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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.

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


A couple of years ago, I created a Random Scene Generator (RSG) as a birthday present for a friend to use when she wanted to kickstart her daily NaNoWriMo writing. Even if you aren’t doing NaNoWriMo, you can still play with the RSG.

My friend, known as ShildeInMN to other Wrimos, says “You could call it the Random SCREAM Generator, too, for all the fun it is! It’s terrific!”

Full Disclosure: I have Reservations about NaNoWriMo

If you don’t have a deep understanding of your characters and the structure of the novel you want to write, you can spend an awful lot of words and time overwriting scenes that ultimately don’t go anywhere. I learned the hard way that there are more effective ways to write a novel than just sitting down, cranking out words and hoping for the best.

It takes hours and hours and hours of preparation to get ready to start drafting a novel. If you’re not at that point, NaNoWriMo can lead you astray.

That said, if you are ready, NaNoWriMo can be a great support to get past resistance. I applaud the emphasis on letting go of unreasonably high expectations so you can get the words on the screen. On the other hand, unreasonably low expectations just so you can get words on the screen can create 5,000 words you can salvage and 45,000 words of fluff.

Random Scene Generator

NaNo or not, you can set up a Random Scene Generator (RSG)  in about a half hour. Once you get it set up, 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.


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  1. 2015 Top Ten Banes of Your Writing Resistance | Bane of Your Resistance - December 29, 2015

    […] A couple of years ago, I created a Random Scene Generator (RSG) as a birthday present for a friend to use when she wanted to kickstart her daily NaNoWriMo writing. Even if you aren’t doing NaNoWriMo, you can still play with the RSG. Read more… […]


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