Story Sparklers

Practical writing ideas to get yours flowing
by Peter D. Mallett

You say your ideas were flowing like a river, but now you have hit a sandbar. Does it feel like a deserted island? Take heart. I’ve been lost on that island, I have successfully written myself off! Remember those fireworks sparklers, often seen at Fourth of July celebrations? First they seem difficult to light. Then you see one spark, and then two. Suddenly sparks shoot in all directions. The following tested methods will do the same for the stranded writer.

Pick up a magazine and choose a page. In a group, look at the number of pages and have someone pick a number within that range. Look at the first photograph on the chosen page (or closest page with a picture). Write for five minutes about this picture. It’s surprising to see how many unique ways a picture is worth a thousand words. Use a kitchen timer to limit time when using this technique with groups. In my writing group we have used five to ten minutes. You can also use a newspaper. Write an article after reading only the headline. Here are a few from my local newspaper.

Teens charged in water facility break-in
Third time is the charm for Beach man’s perfect score
Regional transit plan hit a wall, again

Read the article only after you have written yours. Like Jay Leno, you will find the headlines often spark a very different imagery.

  Some Preparation required

Until now, I’ve mentioned ideas which can be used impromptu in most any setting. I have developed another idea I’ve used successfully, but it must be prepared ahead of time. The effort is worth it, as it can be used many times, with different results each time. You need twenty-five cards. I use 4×6 index cards cut in half (3×2). Write one word on each card, a couple of adverbs, lots of nouns and verbs, and a couple of adjectives. Hunt for obscure words, such as eggplant, or plummeted.

Here are the rules; blindly choose five cards. Turn the cards face up. Now you must write five sentences. Each sentence contains only one of the chosen words. Do not use the words more than once. You can use the words in any order. All five sentences should make a coherent paragraph. Again, in groups I’ve used five to ten minutes. This means you have one or two minutes per sentence. Then we go around the group and enjoy reading the paragraphs. Seeing how different words kindle different ideas in people’s minds is stimulating. It also forces you, as you flow from one sentence to another, to come up with alternative verbs and nouns instead of using the same ones again (Such as car, auto, vehicle, etc.).

On my time, I have chosen more than five cards and written for a longer time. I have discovered a good beginning, middle, or ending, for a story with this method. Another technique is to quickly look around the room, without thinking about it, and pick five items. This is effective though not as much as with the prepared cards because no matter how hard I try to be random, I find myself being selective. My mind races, often faster than my eyes, but it can still be a helpful exercise. Here is an example:

Words Chosen: Lamp, picture, fish tank, book, pencil

I turned on the lamp, after entering the apartment. Guppies in the fish tank darted back and forth. Then I noticed the book opened to page fifty-seven. There were photos of different weapons, one picture stood out. It was circled with a red pencil. For another variation, quickly write down five strong action verbs.

Words Chosen: Grabbed, sparked, hoped, submerged, frustrated

The would-be hero grabbed the underwater welding tool. With as much courage as he could muster, he submerged himself, finding the place where the bridge was compromised. He sparked the welder and crossed his fingers. He hoped he remembered enough from the classes he’d taken, in the military. Minutes later, he finished, but time would tell if the saboteur had been frustrated in his efforts to weaken the structure.

These are some of my cherished tools. Almost anything can stimulate new ideas for writing. Making unusual connections with the world all around us opens up our creative mind. Sometimes it flows freely; other times we need tools to pry it open. Like tools, you have to use them, not just display them on a wall, (or in an article). I hope when you’re stuck that you’ll try some of these ideas; and that before long, you’ll be rowing, and your ideas will be flowing.

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7 comments on “Story Sparklers
  1. Patsy says:

    These ideas are fresh, challenging, and fun!!! Thanks a million!

  2. Linda says:

    signing up for your emails!
    Linda recently posted…A-Z Challenge “Note to Self”My Profile

  3. cjtrunk says:

    Hi! This sounds fun! I’ll have to mention it in my blog. Thanks for pointing it out.

  4. Hi, Rachael, that’s funny I just mentioned this page on yours.

  5. Rachel says:

    These are great, but I find things like this are only good if you aren’t working on a big novel and want to move that along. However, sometime I find things like this can at least get you to write a little bit, which in turn, helps with the big projects! Great post! 🙂

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What is Writing?

"A writer looks at a screen or piece of paper like a canvas. They see a country unexplored, a picture unpainted, a tale not told. They dare to venture into the barren land, explore its dark corners, and paint its pictures. Then they unveil the epic with the goal of compelling people to visit their newly discovered territory.”
Peter D. Mallett

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