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.
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.