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?

Daily Challenge Check-in: August 9, 2015

Words/Time: 2:48 hours, doing a hodgepodge of things writing related. I spend about an hour doing typical revision work for “Pithea” late last night. This afternoon, I was ready for a break from all of that, so I tried out using story cubes to spawn a story. (There will be more detail on that in a later post.) Then I spent nearly an hour working on getting scenes from “Pithea” into Scrivener in my quest to organize chapters.

All of this was during the last day of my writer’s retreat. I came home in the early evening, spent some time with my family, and looked forward to diving back into a normal revising routine in the evenings. That didn’t happen tonight, though, as my husband and I ended up binge watching the rest of the penultimate season of Parks and Recreation. Still, my weekend away helped me push past the looming section of revision that was causing me to lose all desire to do any work, and I do expect to be back to work tomorrow.

Daily Challenge Check-in: August 8, 2015

Words/Time: 4 hours,  mostly revising “Pithea.” I worked for anywhere from 30-50 minute sessions at various times of the day today. Most of what I did today involved working through a section that was really unorganized. There was a lot of crossing out, a lot of rewriting, and also a lot of moving whole sections around. Considering that it took me several hours to get to where I’m finally almost past that part, I think it was a good thing it happened like this. If I’d had to sort through this mess over 30-60 minute sessions on normal evenings, I think it may have led to a lack of interest, because I would have felt like I was getting nowhere. So this actually worked out well.

Considering that I was alone in a trailer in the middle of a campground, with nothing to do but relax, I suppose 4 hours doesn’t sound like a lot. I’m happy with it though. Let’s face it, with 2 kids at home, one of which is only 5, I needed a lot of this time just to do whatever I wanted to do, and sometimes that included playing Nancy Drew, while other times it included revising.

At one point, it even included brainstorming ideas for the story that has to come after “Pursuit of Power.” I haven’t decided yet what story I’m going to write for NaNoWriMo this year. It will either be that sequel to “Pursuit of Power” (though I really have only very vague ideas for that one so far) or it will be a story about a character named Jonathan, who is minorly introduced in “Pithea,” but is a much bigger deal in my mind. That story has a lot more planned for it, but is missing something before the climax. However, though that story is further in its development, I can’t help but feel it would be smarter to continue Alexander’s story (which is “Pursuit of Power”) before I get too far away from it. So I need to figure out what the continuation of his story will even entail.

And today was a continuation of my writer’s retreat. I still have tonight, as late as I can manage to stay up, and tomorrow until around 5 to find a balance between relaxing and story work. Hopefully I’ll have another big report for tomorrow.

Daily Challenge Check-in: August 7, 2015

Words/Time: 45 minutes, revising “Pithea.” I worked mostly on a section of exposition that comes between parts 3 and 4. It was a little messy. Then I worked on organizing the beginning of part 4, which is also more exposition than narration. Many important events happen over the course of about a year, but they don’t get much explanation each. It’s also kind of messy, so I’m trying to sort it out and make it flow more smoothly.

It was a slow start to my writer’s retreat, but so far, I’ve just been enjoying the quiet. I’ll be up late tonight, and do some more work in short bursts, most likely. Then there’s all day tomorrow.

Write Every Day: Writer’s Retreat

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I haven’t posted a daily progress update in over a week. My family took a 5-day trip to Toronto starting last Thursday, and returning Monday. I have spent the rest of this week recovering, and also purposely avoiding my writing. When we got back, I was tired and unfocused and gave into the laziness.

I think I may have needed a little rest after Camp NaNo, though I know that’s not in the spirit of writing every day at all.  Still, I knew my chance to dive back in would be coming soon.

My in-laws have a trailer set up at a local campground, which they’ve visited now and then throughout the summer. Several weeks ago, while thinking about our family spending a weekend out there, I realized something. That could be a great place for a quiet weekend away from all of the distractions of home. The initial idea wasn’t necessarily for it to be full of writing, rather simply time alone, after a chaotic summer.

School is about to start, and I homeschool my kids. I have a son who is starting 8th grade and a daughter who is about to start a more structured daily routine for kindergarten. And this summer hasn’t really been the most relaxing “time off” any kind of teacher might hope to get. Hence the weekend getaway. My husband is the one who mentioned the idea of making it a writing weekend.

So I am leaving this evening, with food that won’t need much preparation, my laptop, every notebook I think I may need, printouts of two different stories, and no real chance at having internet (the wi-fi is terrible there, I’m told). I am bringing some DVDs to watch for a break now and then and plan to get out and take a walk when I need to stretch my legs. I’ll likely stay up until I’m too tired to think, sleep until (most likely) noises from neighbors wake me up, and keep going.

Come Sunday evening, I may have a very different post to share about the realities of my writer’s retreat, but for now, I have grand plans to get all sorts of work done, and to recharge before school starts up again.

Have any of you out there ever had a sort of writer’s retreat? A day, weekend, or even more away from normal life, during which you focused on writing?