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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 Writing Prompts to Solve Writer’s Block

random reduces writers resistanceMy last post explained why writing prompts work and provided links for finding them. You can also create your own creative constraints via the Random Scene Generator, a tool I introduced several years ago in what has become my most viewed post.

I created the Random Scene Generator (RSG) as a birthday present for a member of my writing group. She’s done NaNoWriMo for over ten years and I thought a way to kickstart her daily writing, especially in November, might be well received. It was.

Anyone who wants that sweet spot of just enough freedom and just enough structure can play with the Random Scene Generator. All you need is a pair of dice and a little imagination.

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 story and inserts those names in the following format:

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

If you don’t have specific characters in mind, select two names, two ages and two occupations and voilà you’ve got two characters.

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

dice-free-graphicsStep 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. And if I get a number I don’t like, I can just tip the dice over. (Sometimes a creative constraint helps you realize what you really want.)

Use this table to convert the numbers on each die to the number on your lists of 21.

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 that the scientist 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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2 Comments on “Random Writing Prompts to Solve Writer’s Block”

  1. Julie M. Evans October 15, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

    Sounds fun. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I pick up a book (any book!) and open a page at random and start reading. It’s interesting how many times this is helpful… and I end up finding some info or vocab or an idea.


    • rosannebane October 16, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks Julie! Random access in a book is a great idea. A little dangerous for me because I might just keep reading and forget what I came there for…


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