Whilst attending the Cascade Writers Workshop last weekend I learned a nifty technique** for generating ideas for short stories, flash fiction, and even novels. Ken Scholes walked us through a simple, 3-step exercise that had the group fleshing out a detailed story line in less than 10 minutes.
1. Go to any book (we used a fiction book in the fantasy genre) and open it to any page. Find the first NOUN on the page. In our case, it was the word “canopy”
2. Pick another page in that book (or any book) and find the first VERB on the page. In our case, it was the word, “eyes” (oddly enough)
3. Go to another page (or book) and find another first NOUN. Our third word in our prompt sequence was “skull”. I kid you not. In fact, we used one of Ken’s own books for this exercise.
We were divided into several workshop groups, and Ken gave us five minutes to come up with a story concept using those three words as inspiration. We heard each group’s ideas and voted for the best. The group I was in had the idea that everyone thought was most intriguing:
A cave with a canopy of skulls where the elders go to seek
the wisdom of the ancients. The elder stands at the center of the cavern
and receives a vision through the eyes of the skulls.
Pretty cool, huh. From there, we stretched the prompt in different directions to pump up the conflicts:
· We made the elder a woman, the only elder remaining in the tribe
· The Inciting Incident: Encroachment by a neighboring tribe, who had killed off all of the warriors in the woman’s tribe. She seeks the wisdom of the skulls to help her tribe decide what to do.
· The skulls tell her that this omen means that all the remaining members of the tribe must kill themselves rather than submit to the warriors of the invading tribe
· The woman goes back to her people and lies about what the skulls have told her.
· Someone in her tribe had been listening in secret to what the skulls told her, and exposes her lie to the tribe.
What do you think? Is that the start of a decent story line? It pretty much sets the story through the first turning point. It took all of nine minutes from start to finish. It’s a neat trick. I’ll bet you can do at least as well as we did.
**Note – This method was originally developed by Ken Rand in his book From Idea To Story in 90 Seconds