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Randomness in action

Advanced techniques for writers

Put your own rules in place – then ask ‘what if?’

In my last post I talked about how to inject some randomness into your writing. In this post I’m going to look at randomness in action and give you some examples of how it might work in a work in progress. Use it to spice up your writing!

When the family I talked about at the start of this series created their ‘trips jar’, they needed solid ideas for family days out on those slips of paper. Whereas, if you’re coming up with ideas to use in your writing, there’s nothing to stop you from including ‘Neverland’ or ‘the moon’ or ‘a unicorn forest’. That said, you do need some kind of rule in place – the rules of the game you’re going to play – to make sure the randomness doesn’t take over. Once you know the rules, ask ‘what if?’ and let your imagination go for a ramble.

Case studies

Here are some case studies. I’ll give you a made-up scenario, followed by a brief explanation of you might use randomness in your writing. The previous post will give you an explanation of the techniques involved.

  • You’re writing a short story. You’ve already made a list of places, put them on slips of paper and added them a place-themed word jar. You decide that your main character will visit three locations and that you’ll pull these locations at random from the jar. That’s your creative constraint. You use free writing to write about each place, ask ‘what if?’ and build your story around these locations.
  • You’re writing a play and you haven’t got a full set of characters yet. You pull six job titles out of a job-themed word jar. You’ve now got a starting point for each character. Again, ask ‘what if?’ and build your characters from there.
  • You’re writing a murder mystery. You go for a walk around your local neighborhood and when you get in you jot down a list of ten things that you noticed (saw, heard, smelt, tasted, touched). Then you pick five of them and decide how they might be involved in a murder, ask ‘what if?’ and use them to build your plot.
  • You’re writing a poem and want to include everyday things found in a person’s bag. (Maura Dooley’s poem ‘What Every Woman Should Carry’ in Staying Alive:Real Poems for Unreal Times, edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe, is an example of this type of list poem.) You go to your collection of ephemera and pull out different items, ask ‘what if?’ and decide how the speaker in your poem came to own them.
  • You’re writing a novel and decide to incorporate the storyof the first piece of ephemera you come across today. (For me that would have been a child’s bus ticket.) This time ‘what if?’ could lead to a series of other questions: Where did it come from, who bought it / used it, and why? Who are they? Where do they live?
  • You’re stuck on a piece of dialogue. You try cut up technique and select 3 interesting phrases to use. What if your main character uttered or heard these words? What’s the context? Why are these words spoken?

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. If you’d like more tips like these, take a look at the Small Steps Writing Guides.

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