How to make plotting your short story fun with Jason L. Blair’s Full Deck Roleplaying: Setting & Characters

I’ve been talking a lot about poetry lately, but I’m also participating in The Writer’s Games. The challenge to write a short story to a prompt each weekend started two weeks ago. I’ll be getting a new prompt this evening.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have found many fun plotting games and devices over the years:

story plotting is fun

Yesterday, I happened upon a new one. Writer and game designer Jason L. Blair did a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds introducing his new tabletop RPG (role playing game) Full Deck Roleplaying.

I downloaded the Playtest PDF to see what he was talking about and enjoyed that the game is played with a regular deck of playing cards, so I could play along right away.

As I began to read the instructions, I instantly knew this wasn’t only a game, but my kind of writing tool: simple, fun, and full of beautiful illustrations!

The game rules set up categories for scene and character creation based on the four suits: spades, hearts, diamonds or clubs. I’m excited to get started, so I’m going to start drawing cards to see what I’m working with. I found a brand new, unopened deck of bicycle fire cards in the cupboard, so that’s fun. It took me a while to break them in to shuffle well.

As I read through the game play again, I was inspired to try a real test run of the game. To do that, I needed some friends to play with, so to have some much needed fun today (since my internet has been so slow as to be useless for two days now), I decided to create a photography tableau of friends playing the game and run through a scenario.

ready friends

Here are my friends:

Teddy has lived with me since before I was a Swedish exchange student. He has traveled the world with me and is a great travel companion: We never bicker, probably because he doesn’t mind letting me lead, and we like the same things.

Miss Blue and I met in New Orleans. We met at the hat shop I worked at in the French Quarter. She always liked my designs the best. We went for drinks when I got off of work one day and became fast friends. She can be a bit self-centered and is always borrowing my clothes without asking. I get over it quickly though because she looks good in them and she’s a warm fuzzy in my life.

I met Luchinda in San Antonio. She has a very vibrant, spicy personality. Being so passionate, she can also be quick to anger. She and I have a great time, in small doses.

Woody was introduced to me by my artist friend, E. Spencer Matthews III. Woody’s an old fashioned kind of guy who always looks a bit haunted, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. I think he plans on cheating; just look at his deck of cards. He and Luchinda are a fun couple, very lively, great energy, at least, when they’re not fighting.

I thought Levi might join us. He seemed interested when I was setting up the table, but he doesn’t like my friends. He’s playing kitty in a drum right now. Maybe he’ll join us later. If he does, he can play my character while I take pictures.

Miss Blue has printed out game booklets with the rules and player sheets for everyone and will play as the dealer. When she set out a deck of FLORIDA playing cards as the challenge deck, we all laughed.

“I bet there are some unimaginable challenges in there,” I said.

“I hope there won’t be any gator wrestling,” said Teddy with a little shiver.

“I’m up for any kind of wrestling challenge,” said Luchinda.

Woody stared at the Florida deck with a haunted look. I wondered if he had experienced some Florida challenges he would rather not remember.

Miss Blue starts the game by drawing the setting cards.

the setting

Setting

Time: Jack of Spades = Past

Theme: 7 of diamonds = Sci-Fi

Trope: King of Clubs = Conspiracy

“Well that’s just Roswell,” Luchinda blurts out sounding disappointed.

“Or kinda Stargate,” I say.

“What’s wrong with Roswell?” You loved the museum, if I remember correctly,” Woody says with a sly smile.

Luchinda blushes and giggles.

What do you think, Teddy?” I ask. “What setting do you think the cards tell us to have?”

Teddy takes a sip from his candy cane shot glass and says, “The past doesn’t have to be long ago past. It can be last week or a year ago. What if the conspiracy is Bio-weapons and we are trying to find the horrible labs where they are experimenting with the viruses and stop the pandemic before it happens?”

Everyone, other than Teddy, moans.

Miss Blue pats his paw. “Teddy Dear, we’re playing this to escape the pandemic, pretend it’s not happening for a few hours. Lets try something more fantastical.”

“I know, ” she says, “let’s play that all those ideas in the fifties and sixties of space-age colonies and things were true, but they were built on another planet because what really happened is they discovered a wormhole and found abandoned human futuristic buildings and dwellings. They sold these places to the super-rich and kept it secret. They were so happy and secretive, they didn’t have children and the secret died out. We discovered some clues to how to find and activate the wormhole. What you think?”

“Yeah, and there’s a cabal trying to stop us,” says Teddy.

“Sounds good to me,” says Luchinda. “I’ll wrestle the entire cabal of selfish bad guys so we can live happily ever after. Won’t I honey?” she says to Woody, pushing out her full lower lip.

“I’m in,” says Woody. “What do we do next?”

Miss Blue says, “Now, you each get to draw cards from your own decks to create your characters. Shuffle, if you want, then turn over your top card. That will be your character’s focus.”

Woody's asking Luchinda if she shuffled her cards because she has drawn three Jacks in a row

Character

Focus: Teddy and I both got spades which is Wisdom, makes sense, Woody got a heart which is empathy, not sure about that. I guess it’s a character not him– but Luchinda drew a club which means strength, a little on the nose, so now I’m wondering about Woody.

Motivation: This time I matched with Woody: We are both motivated by honor. I mean, our characters are, I mean, we drew clubs. Teddy got a heart which is Love and Luchinda drew a diamond which is money. Woody couldn’t stifle a chuckle at that. Luchinda knocked his hat off. He left it off. I like his bald head.

Light:We each got a different suit which should be good for game play: I got clubs, Woody diamonds, Luchinda hearts, Teddy spades. So my good is that I’m talented, Woody is Affluent (I don’t think that’s true, but he is secretive), Luchinda is Generous (that made everyone laugh, I mean, she is in spirit) and Teddy is Perceptive which everyone knows is true.

Darkness: As for our dark sides, Woody and I are both obsessed, Luchinda is violent (really, it’s like her character is just her), and Teddy is greedy.

So now we get to state three things about our character’s first impression and name them.

Final Details

We chat for a while then Miss Blue gets our attention and says, “Okay, so tell us the name of your character and three things we would notice upon first impression. Woody, why don’t you start.

Woody loosens his tie slightly and says, “His name is Ottis Caldwell, he’s an art historian who is also an activist. His cause is human equality and thinks everyone should have access to space travel, not just the super-rich. Three things that people notice about him right away, are the stains and paints on him because he is always cleaning art or making art. He often smells of turpentine. And he drives a fancy sports car that seems incongruous with his beliefs and activities, but belonged to his father and he tends to it obsessively.”

Everyone  claps, “Maria, tell us about your character,” Miss Blue says.

I look at my notes and feel nervous for some reason. “Dr. Estelle Jetland is a professor of Physics at the Florida Institute of Technology and often consults and works with NASA. She is fascinated with wormholes. She often seems like she’s not listening when you talk to her, but her eyes shine and her whole body appears to vibrate when she gets excited by an idea. People are often surprised that a physics professor has such a beautiful singing voice and can play so many instruments. When she becomes interested in something, she will obsessively research it until she has read everything there is to find on the subject. Teddy is her post doc assistant.

Teddy clears his throat. “Uh, yes. My character is an astrophysicist named Dr. Björn Bernstein. He is doing his post doc with Dr. Jetland at Florida Tech. People don’t really notice him because he always has his head in his work, but what they do notice is he’s quiet, but when he does speak–”

“Boring,” Lucinda interrupts. “I’m a bad ass mercenary named Natalia Bash. First off, I’m gorgeous, tall and lean, but second, every bit of me is muscle. Third, I’m gruff, and confident and nobody messes with me. Right. Where’s my leather jacket? There. Now, let’s play!”

choosing our characters

Innovations in Klecksography: Changing the shape of the paper

alluring intrigue grows

For this poem, I used the Mustache magnetic poetry kit.

Today’s innovations were inspired by a design challenge on Spoonflower. Spoonflower is a great website that lets you design your own fabric and start your own fabric store. I have a shop called Mber Creations with a few bokeh photography designs that I turned into repeating patterns for fabric. I really like the samples they sent me of the designs on spandex. I plan to use them in my fabricglass fabric art.

The challenge is to create a fabric design with paper cut outs. The example they gave is based on work by Henri Matisse that he did late in life. His cut-out designs were turned into stained glass (below right). For my innovation, I started by cutting a piece of paper into a similar-ish leaf shape and then splattering it and folding it.

I found I was very timid with the paint when the paper was already cut. Then I pulled out some of my “failures” from yesterday and cut them into Easter Eggs. I like them, after I added more paint. The small one top right opens to be a card. Kinda fun.

Rorschach Easter eggs cut after

The most exciting innovation of the day, in my opinion, was using two folds to blot: vertical and horizontal, clipping on the horizontal after drying and using paper punch shapes.

two fold with paper cutting stamps

I hope you’re finding lots of ways to have fun and stay happy.

 

Innovations in Klecksography: Fail better edition

Butterflies and gator

I like this ink blot from the other day. I see two butterflies and an alligator. What do you see? For this poem I used the Genius magnetic poetry kit.

For today’s innovations in klecksography, I tried a bunch of new things:

I tried folding and blotting along the diagonal

ink blot diagonal fold resized

I tried folding along many diagonals:

ink blots multiple diagonal folds resized

I even tried creating shapes with my splatters:

shapes resized

In the top half, I went for a circle and the bottom was an attempt at a triangle. Can you see it? Neither can I. 🙂

Overall, today’s ideas resulted in ugly messes, in my opinion, but I think with less dots from a larger brush, I might be onto something. At least I have a couple new avenues of exploration. I have heard that innovation comes from failing, trying again and failing better. So here’s to failing better tomorrow!

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Discovering a New Palette

four ink blots

Sunday morning I was debating whether or not I should order a new little watercolor kit because the one I’ve been using is almost out of paint, but then I remembered an old Gallery art kit in my closet. I was excited to find a whole new palette of colors to play with.

new palette

Gallery separated the palettes into Primary Colors, Earth Tones, and Pastel Shades which makes for nice layers of tones.

The lesson I’ve learned from this discovery is an important lesson even if we weren’t in a pandemic: Look through your supplies before ordering more. You may already have what you need.

The poem

This morning, I took my trash out and went to check my mail. I’m not sure why it surprised me, but kids were playing in the park on the corner and people walked by walking their dogs. Life goes on in my neighborhood. More than normal, I guess, since the kids aren’t in school and people aren’t going to work.

I had to work at it, but I believe I wrote a positive poem for today which was my intention. I used the Sasquatch magnetic poetry kit.

hunt the mysterious at home

Happy Reading and Writing!

Exploring Klecksography is Free and Fun!

You don’t have to have paint and brushes to create ink blots. You can use coffee, tea, even ketchup or mustard. Ran out of printer paper? Any old scrap paper will do.

The legend of alone people

To further my klecksography innovation, I started with the eye-dropper and let that layer dry. Then I tried different size brushes. Flat vs. round brushes didn’t make much difference, but I did notice a difference between the smallish round brush I used yesterday and a large round brush. The results were satisfying, so tomorrow, I’ll keep experimenting with different brushes.

For today’s poem, I used the Sasquatch Magnetic Poetry kit.

April is Poetry month

Here is a list of links to explore as you get ready for National Poetry Month. I’ll be participating in all of these Challenges like I did last year. I like to combine the different prompts and for A to Z I usually explore new words (to me) that I then use in my poems, but I might do something different this year. Any ideas?

National/ Global Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo/ GloPoWriMo)

Academy of American Poets poets.org is a great resource for poetry. They inaugurated National Poetry Month in 1996.

Writer’s Digest Poem a Day (PAD) Challenge

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

The Writer’s Games – Registration opens April 1. Games begin May 8th.

And don’t forget dVerse poets pub where every month is poetry month. It brings together a great community of poets that host prompts and an open link night.

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

Innovations in Klecksography

Ode to man's moist mouth resized

Hi everyone! In preparation for poetry month in only two and a half weeks, I thought I would get in the mood by diving back into the joy of klecksography. If you haven’t read my previous posts on the matter and have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to take a quick look at my post Gobolinks and Blottentots before reading on.

Like most creative endeavors, setting klecksography aside and coming back to it with fresh eyes led to new ideas. Today’s innovation was dripping the watercolor pain with an eye-dropper instead of a paint brush.

At first I was disappointed. There wasn’t enough color and there was too much water.

After those attempts dried, however, I put more drops of paint on them with a brush and really liked the results. So my ink blots will be a two-part process (until the next innovation): eye-dropper then brush.

I think I set aside klecksography for two reasons:

  1. I couldn’t get myself to draw on my inkblots.
  2. I didn’t want to mix my magnet kits.

Today, neither of those “problems” were an issue. I opened my Mustache Poetry Kit and found all the words I needed and the inkblot already illustrates it perfectly (if I do say so myself) without any drawing on it.

I hope to make these every day for a while. If I do want to draw on them, I’ll make a color copy, or scan them. As for mixing my magnets? I’m not sure yet. I got a bunch of colored whiteboard pens when I was doing this before, thinking I could color code the ones not from the main set and then wipe them off. However, using only the words provided in the kit creates interesting artistic parameters.

What are you doing to get ready for poetry month?

 

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

“Are You Guilty of Isms?” inspires a new game of Pessimistic Moustache

While reading the article “Are You Guilty of Isms” at Psychology Today, I realized I hadn’t played Pessimistic Moustache in a while. Pessimistic Moustache is a game I made up inspired by the wonderfully descriptive phrase penned by Agatha Christie. The idea is to use an ism (like pessimism, thus pessimistic) to describe things. Diana Rose Wilson and I pretty much stuck to mustaches (moustache being the way Agatha Christie spelled it) when we were playing.

The way we used to play was Diana or I would post a picture or gif of a mustache and then we would come up with isms to describe it. While reading the article on Psychology Today this morning, I thought the opposite might be fun: Come up with the description first, then send pictures of mustaches that fit the description. For instance:

What does a speciesist mustache look like?

Who has an ageist mustache?

baby stache

What shape is a nationalist mustache?

french mustache strike

Find pictures of a sexist mustache.

girl with mustache

If you would like to play along, feel free to post your pictures and descriptions in the comments, or head over to #pessimisticmoustache on twitter.

I hope you’ll join me in some fun when you need a distraction from your writing. You might find the perfect description for your character’s mustache.

Plotting with Tarot: Interpretation for a friend-The Perfect Romance Plot

This is fun! My friend Diana Rose Wilson was having a bout of writer’s block, so I mentioned trying plotting with Tarot to get some ideas. She tried it, said it took her down a rabbit’s hole and gave up, but said I could go ahead and interpret her spread. I decided to give it a try, thinking it might be fun to see if someone else’s spread might inspire a scene for me as well since the cards are interpretive symbols with immeasurable possible interpretations.

awesome notebooks

I decided to make this the first entry in my I Regret Nothing Journal from The Mincing Mockingbird & The Fantic Meerkat (I love these journals) and wrote down each of Diana’s cards and positions. Many of the cards she pulled were reversed which I found interesting. While doing this, I noticed she was missing a card for a Celtic Cross which looked like her intended form, so I pulled out my hand-made Tarot cards and found the cards she had pulled, put them in order she would have pulled her spread and then started shuffling and cutting for her final card.

I shuffled and cut my deck three times while thinking, What would be the last card in Diana’s spread and What would the outcome be for Diana’s story? Believe it or not, the top card after the final shuffle and cut was The Lovers. Perfect.

 

romance plot spread.jpg

I grabbed my copy of Jumpstart Your Novel by Mark Teppo, turned to page 75 (Note: after I published this post, I found out that Mark Teppo’s book is in second edition with significant additions, so that page number may not be the same in your book) and started my plot interpretation. During my first exploration of the Tarot last fall, I found that I liked using Teach Me Tarot for online interpretations, so I went to the site and started with Diana’s first card, The Ten of Pentacles in the search bar. The great thing about Teach Me Tarot is it thoroughly explores the upright and reversed positions for every card. Because I am using this for fiction plotting, I can pick and choose which aspects of the card, in the given position, are exciting to me for a plot-line.

Now that you know the tools I used for my interpretation, I’m going to give you my interpretation of the entire spread as a story plot. If you would like further instruction of how I came up with this interpretation, I highly recommend getting a copy of Jumpstart Your Novel by Mark Teppo, Mapping the Hero’s Journey With Tarot: 33 Days To Finish Your Book by Arwen Lynch, and reading my blog posts from November 2017.

Now. With no further build up . . . Drum roll please . . .

♥ Diana’s Most Amazing And Useful Romance Novel Plot! ♥

Your protagonist is wealthy on many levels: from a wealthy family and a well-known family name, may have old money or be “self-made” through hard work. S/he is from a close-knit, tight family unit and follows family traditions and customs. This protagonist starts out having it all, but something from the past threatens his/her happiness. Something from the past: a person, a document, a memory threatens to destroy this perfect life.

The story begins with the protagonist facing doubts and fears that something isn’t right. S/he wishes to let go and enjoy/reap the good life, but worries it is too good to be true. Whatever threat from the past has come to light (family, business, family secrets, blackmail, old business partner, old school friend, old lover, inheritance, current relationship falling apart, etc.), the protagonist has dug in his/her heels and stubbornly refuses to negotiate or compromise. There is a good chance that s/he is wrong, but pride/ego/family name is in the way. The protagonist becomes awkward and difficult, determined to keep the battle/conflict going. S/he will lose any honesty s/he had, willing to call black white to disagree on almost every item.

The protagonist wishes s/he could walk away, but because of original home/wealth/happiness, can’t. S/he wishes for space and time to think, to come up with a new approach, but is constantly pressured. S/he wants to find a way to be free from blame for every horror s/he is discovering created the wealth s/he enjoyed. And/or wants to know who is causing the unrest (blackmail/threats). And/or wants to come clean about past (family, business, secrets).

The protagonist makes an attempt create distance from the situation; makes a move from turbulent seas to calmer waters where s/he finds belief in self and sense of purpose. This is where the protagonist recognizes/discovers love for another.

No matter what this protagonist does, s/he is still a representative of the family s/he was born into, thus people see a person who: earned a place on the winners podium; earned success because s/he learned vital lessons of life; has balance in life and success that will be long term. This perception feels hypocritical and difficult through his/her changing reality.

The protagonist must overcome the past and transform into a lover. The love interest, met earlier, helps in discovery and realization with a sharp wit and intelligence. S/he sees through the wealth and prestige to her/his heart. This lover helps the protagonist to rise above the conflict and trouble. As lovers, they find the truth.

The protagonist finally finds real love–has changed from being selfish and entitled to someone who listens to needs, desires feelings, likes and dislikes and knows how to communicate his/her own. Through this change the protagonist finds balance and harmony in relationship and life.

The End

And there you have it–a delicious romance plot outline that you can use over and over again–from only one Celtic Cross Tarot Spread. Why do I think this is so fun? Because using this plot I already came up with these elevator pitches:

A young heiress, happily living in the lap of luxury, finds out she has been promised to her father’s business partner. Unless she can find proof that an accidental death that occurred before she was born wasn’t her father’s fault, she will have to marry a man she loathes, or her family will lose everything. With the help of a childhood friend, she delves into her family history finding more than her heart can hold.

A Pop-Star in the middle of a world-wide tour finds out that her manager has stolen all of her money and disappeared. Not able, or willing to return to her hyper-religious family who has “dis-owned” her,  she ends up in a dive-bar in a small southern town where she sings on a bar-stool for tips. When a disgruntled lawyer gets lost and finds her way to her arms, she promises to help her get her life back.

A young developer thinks he has it all: wealth, property, a thriving business and the best name to use as a brand all over the world. When his father dies, he expects everything to smoothly continue into his wonderful future, but the will is cryptic and suddenly he has to face the questions of how his immigrant grandfather made his money. The business runs itself, or at least stays still while he tries to follow his father’s odd clues that lead him to a mysterious woman and a new understanding of himself.

Like I said, this is fun. I came up with those in the last 15 minutes. They’re not great or anything, but they have what you need to start an intriguing romance novel (imho).

Diana mentioned she might read this interpretation and write a companion piece, so keep your eyes on her website.

Happy Reading and Writing!

#NaNoWriMo Day 10: All About Having Fun

Day 10
Word count: 18,450 words
Word count goal: 20,000 words
Mapping the Hero’s Journey: Crossing The Threshold
Save The Cat: Fun & Games

 

Today’s focus is on fun! As you can see from the images I chose for inspiration, fun makes me think of childhood and being child-like.  Try doing something fun today-dressing your pterodactyl like a baby duck, for instance. Think about what your characters do for fun. Put a fun scene in your story. Have fun writing today.

#vss very short story

Herman thought Dee Dee would be less homesick if she had a baby duck around. He wrapped himself in yellow feathers and fashioned a bill out of cardboard and fabric. Dee Dee found it offensive.

Plotting with Tarot

Today, I’m doing something different. I’m going to read for my MC and do a Celtic Cross focused on what he does to have fun and how that will influence his story.

Fun Celtic Cross

Following the instructions in Mark Teppo’s book Jumpstart Your Novel, this is how I read the cards:

  1. Protagonist having fun: Temperance- finding the middle ground of two extremes
  2. The opposing factor: Ten of Wands- over-burdened
  3. The root cause: Wheel of Fortune- events out of one’s control
  4. The past: Ace of Swords upside-down – a fresh idea, a new start, a break-through; reversed.
  5. The alternate future (vision): The Fool – faith in its good and bad forms
  6. The immediate future: The Lovers – the calling; allow something to be scary and overwhelming, follow it knowing it will change you.
  7. The mirror (why I’m writing about my MC’s idea of fun): Two of Cups upside-down- an equal relationship that brings goodness to each party; reversed
  8. The eye (how others see my MC when having fun): Ten of Cups-  a happy ending, a promise of prosperity to come. A loving family.
  9. The guide (influences the outcome): Eight of Pentacles- diligence and craft, hard work
  10. The outcome (the result of my MC having fun): Two of Wands upside-down- in a position of power and ready to expand your horizons; reversed.

My interpretation: I thought it was pretty funny to ask the cards about how my main character has fun and how that influences the story and draw Temperance. It’s so perfect for my character. He would think finding the middle of the road was fun. He would like taking extreme things and combining them to be less extreme. So my character normalizes his world for fun. The fun is opposed by the amount of work it takes becoming burdensome. The root cause for this being his form of fun is that he doesn’t like events to be out of his control. Perhaps he finds ridding himself of extremes fun because of habits created in his childhood. Strict structure and repeated expectation in his up-bringing. He imagines a world without extremes where he can adventure without fear. In the immediate future he is finding his calling fun. He is having fun following clues and drawn to the new purpose even though it may cause changes in his routine.

I think the mirror card is telling me that I want to have fun and write fun scenes to balance the relationship between work and play.

When other people observe my MC having fun, thy see someone who has it all: a loving family, a nice home and a prosperous life. They don’t see that for him it is constant work to maintain what he has. He feels like fun takes away from prosperity and future possibilities to expand one’s horizons.

Ask Your Character

  • How would you describe yourself as a child?
  • Do you have any siblings? What were they like growing up?
  • Did you get into trouble? What was the worst thing you did?

Word Of The Day

elysian: adj. blissful, delightful

8 Action Verbs:

advised          changed           conveyed           encouraged

identified           mastered            publicized          solved

Poem prompt

Write an Ottava Rima about what your main character does for fun, or as your main character having fun.

What is fun?

Getting an engine to run
After it refuses to start
Now that’s what I call fun
Taking the pieces apart
Then the diagnosis is done
Which reveals the real art
The roar of success
Brings warm pride to my chest

Note: I ignored the syllable count, so the form ended up being an inspiration. Since I like the poem that came to me, a true Ottava Rima will need to be attempted another day.

Awesome Sentence Challenge

Free write for 5 minutes. Write anything that comes to mind. After 5 minutes, look over the sentences you wrote. Did you write a variety of different sentences; different lengths, different forms? Or were all of the sentences very similar: He did this. He did that. Try re-writing what you wrote with a focus on sentence variation.

Today’s Simple Task

Highlight a symbol, icon or image

Warm-up Exercise

Set your timer for 10 minutes. What is the rock and the hard place that your MC is wedged between? What funny thing can he do to get out of it.

Recommended Word Crawl

Since today is all about fun, I thought today would be a good day for The Princess Bride Word Crawl

Once you’ve reached your writing goal, you may want to celebrate by watching the movie The Princess Bride.

Though writing a novel is hard, writing is fun.

Let yourself have fun today.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Need your next great idea? Try this!

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.

DSC07558

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Let’s Play

So let’s test it out. Can these story cubes inspire my writing? How will they compare to the Plot-o-matic?

DSC07559

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?

DSC07560

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.

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Now let’s play another way. One cube at a time.

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Sasquatch, of course.

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took a trip to Egypt to visit the great pyramids.

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A freak storm surprised him. Lightning almost hit him, so he found an opening and hid inside the pyramid.

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He pulled a flashlight from his backpack and began to look around the small chamber in the pyramid.

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While examining an intricate spiderweb, he felt a chilly hand on his shoulder and roared turning around ready to attack.

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But it was only a friendly mummified pharaoh who wanted to meet the furry large guest in his home.

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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.

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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?”

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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:

Analysis

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 Actions

Rory’s Story Cubes – Voyages

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
  • Scissors
  • OR for those who cannot read their own drawing
  • A printer
  • ink
  • 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 . . .

Instructions:

  1. Measure one side of a cube (height and width to cover image)

three story cubes, a ruler, a pen and some white stickers

 

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

Drawings on sticker paper. A goatman has been placed over the teepee.

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

Three story cubes with hand-drawn symbols

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!