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Fun with Random Generated Ideas and Short Stories

By Lazette Gifford
Copyright 2009 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved

The month of May at Forward Motion means a lot of short story writing as the SAD Dare begins.  Originally, SAD meant Story-a-Day -- however, before the first week was out, Holly Lisle (the person who began this madness), decided daily stories just were not going to happen.  Now I tend to think of it as Stories All Day just to keep the acronym. 

Despite this being a difficult dare, SAD is very popular.

It is not easy to keep up with the story count, even with the lowest level of ten stories for the month.  Ideas, limiting the size, and rushing through to complete the tale are all difficult aspects of this exercise , especially with the limited time frame involved.

On the other hand, sometimes that time limit is just the thing to get a person to try writing short stories and finish them because they know this isn't going to take a significant part of their writing life.  Some writers need the practice at writing short stories before they can feel comfortable with them, and a dare of this type is a great way to leap in and give them a try.

For this workshop, I am only going to apply the four base pieces (Character, Setting, Situation, Goal) to randomly generated story ideas to show how easy it is to go from nothing to fun idea in just a matter of moments.

Step 1:

The first step is to choose your random idea generator.  While this step is optional in most story writing exercises, it is an essential part of the SAD fun.  (Yes, we are masochistic writers sometimes.)

Many of the on-line random idea generators apply to specific types of genre writing.  Here are just a few:

A speculative fiction generator:

An adventure generator (Gaming related, but might inspire a story):

A Quick Story Generator:

A Quick genre/theme generator:

Writing Challenge generator (For this one choose the three or more elements options):

They Fight Crime:

These are just a few.  If you join in the SAD fun at Forward Motion, you will find a far longer list.  They can help quick-start a story, which is very important during a Dare where you have to write more than usual.  They are also great for the days when you would like to write something (especially something short) and just need a little nudge to get started.

So, let's look at writing a story!

Using the first generator on the list, I got this prompt:

The story's protagonist is female and a storyteller. An hourglass plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in an attic in the far future. The story is about thirst.

Here is the trick with story generators: Most of the time, not everything will work.  However, if any part of the prompt has inspired you to write something, then it has done its work.   For the Forward Motion Dare, you are allowed to discard any single part that doesn't work with the rest.

In this rare case, all of it seems to work together.

So let's look at the pieces of this one and see how this might work into a story.

Step 2: The Story

There are four basic parts to the story.  Let's look at what can be done with the generated idea!

Part 1: Character

A female storyteller is an easy character to work with, though first thoughts are usually toward writers, but, do no limit yourself to thinking of the storyteller designation as a set-in-stone job description.  If you expand a bit, you'll realize that even the boy who cried wolf was a storyteller.

Look at some of the possibilities:

  • A writer

  • A reporter

  • A historian

  • Someone who has had visions of trouble to come

Oh, and is there any reason why the person has to be human?  If this is the far future, maybe she's alien, or a hybrid of some sort... or even an elf.  Why not? 

Part 2: Setting

The time is the far future and the place is an attic, which is really a very easy setting.  But where is the attic?  Her house?  Her grandparent's house?  Someplace on an alien world?  I found myself thinking of an attic as a hidden room at the top of a building.  Try considering the attic in a symbolic way as a storage area for unused items.  Don't be limited by your first thoughts.

Part 3: Situation

Here is where you really engage your imagination.  Woman, attic, hourglass... even the thirst can work into this one.  It isn't often that I get a generated story idea that works fully together.  So here is what I see -- a woman in the far future, hiding in the attic of some house, counting out the hours with an old-fashioned hour glass.  Why the hourglass?  Was it something she found there?  Or does she have it because she can't use anything electronic?

Part 4: Goal

Okay, here is where you really get to let your imagination take off.  You have a woman living in the far future.  She is in an attic, she's thirsty, and she is using an hourglass.  Why?

That's always the question, isn't it?

If she is using the hourglass, she's counting down the hours to something.  Did she see a vision of destruction?  Was she warned to take cover during some trouble?  Is she waiting for someone to come and lead her back out?

Is she even alone?

We assume that she is hiding, and if so, what from?  What is she protecting?  Is it only herself, or does she have some other purpose in being there?

What happens when the last sands of the hourglass run out?

Part 5: What to take, what to discard

This story has the possibility of everything from comic to tragic.  It also has a lot of leeway, depending on what you discard and what you warp. 

The story's protagonist is female and a storyteller. An hourglass plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in an attic in the far future. The story is about thirst.

You could change the character to male, of course.  You could change storyteller to anything at all.  Drop the hourglass and you can tell a story more firmly set in the far future.  Take her out of the attic.  Set the story in the far past or the present.  Discard the idea of thirst... or change the idea of thirst to something else.  A woman sits in the attic in the far future.  She finds an hourglass and books.  She thirsts for knowledge.

Taking a challenge to use a story prompt does not mean the story will not be your own.  It is, in fact, proof that ideas are commonly shared, but the presentation of those ideas is uniquely our own.  If you are looking for a way to step outside your usual writing ideas, using a story generator is a great way to experiment.

Now it's your turn!

Find a generator and see what you can get from it.  Remember to think in basic terms when you get your idea:  Character, setting, situation, and goal.  Once you can look at an idea and see the possibilities in it, it becomes increasingly easier to create your own basic ideas.  This is a good exercise in learning how to turn your mind to finding the pieces you need for a story

Mostly, though, remember to have fun.