Randomisation as a Writing Tool – Writing Excuses Exercise 10.10

Posted: March 17, 2015 in writing exercises
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Boy, I'm glad that's not ominous.

Boy, I’m glad that’s not ominous.

There are a lot of different ways you can use randomisation to inspire writing. Phillip K Dick famously used the I Ching to guide him in writing The Man in the High Castle. I’ve dabbled with story dice and flicking through books to pick a word or picture. And this week podcast Writing Excuses used the I Ching both to generate questions and to create a writing prompt.

The Exercise

Randomly generated using the I Ching, this week’s writing prompt is:

Competing fiercely to become Spring’s queen, the garden flowers blossomed to their full beauty. Who will win the golden crown of glory? Among them all, only the peony stands out.

For me, creativity requires structure as well as chaos. To give this prompt a bit more structure, I decided not to use it to generate something from scratch, but to build on a story idea I’m already working on for this week’s flash Friday piece.

My starting place for the story was inspired by my friend Marios, who was talking about people having to present their academic theses on human skin – more specifically their own skin. It’s an intriguingly grizzly idea, and one that puts limits on what the characters write too. But beyond that high concept, I’ve got nothing for the story. Lets see what this prompt gives me.

Flowers and Competition

The obvious thing is the flowers. My character’s academic field is going to be botany. That opens up potential to look at strange, fantastical plants and their uses.

Conflict is also clearly present in that I Ching passage. The flowers are competing for the one place of high status. I’m going to transfer that dynamic onto the academics of my story. We have two botanists competing for a top prize, job or bursary. Only one can win through the glory of their work. Who will it be?

So, with two minutes’ thought, this random prompt has given me my conflict and some information about both my characters – I doubt I’ll have space for more than two in this flash story. That’s pretty good going.

The Joy of Chaos

I think that these random idea generators work so well at times because they give us rough edges to generate ideas off. The ideas we dream up can sometimes be neat but without the complex or contradictory details that bring stories to life. Randomness adds that.

Do any of you have favourite random idea generators? What are they, and how helpful are they?

And of course you can come back on Friday to see how this story pans out.

Picture by Payton Chung via Flickr creative commons.

  1. shinyoliver says:

    I have a Pandora station with, like, sixty seeded bands on it. I do this exercise every now and then where I’ll write every random image that occurs to me during each song. When I start, the ideas tend to be scattered–each song gets me thinking about a scene with a different set of images. If I do it for a couple hours, though, then sometimes songs with similar attitudes will suggest similar ideas, or I’ll build on older ideas. Sometimes the ideas coalesce into something really good by the end.

    Side note, coalesce is a weird word to write down.

  2. shinyoliver says:

    I like your exercise too. I like the Tao Te Ching. I think I’ll mix my exercise with your exercise and see what happens.

  3. shinyoliver says:

    I’ll do it with the Tao Te Ching, though. Similar poetry.

  4. everwalker says:

    I haven’t heard of I Ching before, which saddens me. How does it work?

    • As I understand it, you have a set of sticks with symbols on, and these relate to a bunch of short poems in a book. So you shake out a stick or sticks from the tub, look up the poem it points you toward, and try to work out how that relates to your future/writing. I suspect it’s normally more sophisticated, but that was how Writing Excuses handled it, and I’ve never read up on it in detail.

      • glenatron says:

        You traditionally take sticks of yarrow(? iirc) and cast them, drawing the divination from their orientation with a basic response to each configuration of the sticks and then several variations on it depending on the details of your cast.

        Most people now use three coins as these give the same range of probabilities. It is something like a Taoist version of the Tarot in that it offers a result that is open to your interpretation as regards how you relate it to the question you asked when it was cast. In my experience it is a good way of getting a different angle on a problem that you are working on.

  5. glenatron says:

    I immediately start thinking about the symbolism with this – the Peony is named for Paeon, local GP for the Olympus region, who – according to Hesiod – who “knows the remedies for all things.” It is also ( and appropriately in this context ) a symbol for China.

    Even more fitting for your concept, they are a popular theme in Japanese tattoo art.

  6. […] Randomisation as a Writing Tool – Writing Excuses Exercise 10.10 […]

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