I’ve been thinking about writer’s block lately and what has always pulled me out of that tricky quicksand. Reading little writing advice ebooks have helped (especially when I’m looking for something humorous like what Chuck Wendig writes) and occasionally, reading fiction of the same genre or with similarities helps. If I’m writing about vampires and get stuck, I read about vampires and it makes me want to go back to my own writing. But what happens when you turn off your internet and tv and rid yourself of other distractions, sit yourself down in front of your computer, and then….well, nothing? Nada, no inspiration whatsoever? Even when you read something you like, you still can’t seem to get it all out? Unfortunately, this happens to me more often than not. I want to write, I have it all up there in my head playing like a movie, but I can’t seem to find the right words to explain what I’m envisioning.
So, I went out and asked some of my local, fellow writers what they did when inspiration failed to hit them. Fact is – no one really had an answer beyond “I wait for it to come back.” What if you can’t wait for the great lightning bolt of greatness to strike? What if you’re on a deadline and need to get it done regardless of what your procrastinating brain says? What if the need to get it all out of your head consumes you?
I wanted something fun and exciting to stimulate my creative juices. I didn’t want to wait for my muses to whisper in my ear. I wanted the words to flow but couldn’t get the faucet to come on. So I sat down with a pen and a pad of paper and doodled for a moment. Mostly tic-tac-toe and random, unsymmetrical flower shapes. Then I played MASH. MASH (for those of you who don’t know) is a silly little game everyone I knew back then used to play in grade school. The rules I had were simple – you picked four celebrities you would love to marry, four dream cars, four dream jobs, and four random numbers that represented the number of children you might want. The word MASH was written at the top of each list (separated into columns) and it too stood for something – M for mansion, A for apartment, S for shack, and H for house. Then you either tap your pen a certain amount of times or make tallies (whatever floats your boat) and tell yourself to stop. How many dots or slashes you made was the number. Let’s say I ended up with five. I started with MASH and then went to my first list (celebrities was mine, but you can organize them how you like). I counted to five (with MASH – each individual letter – being four) and ended up on the first name on my celebrity list. I then crossed it out and started with the second name, then continued the process down each column, stopping and crossing off at number five. When you only have one celebrity, car, dream job, etc. left, that is who you supposedly end up with (I joyfully received Tom Hiddleston, a Mitsubishi Eclipse, a house, a hotel owner with three kids – NOT BAD :D)
Why am I telling you all this? Because after I got my results, I realized I could play with this a bit. At the time I was working on NaNoWriMo, so I’d had a new novel. I was struggling with the first chapter. I knew I wanted a slightly nerdy character in his first year of college and I knew the general direction I wanted to go with my plot. So I wrote the character’s name – I gave him four female characters he may have liked, four cars he may have driven, and four jobs he was working for (I skipped the kids column because I had no plans for him to have them). Then I proceeded to play. I did the same for the other major supporting roles and I steadily created the basic characters for my story.
For example – If my main character lives in a mansion, one can presume he’s a fairly wealthy guy. What would his parents do? CEO of big companies perhaps? Did they win the big lottery? Has the family always been rich? Or you could go another route perhaps. Did he end up with a dream job of forensic science? That would mean he’s a pretty smart guy wanting to take on crime. Maybe he wants to be a surfer – that would help with your setting as well.
There are so many things that you could build off from this one simple game and when I first came across it, I couldn’t believe it. My main character was already in my mind; I had a romantic interest, a certain setting based on his job, and even a minor plot bunny that affects his personality throughout the book. I finally had a starting point. I finally listened to my muse.
So, every Friday I’ll be posting up more examples of inspirational writing games for writers working on their first unpublished book or for published writers who may want to join in on the fun! Every week will be a new simulation. Some, like the MASH game, will be for character development. Others will focus on plot, some setting, some even genre. Stay tuned for special guest features from bestselling authors as well!