About the Post

Author Information

Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

NaNoWriMo Random Scene Generator: 10 Steps to Solving the “I don’t know what to write” Problem

nanowrimo_1_normalBy Rosanne Bane

Today is the sixth day of National Novel Writing Month, which means that those of you who are NaNoWriMoing should be about 10,000 words into your novel. I think NaNoWriMo can be a great way to get past resistance and I applaud the emphasis on letting go of unreasonably high expectations so you can get the words on the screen.

One of my writing group members, known to other Wrimos as ShildeInMn, is in her seventh year of the NaNoWriMo challenge. For her birthday last year, I created this Random Scene Generator (RSG) for her to use when she wanted to kickstart her daily writing. Don’t worry if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, you can still play with the RSG.

ShildeInMN says “You could call it the Random SCREAM Generator, too, for all the fun it is! It’s terrific!” 

It takes about a half hour to set-up the lists in the RSG, but once you get your lists written, you don’t need to recreate them. The scene generator will pay dividends anytime you’re at a loss for where to start writing. If you’re meeting with a group of other writers, creating the lists together will make the tool more diverse, random and a lot more fun.

 Step 1. List 21 verbs. If you’re meeting a group, create one list that everyone contributes to. (Do this for all the lists through Step 7.) Everyone will need to write their own copy of the group-generated lists.

Step 2. List 21 locations.

Step 3. List 21 locations modifiers, that is, 21 adjectives that could describe a place.

Step 4. List 21 scents.

Step 5. List 21 sounds.

Step 6. List 21 secrets or secret agendas.

Step 7. Optional: Make lists of other scene elements you may want to include, like 21 objects or 21 strangers who could wander through a scene, or 21 sights, 21 animals, etc.

Step 8. Each writer now selects 2 characters from her or his own novel and inserts those names in the following format:

            (Character 1’s Name) __________________ (Character 2’s Name)

You’ll fill in the blank in a moment. Everyone works independently from here out.

Step 9. Here’s where the random element comes in. Roll two dice. If you prefer, you can go to http://www.random.org/dice/ and let their random number generator roll the dice for you. Personally, I like rolling the dice, I like the sound of them and I like the associations of playing games.

Use this table to convert the dice to a number.

1, 1 = 1






1, 2 = 2 2, 2 = 7





 1, 3 = 3  2, 3 = 8  3, 3 = 12




 1, 4 = 4  2, 4 = 9  3, 4 = 13  4, 4 = 16



 1, 5 = 5  2, 5 = 10  3, 5 = 14  4, 5 = 17  5, 5 = 19


 1, 6 = 6  2, 6 =11  3, 6 = 15  4, 6 = 18  5, 6 = 20  6, 6 = 21

The first time you roll the dice determines which verb on your verb list goes in the blank between the names of your two characters. (You may need to add a preposition like  “with” “to” “for” or  “about” to the verb.)

For example, I used the characters Nikki and LeeMarie. I rolled a 3 and a 5, which means I selected verb #14, which is ‘question’ on my list. So my first sentence is “Nikki questioned LeeMarie.” If I had rolled a 1 and 4, I would have selected verb #4 from my list, which is “argue” (where I’d need to add “with”) and my first sentence would be “Nikki argued with LeeMarie.”

Step 10. Continue to roll the dice to select from your remaining lists. The second roll of the dice gives you the location; the third roll gives you the location modifier; the fourth gives you a scent; the fifth a sound; the sixth a secret or secret agenda. You now have 2 characters, one of whom has a secret or a secret agenda, doing something somewhere with other scene elements to incorporate as you write.

For example, my second roll was a 5 and a 4, which equals #17, and selected “closet” as my location. I rolled another 5 and 4 for my third roll, which gave me “windy”, so now I have Nikki questioning LeeMarie in a windy closet. Hmmm, that’s interesting. The smell the RSG gave me was “grease and sugar smell of the State Fair” and the sound was “computer shut down ping.” My last roll gave me “plagiarized senior paper” as the secret.

So at some point in the scene, there will be the smell of State Fair food and the ping of a computer turning off. I can’t figure out why it would matter to Nikki that she or LeeMarie plagiarized a senior paper, but Nikki is an English professor, so it could be that she has a problem with a student who plagiarized a paper,. But it could be even more interesting if Nikki finds out tthat he physicist she and LeeMarie are in conflict with plagiarized his senior thesis and he’s not the expert he claims to be. Hmm again. A plot twist I hadn’t thought of before.

Step 11. Start writing with your characters in the location doing the verb the RSG selected with the other randomly selected scene elements and see what happens.

Step 12. Write and tell me what the RSG selected for you and how well it worked for you.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments on “NaNoWriMo Random Scene Generator: 10 Steps to Solving the “I don’t know what to write” Problem”

  1. KelvinX August 15, 2017 at 7:14 am #

    Hi blogger i see you don’t earn on your website. You can earn extra bucks easily, search on youtube for: how to earn selling articles


  2. visit my website July 5, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    We appreciate you another superb posting. The best place altogether different may just anyone obtain that kind of details in that great methods of crafting? I’ve a display following few days, and i’m to the try to find similarly info.


  3. Michael Kelberer November 13, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    I wonder how I could apply this to my business copywriting?? Hate to have to explain to my clients “how I came up with THAT idea” 🙂


    • rosannebane November 13, 2009 at 3:21 pm #

      I’m always at a loss to explain how I come up with any idea. Probably better to just tell clients “It’s a mystery.”
      It’s good to hear from you Michael!


  4. Tammie Frost-Norton November 8, 2009 at 11:19 pm #

    I like this! I like the idea of using it randomly when searching for a new writing idea. But I really like it for NaNoWriMo, where I could come up with names, adjectives, smells, etc all pertaining to the story idea I’m working on! I can create my list within the setting of my story. I REALLY like it. I need new plot twists! I’ll let you know what happens! (over 19K words so far, by the way!)


    • rosannebane November 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

      Personalizing the scene generator to include elements from your novel in progress is a great idea! I hope you include a few random elements, too, to give you the surprises and twists your conscious mind is won’t think of.
      CONGRATS on over 19K words! Wahoo!



  1. Want a Shot at a Free Copy of Around the Writer’s Block? « The Bane of Your Resistance - July 30, 2012

    […] NaNoWriMo Random Scene Generator: 10 Steps to Solving the I Don’t Know What to Write Problem […]


  2. 2010 in review « The Bane of Your Resistance - January 4, 2011

    […] NaNoWriMo Random Scene Generator: 10 Steps to Solving the “I don’t know what to write&#8… November 2009 4 comments 5 […]


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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: