Dream Every Day: Story Cubes

 dream plan write

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.

007

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

story cubes2

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).

006

This one involved aliens and their bodily functions.

story cubes1

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: Fanfiction That Isn’t

dream plan write

Full disclosure: I used to write fanfiction. A lot. All for one MMORPG called Ragnarok Online, which my husband and I played for around a year. It was where my love for writing fiction resparked, after having dimmed during high school. I’m never sure what’s going to happen when I say I write fanfiction. Plenty of people have no real opinion. Some say they have written or currently are writing fanfiction as well. And some scoff, laugh, roll eyes, or quietly assume the worst about what that means. There are many misconceptions about fanfiction, but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is also not about convincing you to write fanfiction—at least, not precisely.

One of the biggest benefits of fanfiction is that some of the work is already done for you. Characters are already in play, relationships built (or at least started), sometimes a plot is left dangling that you can pick up and run with. At the very least, in the case of a mostly story-less, character-less world like was in the game I wrote for, a setting has already been established—a whole world built, with mechanics in place that I didn’t have to create myself.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying fanfic writers are lazy, but let’s face it—it’s easier to start writing when some of the work has been done. And that’s where I’m going with this post.

As writers, we are often reflections of what we take in. My dad is a blacksmith, and so is my main character’s dad. I have a character that I created long ago who is jovial, always enthusiastic, outgoing, and sometimes annoying; in recent years I actually met someone in real life who reminds me of that character, so now when I write that character, I keep this other person in mind as a guide.

Errol

Now when I write Aeldrim’s dialog, I think to myself, “What would Errol say?”

The same can be said for books we read, movies or television we watch, or even music we listen to.

A major character in my story “Outcast” was partially inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, mostly in that I decided to give her a physical mark that reminded people of her mistake.

I have grand plans for a dramatic scene in a story that I never finished when I was writing fanfiction (but will likely pick back up someday and finish in my new story world) that was heavily inspired by a song called “Letters From War” by Mark Schultz.

And the entire premise of a short story I wrote years back was drawn upon the question, “What if the girl had to save the guy?” which I asked myself after watching a movie with my sisters. (For years now I’ve been certain it was the movie Last Holiday that led me to that, but after rewatching the climax to that movie, I don’t see how it could have been. So now I’m not sure what the movie was.)

As a whole, writers get ideas and inspiration from everyday life all the time, so none of this is special. Most writers that I talk to seem to always be neck-deep in ideas that they have to choose between when deciding what to work on next. This advice is more about what you can do if you’re looking for new material. A fresh idea, a different direction to take your plot, or a new character to introduce.

In the book Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, there is an article about taking an existing story and simply adding a different element to it. Examples were moving the story to space, adding dragons, setting it in an alternate dimension, or adding time travel. The idea is not to literally rewrite the same story with the same exact plot with that one added element, but to use that as a starting point. Once you start plotting and/or writing, you make it your own. By the time you’re done, it will most likely look very different from the original.

And that is really where I’m going with this post. Take a cue from fanfic writers and let other stories around you inspire you. What you liked or didn’t like about them, what you’d change or how you think it would have continued.

Dream for yourself: For the rest of this post, understand that “story” can refer to any work of fiction in any medium—print, big or small screen (even a single episode out of a series), or audio.

Think of a story you really liked, but just didn’t like the ending. Or wish a character had been given a different side-plot. How would you have done it differently? What would have been better?

Or think of a story you absolutely hated. Starting with the same premise and same characters (or different characters, if they were part of what made the story so horrible), rewrite it so it’s better.

What character do you really despise? I don’t mean the kind that are meant to be hated, but one that fell flat for you. The character who grated on your nerves. Who was meant to be a comic relief but was just stupid. Or maybe one who was indeed an antagonist, but the villain factor was taken too far. Even a protagonist who you just didn’t sympathize with and couldn’t care less if they lived or died. What would you have done differently? How would you have made that character better for the story?

Yes, this is what some fanfiction writers do. But it doesn’t have to turn into literal fanfiction. If you do not purposely hold yourself to the world the original story is set in, you can make it your own. Or simply use these questions to spark an entirely different idea.

So how about you? Are you now or have you ever been a fanfic writer? Have you noticed real life or fictional stories seeping their way into your writing?

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).

Continue reading

Dream, plan, write…

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This has been my motto for the last year. I have tried to make sure every day contains at least a little writing work. For me, this can take more than one form:

Dream – This is the part where you ask, “What if…?” and “Why?” What if space were filled with vampires? What if the guy was the one who needed rescuing? Why would a British royal guard be camping in the woods of Montana? How different would the world be without shrimp? There are ways to force these ideas out of your head, but just as often, they just come on their own. When you’re driving, washing dishes, showering, even sleeping.

Plan – This is where you take that idea, that seed, and run with it. Meet and flesh out the characters. Decide on the right time and place. Start plotting. Not everyone does this step; some skip right from dreaming to writing. That’s okay too. But for the rest of us, it’s important to spend some time in the planning stage.

Write – This is the most self-explanatory stage, but often the most difficult to do. It is helpful to set goals along the way. Also important is saving the editing for later.

Revise – This is my absolute least favorite stage, but it has to be done. The question, though, is how to do it and how much to revise. My own mindset on revising has changed a lot in the last year, and I think I’m hating it less than I used to.

These different stages are often mixed up. Currently, on any given day, I may be working on revising one of two books, plotting another one, writing for a shorter bit that has no real plans, or who knows what else. And I’m always dreaming.

I’ve come to realize recently that, though I am not a published author, I have a lot of experience as a writer. I’ve been writing with some seriousness for 10 years and have grown a lot in both knowledge and skill. I’ve finished the first draft of two novels, which I’m told is an accomplishment in itself. And just in the last two years, I have learned a lot about all of these stages of writing. This blog has always been focused on my writing progress, but I have decided it’s time to branch out. I want to start sharing some of what I’ve learned, even extending to areas outside of those I mentioned above (like finding the right writing atmosphere). Hopefully someone will find some usefulness in my words.

I won’t try to say when or how often these posts might come out, because my family life is too unpredictable. The first post, about the “Dream” stage, will be shortly following this introductory post though.