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Writing Exercise: Judge a Book By its Cover

Everyone knows the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. However, imagining what a book might be about based on what you see on the cover can be a useful writing exercise.

This is the idea behind the recurring segment on Late Night with Seth Meyers, called “Fred Judges a Book by its Cover.” In this segment, Meyers begins by saying that Armisen is very busy and does not have any time to read, not even one minute. However, Armisen claims to have the ability to know the entire plot of a book simply by looking at the image on the front cover.

To test his ability, Meyers will show Armisen the cover of a newly released book for him to look at and guess how the story goes. Of course, Armisen’s fake plots are always far-fetched, make little sense and have zero resemblance to what the book is actually about. But that’s not to say that hilarity and creativity do not ensue.

Why not try Armisen’s activity to stimulate your own creativity? Many book jackets have beautiful designs, but are vague enough that the story you invent won’t be a rip-off of the book it actually represents. To avoid being too influenced by the real plot of a book, try this activity using the covers of books that you have not read or with books written by authors you are unfamiliar with. Do not read the plot summary on the back cover until you have written your own story.

Take it to the Next Level 

Try this exercise for an entire series of books. Find a series you haven’t read (and know nothing about) in your local bookstore. Think of a plot inspired by each book cover. In the true spirit of a book series, each of the stories you create must build upon the story you thought of for the previous book in the series.


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