Who Are You?

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

This one’s for those of you who find yourself falling down internet rabbit holes when you should be doing something else.

Set a timer. ⏱ How long is up to you—adapt it to the time you have available. For example, if you have a half-hour of free time, set your timer for 15 minutes.

Pick any real person, dead or alive, and find out everything you can about them. Type their name into your favorite search engine… and go! Click from link to link, but with purpose. In the course of your research, if you find someone (or something) more interesting than your original subject, don’t hesitate to make a detour. You’re looking for a story idea—an intriguing character, an unsolved mystery, a fantastic setting.

Time’s up! Stop researching, set your timer for the remainder of your time, and write, using your research as inspiration.

This exercise can be done any time, anywhere, as long as you have your phone with you, and is a great way to make productive use of time you might otherwise spend aimlessly surfing.

Word Association Story

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Create a grab bag of words. Write random words on slips of paper or clip them from old magazines and place them in a container to draw from. This would be a good writing group or classroom activity, as each person would contribute different words to the grab bag and no one would know what to expect when the draw was made.

Alternatively, use one of these random word generators:

  • random word generator (options: generate unlimited number of words; include/exclude duplicate words)
  • random word generator (options: generate 1-8 random words; click/drag to rearrange words; double-click to swap out a word for a new one)
  • random word generator (options: generate 2-10 random words; temporarily save words you like to a list)
  • random word generator (options: generate one word at at time)
  • random word generator (options: generate unlimited number of words; choose first and/or last letter; choose number of syllables or letters)

Draw one word and write the first sentence that comes to mind using that word. (Like a word association game, but word ➡️ sentence instead of word ➡️ word.) Repeat nine more times, so you have a total of ten sentences.

Write a story using all ten sentences. These sentences can be rearranged (used in any order) but must be used as-is. The ten original sentences are just a starting point—add as much as you need to fill in and complete the story.

If you do this exercise as a group, read the stories aloud once they’re complete.

Alternative group story exercise: After everyone has completed their 10 sentences, have one person start by choosing one of their sentences as the first sentence of the story. Go around the room in turn. Each person can either add a sentence to the story or pass when it comes to their turn. Stop when someone runs out of sentences. Read the completed story out loud.

Choose Your Own Adventure!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Write a “choose your own adventure”-style story. That is, start writing your story, but when you get to a point where your main character has to make a decision, first continue the story with the character making one choice (up to the point where another decision has to be made), then go back to the fork in the road and write the story with the character making a different choice.

Pick at least three points in your story where it could go in two or more directions and write each of the versions.

A simple version of this exercise would go something like this, and result in eight different versions of the story:

  • Original story ? at the first fork, choose A or B.
    • A story ? at the second fork, choose C or D.
      • C story ? at the third fork, choose G or H.
        • G story ? continue to the end.
        • H story ? continue to the end.
      • D story ? at the third fork, choose I or J.
        • I story ? continue to the end.
        • J story ? continue to the end.
    • B story ? at the second fork, choose E or F.
      • E story ? at the third fork, choose K or L.
        • K story ? continue to the end.
        • L story ? continue to the end.
      • F story ? at the third fork, choose M or N.
        • M story ? continue to the end.
        • N story ? continue to the end.

Of course, stories can get more complicated than this, with more options and storylines backtracking and crisscrossing on each other. Play around and have fun with it.

While a choose-your-own-adventure story can be meant to be read as-is, this is also a good exercise for exploring your options when working through the plot of a longer story or novel.

It’s also a great way to complete a challenge like NaNoWriMo if you “run out of story” before reaching your word goal. Go back through your story and look for points where it could have gone in a different direction and write those versions. You might find you like one of the alternate stories better than the original.

Mashup

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

  1. Pull any four novels off your shelves.
  2. Flip through the first book randomly. Write down the first name you see. This will be your main character‘s name. Repeat at least one more time (so you have a minimum of two characters) but as many times as you like. (Remember you’ll have to incorporate them into your story, though, so don’t get too carried away.)
  3. Open the second book randomly. The first place name or description you see (e.g. London, bedroom, mountains) will be your primary setting.
  4. Flip through the third book randomly. Write down the first five events you see. These will form the backbone of your plot.
  5. Open the fourth book randomly. Base the theme of your story on the first emotion you see (envy, fear, guilt, grief, happiness, jealousy, love, pride, shame, trust, etc.).
  6. Make the story your own by using your own style to combine these elements.