A few years ago, after reading Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months, I created my go to story idea generator; my Plot-o-Matic. The Plot-o-Matic is a set of three different colored cards: green = Subject (person or occupation), yellow = Conflict (something the subject wants or needs), and blue = action (something the subject does to achieve that goal or overcome the conflict). When I’m looking for a story idea, I pick three cards, one of each color, and see if the story I want to write comes together. I have used that Plot-o-Matic to come up with many short story and flash fiction ideas. It’s a fun and useful tool and it was free, other than paper and printer ink.
When I became a blogger, I started searching Amazon for fun things to recommend for you, writers and readers, and noticed there were Plot-o-Matic-esque products on the market like The Storymatic and The Writer’s Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the ‘Write’ Side of Your Brain. Then, when shopping for a game for my nephew, I noticed Rory’s Story Cubes among the games and bought a set to try them out.
Rory’s Story Cubes
The game and how to play
Rory’s Story Cubes are six-sided cubes with simple images on each side. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by human symbols. They dominate my fabricglass art and my puzzle design. I love looking up symbols in symbol dictionaries and dream dictionaries. How people express so much meaning through a simple shape over eons is exciting to me. So this game is right up my alley.
There are different ways to play. The instructions page provided with my set provides 3 ideas:
Roll all 9 cubes and look at the face up images. Pick an image that will be the starting point for your story. Beginning with “Once upon a time . . .,” make up a story that somehow links together all 9 face up images.
Think up a title or theme for a story. (Examples: The beach, My fantastic vacation, Dream.) Then roll all 9 cubes and try to tell a story that relates back to the title or theme.
Divide the cubes evenly among the players. (It’s ok if some get more than others.) Starting with one player and continuing in a circle, take turns rolling the cubes and adding to the story based on the face up images. Stop after all 9 cubes have been rolled, or continue rolling for additional rounds.
Rory’s Story cubes also offers more inspiration on their website.
So let’s test it out. Can these story cubes inspire my writing? How will they compare to the Plot-o-matic?
What story does this roll give us? Hmm. Who’s my protagonist?
A happy man examines a letter that says he has to come home right now, so he jumps out of the plane, but on the way down a bee stings him. While sucking on the sore sting on his hand he does not pay attention to his magnifying glass that sets fire to his parachute. Luckily he lands in a tree, but he walks with a limp from then on and has to use a cane.
How about another one?
The hour was getting late for saving the earth, so the alien came disguised as a rainbow to alter the magnetic poles, but when it did, the water flowed upside down confusing the fishes and killing the bees and now the earth is overrun by scarab beetles.
Here’s one for you. Please leave your stories in the comments.
Now let’s play another way. One cube at a time.
Sasquatch, of course.
took a trip to Egypt to visit the great pyramids.
A freak storm surprised him. Lightning almost hit him, so he found an opening and hid inside the pyramid.
He pulled a flashlight from his backpack and began to look around the small chamber in the pyramid.
While examining an intricate spiderweb, he felt a chilly hand on his shoulder and roared turning around ready to attack.
But it was only a friendly mummified pharaoh who wanted to meet the furry large guest in his home.
The pharaoh asked if the bright light and crashing sound outside had been a meteor or an asteroid. He hoped it was the gods come to join him in the afterlife. Sasquatch hated to disappoint him, but told him it was only a bad storm.
Sasquatch pulled his favorite book out of his backpack. It was a book about the pharaohs of Egypt. He gave the pharaoh his flashlight and a sharpie. “Hey, could you find yourself in my book and sign your pic?”
The pharaoh started leafing through the pages. He started laughing. “I’m not in here. They haven’t found my chamber.” He shined the flashlight around the room. “See,” he said, “Not discovered yet.” He held the book and pen out to Sasquatch.
Sasquatch shrugged. “Wanna sign it anyway?” he said. How about right in the front?”
After the pharaoh signed his book, Sasquatch climbed to the very top of the pyramid, waited for a large gust of wind and opened his parachute. The giant wind, helped along by the ancient pharaoh’s good wishes took Sasquatch all the way back to his home in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
Here’s a video from the Rory’s Story Cubes website showing another story inspired by the story cubes:
My stories inspired by story cubes tend toward the silly and ridiculous, but I had a lot of fun and wasn’t using them to work on anything in particular.
The Plot-o-Matic also lends to the silly and ridiculous. I’m seeing a trend here. It may not be the tools, but the user. Hmm.
I like the story cubes. They feel less rigid than the Plot-o-matic, as the different images can symbolize the subject, conflict and/or the action. The story cubes also seem more conducive to group writing and play.
As you can see, like the Plot-o-Matic, story cubes are a fun, playful, idea-conjuring resource with a vast array of outcomes, but what if some of the images don’t work for you and/or you would like something more specific to your story idea?
Rory’s Story Cubes has created a variety of different cube sets to address that issue. You can choose from:
Rory’s Story Cubes Bundle with Original, Actions, Voyages, Prehistoria, Enchanted, Clues, Intergalactic, Medic & Score
But what if you want something very specific to your story that all those almost infinite possibilities didn’t symbolize?
How to personalize your Story Cubes
I came up with a quick DIY project for you to get the most out of your Story Cubes.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A pen
- White label stickers
- OR for those who cannot read their own drawing
- A printer
- printer paper and tape (double-sided preferred)
- or printable sticker paper
I’m pretty sure you get where I’m going with this, but since I want to draw little symbols for my cubes . . .
- Measure one side of a cube (height and width to cover image)
I don’t think I need an abacus, a teepee, or an L in a box (?) so I’ve chosen to replace these three symbols with symbols more pertinent to my story.
2. Take the sheet of labels and draw out a square that matches those measurements
3. Draw your preferred symbol within the square you drew
To be more specific to my stories, I’ve drawn a volcano, an alligator and a goatman. I’ve already cut out the goatman and placed him over the teepee.
My symbols may not curb the silliness of my stories, but they are more specific to what I’m writing.
4. Cut out the square and stick it over the side of the square you want to replace
5. Repeat until all unwanted symbols have been replaced
6. Roll cubes
And there you have it. Three unique and fun stories to write. I would love to see what you come up with in the comments.
I found that when I rolled with my story-specific tiles, the game changed for me. The symbols became more of a What If game. What if the alligator is afraid of his own shadow? What would happen if the goatman got a bee sting? Do I want to bring magic into my volcano story?
I may be onto something. Adding personal symbols to the story cubes may be a more powerful writing tool than I thought.
I look forward to reading your interpretations of the story cube rolls.
Happy Reading and Writing!
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Everyone thought it was a magical castle—despite the fact that it was only a turret—but what lay behind the locked doors? The only person they ever saw enter was the young woman with the cane. They never asked how she got that cane because they were afraid it had something to do with the “magic” in the castle. Or perhaps she would use the magic against them if angered. Everyone thought she was angry. She never smiled outside of the castle, her words were rationed, and she never strayed from her task. Hobbling to the marketplace she would pick up a basketful of potatoes, then directly on to the blacksmith to pick up scrap items made of copper or zinc, next the florist to pick up some indigo and dandelion.
If only they knew how this was just a shadow of who she really was. If only they knew the experiments she conducted. Sometimes she cried after succeeding in an experiment because she had no one to rejoice with. But this was the way in her country. She knew someone who had been accused of witchcraft for talking about an experiment similar to her own. No one had seen him since. So as long as they didn’t know what was going on and could only speculate on the strange flashing lights seen from her windows, she was safe.
But she lived for this. Despite accidentally injuring herself, she couldn’t satisfy her curiosity of how things worked; the questions of what if, why, and where? So day after day she experimented, absorbed as she was completely in her element. She knew it wasn’t magic, but it was miraculous, and maybe someday they would also experience these advancements in science.
It’s super easy to mesh a couple pictures into one thought, or half of them into one sentence. My first line came from three of the dice and I thought, “wow, no wonder you got such short stories, I’m not sure if I can make it longer than a short paragraph.” But then I spent some more time thinking of the characters–a man with a cane? Nah. A young woman. But why does she have it? And what’s with the flashlight when I’m feeling it’s a pre-electricity setting?
The shadow one helped me most I think–or maybe it’s just a demon behind a little person? It was hard to tell but I went with what my mind picked up from it, which I think is the heart of the dice–not sticking to the actual image but being inspired by each even if you don’t go with that specific picture.
This was fun, thank you for sharing your experience and giving advice on how to make your own! I think I’ll use normal dice but I now realize I have a lot of sticky-note paper that isn’t being used and I think I now have a use for them. Though I’m curious, how well do yours stay on? Do they come off more as they get rolled? I think I’ll reinforce mine with scotch tape now that I think of it.
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Thank you so much for playing along. Great story!! I saw my sticker images as temporary, so I’m not sure how long they will stay on. So far, they’ve made it through many rolls. Happy writing!
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