We’ve all been there, staring at a blank document wanting to write but lacking a captivating story prompt. Instead of agonizing over what to write, give yourself random starting points and spring board from there. I hear you say, “But Corrie, how can I have a starting point when my word document is blank and I have no ideas?” Easy. Leave the computer, get a few strips of white paper, a pen, and engage your imagination.
This past week I attended a playwriting workshop with Augusta Supple at GLT and she introduced the participants to a simple yet useful method to cultivate new writing ideas. My first thought on starting the process was, “this would work wonderfully for a novelist.” Thus, I’m sharing her approach for playwriting with the hope that it will help other writers working on novels, short stories, or novellas.
The method was simple. Take a few strips of paper and write on each different ideas, events or names. You would then take one strip from each category and put them together to create a story. Our assignment went as follows:
Select three different female names and write them each on a strip of paper.
Select two different male names and write them.
Select three different locations and write them.
Think of two catastrophes and list them.
Think of three random things or events.
After writing out all my names, locations and events, which included Kate, James, Stephen, and Celia, a house flooding, a lost cat, living in London, sitting inside a car, selling a home, and a UPS guy desperately trying to deliver a package, I selected one from each category and had the beginnings of a comedy.
After we selected our characters, location, and events, we were given ten minutes to write the first scene. During our writing we were interrupted and told to bring a new character into the scene. Later we were asked to introduce the catastrophe, and then to bring in another character and our random thing or event. Augusta didn’t let us get comfortable in our writing pattern but constantly jumped in to change things up and challenge our writing habits.
My first scene quickly turned into a farce with a real estate agent trying to prep an open house, while neighbours and a UPS guy kept showing up and ruining her end objective: having a clean, perfect place to show her first clients who were due in fifteen minutes. Hilarity ensued. I was laughing as I wrote it. Also, there was a dead body in the broom closet.
By the end of our fifty minute writing session, broken up into ten minute chunks, I left with the decent beginnings of a new play. Had I been writing a novel, I would have left with an early concept for a book. The paper strip approach is an easy way to kickstart your creativity without the stress of expectation, set structure, or a looming blank page. Once you have your individual ideas, characters, and locations, open up that blank document and start writing. You’ll find it much easier now that your creativity has been fed random ideas and your brain challenged to link them into a cohesive story.
I hope this approach helps those who are searching for a new idea or stuck in-between projects. Thank you also to Augusta Supple for her wonderful workshop. You can check her out on twitter at https://twitter.com/AugustaSupple.
And as always,