Story Prompts For Non-Verbal Thinkers, Part 1

This week’s guest post is courtesy of Mark Bessey. Mark is renowned among his acquaintances as a teller of funny stories. Lucky for us, he has finally decided to write them down. He blogs about software issues at Another Day in The Code Mines.


It’s accepted wisdom, maybe even a truism, that writers love words. But some writers are not inherently verbal thinkers. For me, whether I’m trying to work out a plot point, or imagine a scene, I usually start with a visual impression. I see a little movie play out in my head, and then I write down the dialog and describe the scene from there.

I often find that traditional writing prompts leave me cold, like those from Reddit’s /r/WritingPrompts, or the ones at the end of the Writing Excuses podcast. When I’m looking at an empty page, and a bunch of words in a prompt, it can be hard for me to get the writing engine engaged.

If words alone don’t always work for you either, tune in over the next couple of weeks for writing prompts that go beyond just words. First up: Story Cubes!

Rory’s Story Cubes
Nominally, this is “a storytelling game” for all ages. But it’s also a fantastic brainstorming tool. It’s a set of dice, but instead of a number, each of the faces has a simple line drawing of a thing, an action, or an idea. You can roll the dice, and see where the images lead you. For me, this works remarkably-better than sitting and staring at verbal prompts for a while, feeling increasingly frustrated. The visual prompts frequently lead immediately into a story idea.

For example, while on the Writing Excuses Retreat Cruise, we were given an opportunity to do a Lightning Read of 350 words of one of our stories. I didn’t have anything that I really felt like reading out loud to an audience, so I decided that I’d write something new (within the next hour), and read that – because why not make something that was already going to be really hard for me even harder? I pulled out the cubes, and I rolled this:

The pyramid and the mobile phone make a wonderful juxtaposition, don’t they? And what’s the deal with that globe? From this, I got the inspiration for a story, which I’m calling Project Manager – a short comedic sketch about a time-traveling(?) telecom engineer, and the origin of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. I don’t think I would have come up with this story without that visual.

I’ve used the Story Cubes as writing inspiration for a few years. Originally, they just had the one set of cubes, but they’ve branched out into a huge variety of add-on sets.

The “big” sets (9 cubes each) are Original, Actions, and Voyages, which are broadly applicable to all sorts of genres and styles. They’ve got a bunch of sets with more-specific themes (3 cubes each), covering themes like horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, as well as branded sets for the Looney Toons and DC Comics. You can often find deals online on multiple sets offered together like this one.

I’ve got the three big sets, as well as Enchanted, Prehistoria, Clues, and Powers (actually Superkräfte, because I bought that set in Germany). I gotta say, I don’t find that Prehistoria is really very useful unless you’re actually writing a story about dinosaurs. I’d highly-recommend any of the other sets, though.

Next Monday, we’ll follow up with some more non-verbal writing cues, including auditory and kinesthetic techniques. See you then!


What do you think?