Where do you get your inspiration to write stories? You can find inspiration everywhere and in everything. Often, I get inspiration from quotes by either real or fictional people. The news gives me tons of inspiration. Movies and books also provide me a plethora of new story ideas. No, I’m not ripping them off with fanfic! It’s more like “how could I’ve made that better”. Or “that side character was interesting, how can I expand on her?”
But what if you’re stuck? What if you are mired in soul-crushing writer’s block? Perish the thought! I read a great article on Torforgeblog.com called 5 Gaming Tools to Help Your Writing. The author of the article, Michael F. Haspil, gives insight into how some tabletop games can help you when your stuck. I took his advice and purchased 4 of the 5 games on the list, not because I’m getting blocked that much, but because I found these games and tools to be really fun and cool.
DIXIT from Asmodee: This storytelling card game has 3-6 players drawing cards that have abstract art on each one. In the game, players take turns each round being the Storyteller. Their job is to draw a card and verbally somehow describe the image on the card. The pictures on the cards are difficult to define thematically and that’s the point! You say what you think you see; sort of a well-crafted Rorschach inkblot test. There are no wrong descriptions by the Storyteller. The card is then mixed up with cards pulled by the other players, then they are placed on the board. The other players try to guess which card the Storyteller described. Points to the Storyteller and the players with the correct guesses. This is how the game is played. But how does this game help with writing through block?
Following the story prompting purposes, suggested by Haspil, I took seven of the beautifully illustrated cards and laid them out to see what story they might tell. Later, for a quick hit, I took just one card and tried to ascertain a theme from the singular image. From there I came up with a writing prompt and a log line. Maybe one day I’ll write the entire story.
Rory’s Story Cubes from Gamewright: This isn’t a game. Story Cubes are nine dice with images on each side. You can roll one die or up to all nine dice, then line them up and check out the images to see what story they tell. Quite similar to Dixit.
StoryForge by B.J. West: Also not a game. It’s a deck of cards created by West, a writer, filmmaker and graphic artist, for the sole purpose of generating story ideas and busting through writer’s block. Each card has a concept or theme on the top of it and if you flip the card upside down there is the opposite concept. Deal the card out in particular “spreads”, ala tarot cards, in order to create characters, plots, or story direction.
FATE Dice: This is a set of 12 dice that are used with the Fate role-playing system. These are typical six-sided dice, but instead of pips they have ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ signs on them. Two sides have nothing at all. In the game, Fate, skills and attributes are assigned a number. When attempting to use a skill or attribute the player must roll four of the Fate dice. The pluses and minuses are tallied determining your score. Positive numbers mean success while negative numbers mean failure. Great for freeform RPGs.
When using the Fate dice as a writer, there’s no need to assign outcomes a number. Just roll the four dice. The more pluses in a roll mean success, more minuses mean failure. Roll them when you don’t know how your character should react to a plot point or to mix things up when your plot is moving too much in a stereotypical direction. This’ll make things interesting. Haspil calls these moments, Gary Stu, moments. The products the article suggests get the thumbs-up from me. Below are products that I already have that aid me with inspiration.
Funny thing is I’ve been using role-playing games to help in my creativity for years going back to the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons & Dragons. I used to make up silly little stories based on characters I’d randomly generated from the rulebooks. The Player’s Handbook is perfect for this. Even today, I scour the handbook for spells and skills, picking one or two from the list that stand out to me or I’ll take a 20-sided (die) and generate at random.
Two other RPGs I like to use, are The Doctor Who Role-playing Game (both Cubicle Seven and Fasa editions. Fasa edition shown) and DC Heroes Role Playing Game. The Doctor Who RPG is great for creating planets and aliens. I recently used the alien creation chart to randomly create some strange lifeforms for the novella I’m currently revising. The randomness I generated was so crazy and weird that I had to tweak the creatures into a real-world animal variant, which made them quite intriguing. Meanwhile, the planet generator was used to create the planet which my novella is set. There’s also a Time Travel sourcebook that is indispensable when writing that wacky time travel story you’ve been holding out on. This guide gives you some points to ponder so your time travel set up doesn’t come off as ridiculous or write yourself into a paradox.
DC Heroes, my other RPG resource, is great for creating superheroes or heroic-like characters based on your favorite DC Comics characters. It’s also helpful in choosing a kick-ass superpower or an awesome skill for your story’s protagonist and understanding how these would work in your tale. Writers can just roll a die, pick a power and give it to your main character. Better yet give it to your villain!
One final product I have is not a game. Not so much a card system, like the previous products I mentioned, but it’s more like a writer’s resource tool kit as the box proclaims. It’s called The Observation Deck. What’s so cool about it is that it not only inspires you with ingenious ideas on each card intended to jostle your brain and get you thinking differently, but it also comes with a book that works in conjunction with each card, offering practical advice and strategies designed to help you break through writer’s block. One card I pulled recently said “Listen”. What did it mean by that? The strategy book’s take on the card was to stop what I was doing, close my eyes, and just sit and listen for ten minutes. We are surrounded by sounds, so just take them in. Identify these sounds. You should become relaxed and focused. And then just write what you are experiencing. I did this at the library in which I experienced silence (Duh!), the clacking of keyboards, and the rumbling of my hungry stomach. For the story I’m outlining, I thought about having a scene where my protagonist experiences hunger.
At some point in time we will all experience writer’s block in one form or another. Everyone has their own ways to tackle this troublesome foe. You may not need or feel comfortable using games and cards to get you through. That’s okay. Do what works for you. The above products are just a few fun ways to break out of block and possibly achieve our writing goals.