest of her family. She sighed. Clockwork was beautiful, but it wasn’t magic.


Awesome, so you made it this far. Can you believe that entire sketch was pulled directly out of my ass, on the spot? I only took 15% of it to the actual story itself, but this sketch and others stacked together and eventually lead to a massive world.

But how? How could all of this be pulled out of one’s ass in less than an hour? It’s all about getting very good at lying to yourself.

When I do character sketches, each sentence leads to the next. The first sentence starts out a long chain of questions that I answer throughout a sketch. The answer doesn’t have to make sense, but it has to be there. That’s how I come up with new ideas. Questions.

In a sketch, you write sentences and answer questions for fun. This is for you. It doesn’t have to read well or look good. It’s sole purpose is to get your mind working again — it’s a way to be creative that you don’t have to commit to on a larger scale if you don’t want to.

The key to a successful, non-stressful sketch, is to answer the questions fast. Go with your gut. Don’t overthink it. Remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect.

I can’t, unfortunately, tell you exactly how to write a character sketch, because giving you rules would defeat the purpose of ‘freeing your mind,’ as it were. The less rules the better. So, instead of giving you rules, I’m merely going to shed some light on my thought process through writing this sketch (which was a 30 minute sprint).


Tara was told to never look down, but she did anyway. This is my first sentence, completely pulled from the darkness of my own personal ass. But it sparks the foundation question for the entire sketch. “Why is Tara looking down?”

Those who lived on the floating isle of Bilda never looked down because it was a daunting ………. floating isles were free of clouds, the corruption below was visible for hundreds of miles. My first answer to the question of “Why is Tara looking down?” This is where I discover that she’s on a floating island. It sparks the next question, “Why is she on a floating island?” (I didn’t know at the sketch’s start that she’d be on a floating island.)

Squinting, Tara could see the massive crater left behind where Bilda had been lifted from the Old City, hundreds of years ago, during the first outbreak of the plague. AH HAH! So I answered the question — she’s on the island because the plague is below, and the island had to be lifted to avoid the plague. (Again, I did not know this when I started.) Unfortunately, this section didn’t leave me with anymore questions I felt like answering, so I continued to answer the question, “Why is Tara looking down?”

She wanted to look over the edge to see if she could see past the darkness — if she could, it was possible for her to become a Lunamancer. OH I SEE, So there’s a bigger reason she’s looking down. Lunamancer — well, that raises some questions. “What’s a Lunamancer?” I ask myself.

Even the youngest Bildians knew that those who could see through the devastation were said to have the potential to still use magic. It was a rare occurrence – even rarer than seeing an angel. So, here I answer the question, sort of. I vaguely state that Lunamancer are the only ones with the ability to use magic, and that it is rare. Then I ask “WELL HOW RARE IS IT?”
Well, It’s more rare than seeing an angel. Apparently there are angels now.
(Again, I’m just having FUN. I don’t NEED a reason for there to be angels. If I decide I like that idea, I can go back to it later, outside of the sprint)

Tara frowned. She couldn’t see any of it. All those years she spent dreaming to be a Lunamancer, gone. The only thing she could see were the undulating rifts of nightmare swimming over the land below. Here, I create a minor conflict — pulled it directly out of my butt. Tara looks down and can’t see any of the Old World — But what does that mean? Well, it must mean she cant be a Lunamancer, I guess. “What are the consequences of her not being Lunamancer?” I decide the consequence, during this sketch, is the fact that she is sad.

“It’s over, let’s go.” Tara took the reins of her steed and turned away from the edge. So she’s sad and she decides to talk???? Well who on earth is she talking to if looking over the edge is so forbidden. Certainly she wouldn’t take another person. Okay… so she’s talking to an animal. “Does the animal answer?”

“So fast?” the stallion said to her. Holy shit, a talking horse. “What’s going on with that???”

Withering and War, some days she wished that damn witch Fanny would have never blessed the creature with such a mouth. Ah, so a witch did this.

So she finishes her conversation with the horse and I’m faced with one last question. “So she looked down, and is now sad. So what happens next?” Again, I am forced to make a decision off the top of my head.

Tara would be doomed to be a Horologist, just like the rest of her family. She sighed. Clockwork was beautiful, but it wasn’t magic.


Now, I have been doing character sketches and world sketches for a while now, so I’ve become somewhat good at them. Thirty minutes for me might take an hour for you, but that is VERY okay.

The most important part is that you open your mind and let your creativity run free without consequence for a while. Don’t think too hard. That way, when you return to your usual writing in a strict setting, and a strict plot, with strict character personalities, you feel refreshed and able to follow the rules without feeling overwhelmed by lack of excitement.

Uncategorized Writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: