Tools for NaNoWriMo: Scapple

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I always say I learn something new every year of doing NaNoWriMo–something about myself as a writer, something about writing in general, or new tips or strategies for NaNoWriMo. This year, I’m already learning, and November hasn’t even arrived.

If you’ve been following my steps for preparing a story for NaNoWriMo from scratch, you may be doing the same thing I’m doing right now–trying to pull a plot together. I’m still in the early stages of that, and to be honest, I’m not sure that what I’m working on is going to be for NaNoWriMo.

I have maybe 2/3 of a completed outline for a story I was planning to write this year. But when I posted the first list of story seeds, I started thinking about how long it’s been since I’ve started a story from scratch. There can be a lot of joy in the discovery, and that’s something I haven’t had much lately. My current writing projects are all stories I started crafting years ago. Of course they’ve changed shape along the way, and plenty of new elements have been added recently. But that’s not quite the same as starting from scratch. Also, because I have two novels already written in the aforementioned story world, and both are still in revision stages, I figured there was no need to add another story that will just sit on the shelf for years while I finish the first two.

So I decided to take my own advice and do the activities in my own story seed posts, free writing in the hopes that a new idea would spark. After a few days of doing a few of those activities during my writing time, I realized that it was difficult to use my imagination on certain pictures in which I knew what was happening or who the people were. I still did my best, but I’m not sure it was as effective as it could have been. However, because of this issue, I went such an odd direction with one of the pictures that it just may have turned into something for me.

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This is the picture in question…all because I was trying not to make it about the storm that actually caused that.

But where I had hoped to come up with ideas for a story that isn’t even in the same world as my others, this one really just ended up being an idea for events that would happen 1000ish years before my other stories. I really don’t seem to be able to get away from Pithea and its world (not that I mind too much).

So back to my original point, before I lose anyone, I discovered a new tool yesterday that has come in handy during this early stage. I have all sorts of ideas that have started to flow out of me since writing about the picture above. So I decided to give Scapple a try. It’s a free-form idea mapping program made by the same people behind Scrivener. I started putting my thoughts into it, and I really liked it.

So in my last NaNo post, I said that I thought the laying out of ideas and starting to form them into something coherent was best done on paper. Now, only a few days later, I’m suggesting that people download the free trial of Scapple and try it that way. It’s not that you can’t do everything on paper that you can do in Scapple, but…well, putting notes into the computer has its advantages too. (For one thing, I’ve already had to move notes around a lot and connect them differently after putting them in, so in that way, Scapple is better than doing it by hand.)

Here is a screenshot of Scapple in use:

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This is a slightly altered version of what I’ve been working on, with some things removed or changed to avoid spoilers.

How about you? Have you ever used Scapple before? Do you have other programs you use for organizing notes? Tools and tips are always helpful for writing in general, and NaNo in particular. Feel free to share your own.

Plots for NaNoWriMo

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To sum up what I’ve been doing on my blog for the last two weeks: NaNoWriMo is coming, and I tend to get a little over-excited about it. In the past, I’ve talked to people who were interested in participating, but didn’t think they’d know what to write (amongst other problems, like lack of time). Since I’ve struggled with the worry of writing without an idea that came to me well in advance, I thought I might be able to help others with that issue.

To me, the best way to start is by generating various ideas using prompts of various fashions. I shared some of my own, but there are so many out there to be found online. Here are mine: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4

Now it’s time to begin to develop the plot. I will be up front with you right now and tell you that this is the area of story planning that I am weakest with. Most of my plots have developed slowly over time. I do not normally compress it this much, so this will be as new for me as it may be for some of you.

If you already have an plot in mind, great. You’re well ahead of me! If not, here are some ideas for how to proceed:

First, lay out before you any and every story idea you have. By “idea,” I don’t necessarily mean every bit of writing practice you’ve done, but anything that struck you from that. For example, if I had written a scene in which a guy got stuck on the road during a blizzard and walked to a nearby house, where he was invited inside during a family game night, and ended up having feelings for the oldest sister, I may not care for much of what I wrote, but maybe I like the idea of a guy and girl meeting when one of them was stuck on the road and sought refuge in the other’s home. These ideas can also include a character that has started to form in your mind, or a setting you’d like to include somewhere.

Whether you have ideas you’ve been mulling over for a while, ideas you’ve generated recently with prompts, or anything in between, take the time to jot down a note for any idea you have. For this, I would suggest using pencil and paper, because it’s easier to see and manipulate when it’s all laid out in front of you; however, this can be done on the computer too.

Now spend some time musing over these notes. Think of which ones you like most and which you may set aside for now. Figure out if any of them could work together. Remember: stories don’t have to have one single plot from beginning to end. Sub-plots are often at work too, so ideas don’t have to directly relate to be able to go into the same story.

My suggestion for the next step would be to come up with a short synopsis for a plot that you would like to write. One or two sentences if possible. Keep it broad, yet descriptive. A good format is, “A certain type of main character has to accomplish a certain goal, so that something important will happen.” Or for example, “A group of teenagers find a lockbox buried in the desert and try to access the secrets within.” You can then go on to include the main conflict, like, “But when they find that several different groups of people want the box, how will they decide which group they should give it to–or if they should keep the box themselves?”

Okay, so that synopsis I completely just made up, so it may seem ridiculous. But hopefully you get the idea. For now, you can start with literally a skeleton. You don’t have to know your characters (well, at least a few general points about a main character or two is rather necessary for even the previous example sentences), your setting, what the climax will be, or much more. If you do know those things, or start to figure them out along the way, be sure to take notes.

So to boil it down: the core of any story includes at least one main character, a starting goal, and a conflict. If you are starting from scratch in planning a story, that’s where you need to begin.

Over the next week, if you are starting to prepare for November, set aside writing time every day possible, and work toward your story. Start with the one or two sentence skeleton. Then go on to write a longer synopsis that includes more info on who, where, why, or how. Don’t stress about details yet–fleshing out characters and outlining a plot is still down the road. First you need to have a good handle on that core.

Along with working on the beginnings of your plot, continue doing free writing exercises. Or if you’re not sold on even a skeleton plot yet, and still need ideas, keep doing writing exercises. Do the ones I linked to above, or go in search of more. There are tons of them out there; all you really have to do is Google “story prompts,” “story seeds,” or other key words along those lines.

One final note: if you find yourself often passing on prompts you find because they’re not your style, they’re boring, or you don’t think you could think of anything for them, you may need to force yourself to stop doing that. Just remember that not everything you write has to be brilliant, compelling, or the inspiration for a novel. This is good practice for the overall art of writing fiction, and it’s good to push the limits or write something that feels unnatural now and then. You may discover something completely new about yourself or writing in general, but you’d never know it until you tried it.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on my ramblings, your own tips, or any questions you may have along the way.

Seeds for NaNoWriMo Part 4

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Below are today’s ideas to produce seeds for NaNoWriMo (or any writing project). Remember: the point is not to develop an entire plot. It’s simply to create inspiration. Write what is suggested for each numbered item, or whatever else may come to your mind. Then set that aside for now and do another one.

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1. Write a detailed setting based on the above picture. Whatever your instincts or preferences for setting and detail, try to over-exaggerate the scene. Write it however you’re comfortable–with a person there to experience it, from a first-person perspective, or simply describe it from a distance.

2. This is modified from an exercise in the book Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror : Using a playlist of songs that you like (if you don’t have one already, you can pretty easily create one on YouTube or such, if only for this exercise), set it to shuffle and write down the title of the first song that comes up. Then hit next and write down the next song. Do this until you have a list of songs–the original exercise calls for 30, but I found that amount to be a bit overwhelming. I’d suggest maybe 15. Then make each song title a chapter title. Try to find a way to encompass all of them into one novel.

Alternatives include using movie or TV show episode names.

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3. Write a scene from this image. What has happened before this was taken? What else is going on around this? As a result of this? What emotions might be present in the people who live around here?

4. Think back to a dream you’ve had–one that stuck with you. Even if it’s one that has changed in your head since you actually dreamed it, write what you remember. And write what it has become. Sometimes when I have a particularly striking dream, I’ll spend the rest of the day imagining where it would have gone.

Also, consider keeping a dream journal if you don’t already. Any time you wake up with a dream fresh in your mind, write it down quickly before you start your day. It can be an unexpected source of inspiration, even later.

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5. Write about these people. What are their names? What are they doing or talking about? What is their relationship to each other? How are they feeling? What’s going on around them? Be specific.

6. Go back to the pictures and find some way to make them all fit together. This doesn’t mean that they all have to somehow be worked into the same scene, or even the same day within the story. But find some way to connect them all to each other, some story that would encompass them all. Then write the synopsis (as broad or specific, long or short as you need it to be) that involves the three images.

You do not have to stick with what you already wrote for any of them; you can go different directions with any of them to make them fit together.


This is the last post like this I’m going to make. If anyone has been doing the suggested activities, I hope you got some interesting results. Don’t worry if you didn’t get through all of the activities. I didn’t either. I plan to keep working on them for the next few days though.

This weekend I plan to post about what I feel could be the next step from here–going from ideas to sketching out a plot. I will be gone all this weekend though, so I’ll have to prepare the post in advance. If I really manage my time this week, I’ll be able to do more story seed writing, work on my normal revision, and write that post.

In the meantime, if anyone came/comes up with anything from these 4 posts that you really liked, feel free to share!

Other posts like this one: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3

Seeds for NaNoWriMo Part 3

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Below are today’s ideas to produce seeds for NaNoWriMo (or any writing project). Remember: the point is not to develop an entire plot. It’s simply to create inspiration. Write what is suggested for each numbered item, or whatever else may come to your mind. Then set that aside for now and do another one.

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1. Write a detailed setting based on the above picture. Try to include all five senses. Whatever your instincts or preferences for setting and detail, try to over-exaggerate the scene. Write it however you’re comfortable–with a person there to experience it, from a first-person perspective, or simply describe it from a distance.

2. Visit an online plot generator site like this one. Play around with it until a plot or combo of elements shows up that strikes your interest. Then write a scene from the story that you think would result. (For this one, I suggest keeping both what you write and the item[s] generated that prompted it.)

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3. Write a scene from this image. What has happened before this was taken? What else is going on around this? As a result of this? Look at the details, the background. What emotions might be present in the people who live around here?

4. Think of an event in your life that produced strong emotions–anger, fear, elation, etc. Write a summary of the event, making sure to include a lot of detail about the emotions you felt.

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5. Write about these two people. What are their names? What are they doing or talking about? What is their relationship to each other? Find a way to include their clothing and their surroundings, either as what they’re meant for (if you know what that might be), or in a completely different way. Be specific.

6. Go back to the pictures and find some way to make them all fit together. This doesn’t mean that they all have to somehow be worked into the same scene, or even the same day within the story. But find some way to connect them all to each other, some story that would encompass them all. Then write the synopsis (as broad or specific, long or short as you need it to be) that involves three images.

You do not have to stick with what you already wrote for any of them; you can go different directions with any of them to make them fit together.

Other posts like this one: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 4

Seeds for NaNoWriMo Part 2

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Below are today’s ideas to produce seeds for NaNoWriMo (or any writing project). Remember: the point is not to develop an entire plot. It’s simply to create inspiration. Write what is suggested for each numbered item, or whatever else may come to your mind. Then set that aside for now and do another one.

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1. Write a detailed setting based on the above picture. Try to include all five senses. Whatever your instincts or preferences for setting and detail, try to over-exaggerate the scene. Write it however you’re comfortable–with a person there to experience it, from a first-person perspective, or simply describe it from a distance.

2. Look over the following list of words and write a few paragraphs using as many of them as you can:
loquacious, truculent, dudgeon, jocund, crotchety, disconsolate, ambivalent

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3. Write a scene from this image. What’s going on in this picture? Who are these people and what have they been doing on that stage? What is the atmosphere like? The excitement, the energy in the room? How does it feel to be at this event? What will happen next?

4. Take a walk around your block or down your street. Look for things you’ve never noticed before; pay attention to every little detail. When you get back, write down anything that stuck out to you, anything you may want to remember, be it about people, sights, or even sounds that you noticed on the walk.

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5. Write about these two people. What are their names? What are they doing or talking about? What is their relationship to each other? How do they feel in this picture and why? Be specific.

6. Go back through all of the previous activities and make them all fit together. This doesn’t mean that they all have to somehow be worked into the same scene, or even the same day within the story. But find some way to connect them all to each other, some story that would encompass them all. Then write the synopsis (as broad or specific, long or short as you need it to be) that involves all five previous elements.

You do not have to stick with what you already wrote for any of the activities (except maybe for number 4); you can go different directions with any of them to make them fit together.


Though none of these seeds, or the ones that I still plan to post, lend themselves specifically to speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, etc.), that doesn’t mean they are unusable if you plan to write in that genre. Most of the ideas that you will produce will be easily adaptable to another world. If you’re considering writing something in the speculative fiction realm and don’t already have a world to set it in, you may try this site, or look online for other sites that would help. I have built exactly one world, and I’m still not done tinkering with it. I have little to offer in the way of advice in this area.

Other posts like this one: Story Seeds 1, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4

Seeds for NaNoWriMo

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Writing a novel is a daunting task, even when one is not trying to write it in a month. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to sit down and immediately start writing it. Planning out a story beforehand, in broad measures or tiny details, can make all the difference to how well NaNoWriMo will go.

With just over six weeks until November, this is the perfect time to start generating ideas. That gives us plenty of time to come up with a lot of seeds from which to pick. Over the next several days, I’m going to post a series of images, prompts, word lists, and other such things that are meant to inspire ideas. I’m going to try to include a variety of stimuli, because everyone’s brain works differently. Some may be more visual, while others work well with words.

Below are today’s ideas to produce seeds. The idea is not to write a full story from these. It’s also not to develop an entire plot, or list of characters, or even a set-in-stone setting. It’s simply to create inspiration. Write what is suggested for each numbered item, or whatever else may come to your mind. Then set that aside for now and do another one.

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1. Write a detailed setting based on the above picture. Try to include all five senses. Whatever your instincts or preferences for setting and detail, try to over-exaggerate the scene. Write it however you’re comfortable–put a person there to experience it, write from a first-person perspective, or simply describe it more broadly. (Ex. “The air smells of…The water sprays…”)

2. Writing prompt–set a timer for 15 minutes and write whatever comes to your mind about the following statement:
You walk into a coffee shop and see Batman sitting in the corner booth.

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3. Write a scene from this image. Explain what these people are looking at. Or write about what just happened that led to this image. Give the people voices, personalities. Find details in the room to include in the scene (what time of year might it be?).

4. Find some time to sit in a crowded place–the mall, a park, a bench on a downtown street. Watch people walk by and imagine what they’re doing. Imagine what they’re saying to each other. Jot down some of your ideas. Or pick out a specific person and give them a name, a career, a destination, a reason for being there.

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5. Introduce these four people as a cast of characters in a story. What are their names? Why are they here together? Why are some of them dressed oddly? What are their relationships to each other? Which one is the clown (no pun intended)? Which one is the serious one? Who would be the main character (if any)? Who would be the one that can’t seem to catch a break? Give them real personalities and lives.

6. Go back through all of the previous activities and make them all fit together. This doesn’t mean that they all have to somehow be worked into the same scene, or even the same day. But find some way to connect them all to each other, some story that would encompass them all. Then write the synopsis (as broad or specific, long or short as you need it to be) that involves all five previous elements. Yes, even Batman.

For this one, you do not have to stick with what you already wrote for any of the previous activities (except maybe for number 4); you can go different directions with any of them to make them fit together.


Make sure that you are organized from the start, to make it easier later. If you are using pencil and paper to do this pre-writing, keep a folder, notebook, or some other set place where you store all of these ideas. If you’re using the computer, make each different story seed a different file, and store them all in the same location. Most importantly, keep everything.

Other posts like this one: Story Seeds 2, Story Seeds 3, Story Seeds 4

Time for NaNoWriMo

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We want YOU to join us this year!

NaNoWriMo Is…

National Novel Writing Month is an event that takes place every year during the month of November. The basic idea behind it is that participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel (first draft) during that month. The website provides a place to record progress, inspiration throughout the month, and social interaction with other participants.

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I LOVE watching that bar fill up!

I love NaNoWriMo. It’s a huge part of my life. I wrote 80% my very first finished novel draft during NaNo in 2013, and all of my second novel’s first draft during last year’s event. The focus on quantity over quality, the support and accountability, and the overall excitement of the month really spur me on.

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And never underestimate the value of competition.

I believe that NaNo can be for anyone–not just those hoping to publish a novel, or make a career of writing. Not even just people who like to write as a hobby. Anyone who has ever dreamed of writing a novel (or long story, or any lengthy work…heck, even just several short stories) can benefit from NaNoWriMo.

NaNo, however, isn’t necessarily for everyone. By that, I mean that I realize that there are people who don’t work well under the pressure that NaNo can bring. Or who do write (as a hobby or otherwise) already on a regular basis and wouldn’t benefit from the intensity of the event.

Fear of Failure

I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2007. It wasn’t as wide-spread as it is now, and I didn’t have a local region close enough to even attempt to join in local events. I loved participating, and I loved the results of my month of frenzy. Then I skipped the next year because I didn’t have any idea for something to write. After that, I proceeded to skip 2 other years–2010 and 2011. I made the excuse that having a new baby at home made it impossible to try. However, looking back, I think it was just as much that I hadn’t been randomly inspired by a story idea.

Not participating those years boils down to one reason: fear of failure. If I think I don’t have a reasonable chance of completing NaNoWriMo, I would rather not participate. However, since I spent every one of those Novembers agonizing over the fact that I wasn’t writing, and thinking, “If I start now, I may still be able to win,” I do sometimes feel like I actually participated those years, and simply lost. I lost by not trying.

Last year, as November approached, more than one family member told me they had considered or were considering participating in NaNoWriMo. Apparently my enthusiasm had finally spread! However, one of them said he didn’t know if he would, because he might not have an idea in time. Another said she was pretty sure she simply wouldn’t have time.

If someone considers participating in NaNo, but chooses not to, what is the reason for their decision? It’s most often fear of failure, as near as I can tell. Without that looming deadline, that possibility of “losing,” there wouldn’t be as much reason not to jump in and try. However, that looming deadline is exactly what makes the event so fun, exciting, and helpful to many of us.

So, as a NaNo veteran (my qualifications include 5 years of actual participation), I want to do what I can to help those who are considering NaNoWriMo this year, but don’t think they have what it takes.

Finding or Making Time

NaNoWriMo is almost two months away, which is plenty of time to develop a plot and create some characters. It also gives time for a hopeful Wrimo to work out how they will find the time for NaNoWriMo. While it is one of the first things many people who are considering NaNo wonder about, it doesn’t have to be a reason not to participate.

One of the reasons NaNo works so well is that it only lasts a month. One month. 30 days out of 365, during which we tell ourselves, our families, or our friends that we’re going to disappear, slack off in our duties, or ask for extra help. It’s not always; it’s only for one month.

I’m a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom with two kids. My prime writing time is from around 9 pm until maybe 2 am. The house is quiet, and I’m a night owl anyway. Sometimes I’m able to slip away for twenty minutes here and there during the afternoon. On weekends with no plans for the family, I really go nuts, because my husband is home to take care of the kids.

The key, though, is to make NaNoWriMo a priority. Don’t schedule unnecessary events during November, give up some TV or computer time in the evening, and give NaNo the time and attention it needs.  How much time it needs will vary on the person, but I tend to believe that the more planning is done on a story, the less time the writer will take to get the words out.

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One running joke among Wrimos is that our novels are built on inspiration, hard work, and caffeine.

My plan is to make more posts between now and November that could help someone plan out a NaNoNovel from scratch. I’m not a professional writer, a creative writing teacher, or even very experienced at this sort of intensive planning. I’m simply someone who wants to share the joy and creativity of NaNoWriMo with everyone.

Start Here

If you’re ready to start planning your story, don’t let me hold you back. You can probably search the internet for ways to generate ideas for a novel and find help from people much more qualified than I. But if you come back next week, I’ll post some of my own suggestions for sparking ideas. As daunting as the end goal may seem, it all starts with a tiny seed.

In the meantime, start using the next two months to prepare your schedule. Figure out ways you can make more time in your day, or decide what you can cut out for a month. And use this time to practice. It doesn’t have to be as intensive as November will be, but take some free time here or there, time that might normally be spent reading, watching TV, or whatever, and work on your pre-writing during that time. Get the feel of what time of day is best for you to do writing work. And always be thinking toward November.

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You’re on your own with this one…

Dream Every Day: Story Cubes

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I used to think that if I ran out of spontaneous story ideas (those that came to mind on their own, and were not sought after in any way), it would be the worst thing in the world. There have been gaps in my writing that came from not being able to go forward on my current work, but not having new ideas that interested me much, and so I simply did nothing for months at a time. Though I love NaNoWriMo, I’ve skipped several years since my first time participating in 2007, because I didn’t know what to write.

I used to think that not having an idea readily available would mean I’d have to sit and stare at a wall, racking my brain for anything that could be a story. It’s not a pleasant concept, which is obviously why I chose to do nothing instead. Most of you, I’m sure, know how ridiculous that is. I regret this attitude, and those lost NaNo chances. In the last few years, I’ve finally come to see that not having a story to write may not be so terrifying. There are all sorts of tools and exercises that we can use to find ideas. Writing prompts, plot generators, and many other things can lead to an idea.

The one I’m looking at today is called Rory’s Story Cubes. It’s a set of dice that is billed as a game–two or more people rolling the dice and using the images that come up to create a story. There are several variations of game play, including one where several people roll the dice, one at a time, in turn, and add to a group story as they go.

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These cubes prompted a story about old flames, murder, and the mafia.

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This chain of dice turned out to be about awards, thieves, and Greek detectives.

I’ve played with the cubes in groups a few times, and it’s fun to see what we come up with. When we first got the dice, my husband thought they may be useful for me as a writer, though I didn’t think it was likely. I believe one of the first things I said was that I didn’t know if the themes of the dice would really fit into my story world.

I’m still learning how prompts, seeds, and other tools can be beneficial to writing practice. I tend to think that if I’m not generating new ideas for my current project, it’s a waste of time. I have failed to understand that even the most innocuous writing practice can lead you to a new character, plot device, bit of dialog, or even just a feeling you want to explore.

So when I went on my writer’s retreat, I took the cubes and tried out using them alone. The method I chose was simply to mix all the dice together (we have 4 sets), choose one without looking, and roll it. Then I wrote a line or two based on the image. I proceeded to do this until i felt I had reached an adequate ending. That took 21 out of the 30 dice.

I enjoyed writing something completely unrelated to the world I’ve been so immersed in lately. Something with no importance whatsoever. I enjoyed it so much that I feel it would help keep my mind fresh for my writing if I were to do free writing practice more often. Most days, though, I barely have time to do my normal work, let alone finding extra time for that. Maybe when I can devote more of my life to writing (i.e. when my kids are older).

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This one involved aliens and their bodily functions.

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Here we have the tale of an elderly beekeeper; it turned into a government conspiracy with DNA-manipulated animals and giant graphite men.

One thing about using the story cubes that I’ve noticed and want to mention is that I have to be willing to let whatever comes from using them be completely ridiculous. Often, the dice will lead in some sort of impossible direction, and the stories end up being supernatural or dream-like in some way. One of these days I should try the method of rolling several dice at once and looking at them together to find a way to piece them together into a story, rather than going one at a time and not knowing what might come next.

Dream for yourself: You don’t have to have a set of story cubes to be able to give them a try. I have included 4 pictures above of chains of the cubes that you could use for your own writing practice. Use the dice in order or mixed up; look at the chains as a whole, or only one die at a time. See what comes to mind. Below, I have shared the picture of the dice I rolled during my writer’s retreat. Feel free to write your own story from any or all of the cubes below, and then share it with me somehow. If you want to read what I came up with, you can find that here. (Note: If you’re thinking about writing your own, don’t read mine yet!) It would be fun to compare what other people come up with.

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What are your thoughts on story prompts and other such tools? How do you fit free writing/writing practice into your day?

Dream Every Day: Revisiting High School

 dream plan write

When I was in high school, I took a creative writing class. It’s the only one I’ve ever taken, and I couldn’t tell you how alike or different it was from other such classes. There was a process we went through before we ever started writing for the short story part of class that has stuck with me for fifteen years. It was a process of coming up with multiple story seeds, before then choosing the one we wanted to develop into a story. One day we were instructed to come up with a setting and character that didn’t really go together. For example, I chose a British soldier at a Minnesota lake. Under that, it says:
“Why–the queen of England decided she wanted a vacation in a secluded spot and he was assigned to guard the family.
Conflict–the people who live around there are secretive, don’t know why he’s there, and don’t want him there.”

The scenario sounds ridiculous to me now, and I never wrote any further with that idea. However, for some reason, this exercise has stuck with me for a long time.

On the other hand, what is just an innocuous picture–a field of wildflowers–became the short story I turned in for that class. A short story the teacher loved and helped me to remember that I enjoy writing (I had written a lot in elementary school, then abandoned it for poetry). In an essay in that class, though, I apparently wrote that I didn’t think I’d have much reason to write fiction again in the future. That was fun to dig up from my past.

flowers prompt

This colorful, foggy field became the setting of a frenzied, fear-filled search for a briefcase and a race against time for the protagonist in the story I wrote from it.

At the same time I was taking this creative writing class, I had the same teacher for English class. In English, we would get vocabulary lists, and for every list, one assignment was always to write some sort of paragraph or short story that incorporated at least 5 of the vocab words. A few of those ended up being great sources of creativity for me. One, a one-page short story, my teacher said was written well enough and had good enough character development that I could have turned it in for my short story in creative writing.

The point of all of this is to say that, while inspiration can certainly come from anywhere and sometimes nowhere, it is possible to create ideas using various methods and stimuli. Images, sounds, prompts, word lists, outlandish character/setting combos, even story scenarios provided by someone else, can produce seeds that may or may not be worth developing. The key is to keep all of the potential seeds somewhere that can be referenced later. One important rule of writing–never throw anything out. You never know if you’ll want to be able to look back at it 15 years later and write a blog post about it.

Dream for yourself: If anyone reading this wants to try their hand at some of these story seed starters, I encourage you to look at the image above, describe it in vivid detail, and use it as a setting for a scene. Then see where that takes you. Or, use the following list of words to create a paragraph or two–it can be a setting, a short story, or even a scene from something larger. (Remember, it’s from a school vocab list. If you don’t know the words, look them up! Expanding your vocabulary can always help with writing too.) It doesn’t have to produce a full story–just spark an idea. If anyone does write anything from my suggestions, feel free to share with me! I’d love to see what others come up with.

noxious
sub rosa
tete-a-tete
parvenu
a capella
postprandial
minatory
venal
quid pro quo

Continue reading below to read the short story I created with the words above (if you’re considering writing from the list yourself, don’t read mine yet; it’ll skew your ideas).

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