WritersBloxx – A Box Of Story Prompts Disguised As A Game

An Interview with Gary Zenker

WritersBloxx box contents
WritersBloxx on Kickstarter

One of the best things about plugging into the writing community — online and off—is that you find yourself surrounded by people with creative and innovative ideas that spark your creativity as well as their own.

One such person is Gary Zenker who is, among other things, a writer and a game designer.

Gary’s new storytelling game, WritersBloxx is the perfect tool for StoryADay writers, who already enjoy writing prompts and want to be more productive.

I used Gary’s WritersBloxx game at two Flash Fiction workshops this spring. The prompts got the workshop attendees writing, laughing, applauding each other and, in a few cases, wiping away a tear or two.

The game’s up on Kickstarter until July 31, 2017, and I highly recommend you check it out.

Recently Gary and I got together for an interview. He’s also going to be featured on the podcast soon, so watch out for that.

Check out the Kickstarter for WritersBloxx.

What is WritersBloxx?

Gary: WritersBloxx is a storytelling party game and a writers prompt tool.

You use 20-sided dice and special PromptGrids to generate random writing prompt combinations. There are six categories of prompts: Timing, Genre, Object, Setting, Character and Event.

WritersBloxx Story Grid and Dice

In Party Play mode, you have six minutes to create a story using all of them.

At the end of the round, you compare the stories and score a point for each prompt used and an additional point for each player vote for Best Story.

Can people complete an entire story in six minutes?

Gary: Some do. Others don’t. The goal isn’t necessarily to finish the story, but to get a good piece of it done, work all of the required elements into it and make it interesting. Six minutes go fast.

So are there any plot twists in the playing of the game?

Gary: Absolutely. The ultimate version of the game includes a set of PlotTwist Cards.

Midway through the story, the card gives you a direction to change something. You might add an object, make your entire story as written so far a dream sequence, or even be forced to kill your main character.

So there’s always something to make it more challenging if you think it was too easy.

How does it work for writers?

Gary: Individual writers decide on their own time limits depending on what they are trying to do.

If they want to challenge their writing speed, they can stick to short time limits like the party mode. If they want to test their ability to write more complete stories, they can set longer limits or not have any limits at all.

Groups of writers can use it to examine how they think and approach the same words and concepts differently.

How does a short time-frame and words that don’t go together solve writers block? You would think it would make writing much much harder.

Gary: It’s ironic but sometimes the more restrictive prompts spur creativity greater than easier ones. When faced with a much harder task, our subconscious goes to work.

Of course, it could just be desperation as well (laughing).

Either way, the entire goal is to challenge yourself and have fun while doing it.

And you’ve done some special things to accommodate writers of different genre?

Gary: Yes! The PromptGrids that come with the game span all genre and offer a wide selection of prompts.

WritersBloxx users can get PromptGrids for specific writing genre, like crime, horror, romance, even erotica. And there are two designed specifically for younger kids.

There’s a last part of this that makes it much bigger and different than other tools and games. Posting the stories publicly.

Gary: Yes. I like the idea of taking a table game or a personal writing tool and it becoming something that creates a larger community. Sharing the stories online with others who can see your prompts is just a natural for a tool like this.

Well, our six minute interview round is up!

Gary: See, six minutes goes faster than you think!

There’s probably just enough time left to thank you for interviewing me and recommend that all the writers who use WritersBloxx to use Story-A-Day to further leverage their creativity.

Gary Zenker is the developer of WritersBloxx and a writer himself of flash fiction (stories under 1,000 words).


Check out the Kickstarter for WritersBloxx, and tell him I sent you!

SWAGr – Accountability for July 2017

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

Download your SWAGr Tracking Sheet now, to keep track of your commitments this month

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Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Write a story a day in May – everyone!
  • Revise at least 10 short stories – Iraide
  • Write two short stories. – Jami
  • Attend one writers’ conference – Julie
  • Write fable for WordFactory competition – Sonya
  • Re-read the backstory pieces I wrote in May and see if I can use them within my novel – Monique
  • Research the market – Jami
  • Focus on my serial – Maureen

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends. )



Don’t forget, if you need inspiration for a story you can still get ALL THE PROMPTS from StoryADay May 2016 and support the running of the StoryADay challenge at the same time. (I’m really proud of last year’s collection!) Give a little, get a little :) Click here. Now only $2.99

Write on Wednesday – Quick Story Formula

This is an awesome way to quickly launch (and finish) a new story, any time you have time to write but are short on inspiration. Try it!

green chalkboard with mathematical formulae

Use this story formula to to create an interesting character, give them a desire, kick off some intriguing action and plan the kind of resolution you want.

Once you have that skeleton, you can start filling in colorful details…and soon your creative brain will be demanding you start to write!

The Prompt

A _______ (adjective) ________(noun), who _________(verb) ___________(subject), then _________(related verb) __________(resolution)

TIPS

  • Using these kinds of limits short-circuits your inner editor and makes ‘writing a story’ seem much more manageable. Just take it step by step.
  • Make sure you give your character an adjective that implies some desire (e.g. ‘ambitious’ not ‘young’; or ‘contented’ – which implies that their desire is for the status quo to remain unchanged)
  • Use the middle set of blanks to kick off the action (use a verb that implies change: “discovers”, “uncovers”, “decides”, “is forced to”, “commits to”, “resists”, “invents”, “journeys”)
  • Use the final set of blanks to define what kind of ending you want. Will it be a happy ending? Will it be bittersweet? Will your character achieve their desire or lose it? Will they learn something or not?
  • Paint the big picture first (e.g. A “dissatisfied woman”, who “uncovers something about a rival”, then “uses that knowledge to get what she wants”, or “discovers she has everything she needs, all ready”)
  • Now add some details and desires. Think about what would be fun/exciting/engaging for you to write about (e.g. “An ambitious mommy-blogger”, who “finds out her biggest rival has been lying on her blog”, then “uses that knowledge to ruin her rival and make her own blog successful”, or “realizes how shallow her ambitions had been and decides to refocus”)
  • Next, add even more detail, with desires, needs, colorful details. You don’t have to fill in any details of *how* the resolution comes about, just the overall thrust of it.
  • Don’t worry that your story will be formulaic. The originality comes in the details you choose, the characters you create and the situations you dream up for them. You and I could both use my mommy-blogger idea and I guarantee you our stories would be wildly different.
  • Try writing different options for each of the sets of blanks. If you don’t love your first ending option, try something different. If your character’s adjective makes her unappealing to you, try a different one.
  • Going through this exercise helps keep your story on track. If you know, at the start, how you want the story to end (even if you don’t know the details of how you’ll make that happen), it limits your choices, and lets you choose between three or four sets of action for your character. Knowing whether you want it to be a happy ending or a bitter one, makes it much easier to decide on the types of choices you make (N. B. Neither is inherently better. It all depends on what you enjoy reading/writing and what kind of audience you want to attract).
  • Don’t be afraid of this, if you’re a ‘pantser’. This is not a restrictive outline that will constrain your creativity. Rather, it is a set of guideposts that will get you where you want to be (i.e. at the end of a satisfying story).

If you’re intrigued by this, sign up to find out when I release a new mini-course that will take you through this exact process — with examples and resources to help. (Get the StoryADay Creativity Bundle for free, as soon as you sign up.)

 

Write On Wednesday – After The Happily Ever After

How many times have you made a change in your life, only to backslide? Do you ever wonder will happen to a story’s character after the credits have rolled?
Happily Ever After show at Magic Kingdom

The story is over when the character has mastered the challenge. But the story, for your character, is not really over. They live their life, in the shadow of everything that came before.

The Prompt

Write the story of a character’s NEXT struggle, after the ‘happily ever after’

Tips

  • You could take a character from someone else’s stories, or from a folk tale (write a sequel to Cinderella or Gone Girl)
  • You could write the sequel to a story you’ve written in the past
  • Questions to ask yourself: what did the character have to overcome to succeed in the original story? What did they desire? How did they suddenly become sure they could win? What has changed, since then? Are they struggling with the same thing, in a new setting? Are they struggling with new issues, as a results of the original win?
  • For example: Cinderella was struggling against her step-family, who wanted her to fail. What will life be like for her in the castle? Her new husband presumably wants her to succeed at being Queen. Does she have what it takes? Does everyone in the castle want her to succeed? Is there a big event coming up that she must host? What lessons can she take from her first challenge into this new one? Is she battling feelings of insecurity as well as outside forces?
  • In my story The Girl Who Circumnavigated The Globe In An Act Of Her Own Making, my main character’s desire is to communicate; to present herself to the world on her own terms. Within the scope of that one story, she does it. She feels good at the end of the story. She has a plan. But what about when she next goes back to Earth? Will she see her ‘victory’ as something fanciful and worthless? How will she deal with the frustration of being prejudged by everyone all the time, again? I could write that story today.

Go!

Settings – A Writing Prompt from Josh Barkan

Writing exercise: (20 minutes)

Choose a place that you know well, which you have strong feelings about. Describe that place, first when you are in a happy mood. (10 minutes) Then describe the place when you are in a sad mood. (10 minutes)

What difference did you note?

Writing exercise: (30 minutes)

What is described in a particular setting often depends upon the point of view of the story. Describe a real park you have visited, first in the first person point of view through the eyes of a young man or young woman in love (15 minutes), and then through the eyes of an old widow or widower (15 minutes).

What differences in setting did you notice, even though it was the same park?

 

Tips:

The purpose of these exercises is to realize that setting is never neutral. Setting descriptions are subjective. So your setting should always evoke a mood. Think of your setting as another character. The setting should help us feel the mood of the scene you are describing. If there is conflict in the scene, then the setting should be described harshly, in a way that evokes the harshness of the moment. If the scene is a warm scene, with love, then the setting should reveal that warmth.

 

About Josh Barkan

Josh Barkan is the author of MEXICO. Josh Barkan has won the Lightship International Short Story Prize and been a finalist for the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, the Paterson Fiction Prize, and the Juniper Prize for Fiction. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and his writing has appeared in Esquire. He earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has taught writing at Harvard, Boston University, and New York University. With his wife, a painter from Mexico, he divides his time between Mexico City and Roanoke, Virginia. For writing advice from Barkan and other top-notch short story writers, download Signature’s Compact Guide to Short Story Writing.

 

SWAGr – Accountability for June 2017

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

Download your SWAGr Tracking Sheet now, to keep track of your commitments this month

****

Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Revise a story for StoryFest – Julie
  • Revise at least 10 short stories – Iraide
  • Write two short stories. – Jami
  • Attend one writers’ conference – Julie
  • Write fable for WordFactory competition – Sonya
  • Re-read the backstory pieces I wrote in May and see if I can use them within my novel – Monique
  • Research the market – Jami
  • Focus on my serial – Maureen

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends. )



Don’t forget, if you need inspiration for a story you can still get ALL THE PROMPTS from StoryADay May 2016 and support the running of the StoryADay challenge at the same time. (I’m really proud of last year’s collection!) Give a little, get a little :) Click here. Now only $2.99

Write About A Writer – a writing prompt for 31 May, 2017

You’ve made it! You’ve written stories all month long — whether you’ve written every day, or on and off throughout the month — I congratulate you!

Make sure to come back tomorrow for three things

  • The June Serious Writers’ Accountability Group — make your commitment to your writing for next month
  • Details about StoryFest — your chance to get your favorite story featured on the front page of StoryADay.org
  • The mini-critique group I’m running next week, to help you whip your stories into shape in time for StoryFest.

But before all that: one more story to go:

The Prompt

Write A Story About A Writer

Tips

  • Feel free to take out your aggressions on me! Feature a writer who turns on their teacher/mentor/professor!
  • Channel Stephen King’s “Misery” and feature a stalker.
  • Take the reader through all the goys and perils of the writing journey
  • Or use the conceit of a writer character to do something that couldn’t really happen in real life.

And after you’re done, write a blog post or a journal entry capturing all you’ve learned about yourself as a writer this month. Resolve to build on your strengths. Keep what you write somewhere safe, so that next time you have a big writing push coming up, you can benefit from all these lessons!

If you share your post online, be sure to send me a link (in the comments below or by email) or tag me on social media!

And don’t forget, StoryFest is coming, June 10-11!

Thank you all for playing along this month. Without you, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.

Keep writing!

Hansel & Gretel – A Writing Prompt for May 30, 2017

Today I wrap up the story structure series with a bang.

The Prompt

Write a Hansel & Gretel Structured Story

Tips

  • The Life-Changing Moment in this story structure, comes at the start.
  • The Life-Changing Moment may have happened ‘off-stage’ before the story starts (imagine the story of Hansel and Gretel where the kids are already alone in the woods. That would work, right?)
  • Remember to focus on what your character would never, ever choose to do, and how the circumstances are forcing them to face that (for example, Hansel and Gretel would never disobey/mistrust the adults in their life, but life is giving them a pretty clear directive to do just that).
  • This story starts with a big moment, and then throw complications at your character. Once you’ve told us enough about the character for us to figure out how they’re going to survive, you can end the story.
  • If you’d like to read more about this story structure, check out this post.

Don’t forget to post in the community or leave a comment to tell us how you got on today.

The Ugly Duckling – a writing prompt for May 29

Today we continue looking at story structure: this time, with what I call the Ugly Duckling Structure.

The Prompt

Watch the video and write an Ugly Duckling story

Tips

The ‘life-changing moment’ comes in the middle of this story

Balance out every challenge from before that moment, with a similar, but different moment afterwards. Show us how the character (or their circumstances) have changed now.

This story might have to be longer than a Cinderella-type story. Sketch it out, if you don’t have time to do it justice today.

Read this post, which talks more about the Ugly Duckling structure.

Don’t forget to leave a comment or post in the community and tell us how you’re getting on. What have you learned this month, so far?

A Cinderella Story – a writing prompt for May 28, 2017

Today’s prompt is part of a workshop that I give on story structure. (If you’d like me to talk to your group, ask!)

On the go? Listen to this as a podcast.

The Prompt

Write A Story With A Cinderella Story

A Cinderella Story Structure

Cinderella Story Structure

In the story of Cinderella our heroine wants to find happiness. She tries and fails and tries and fails. A lot.

  • She tries to find it by being nice to her sisters and stepmother, but they just treat her terribly.
  • She tries to find it by going to the ball, but she’s not allowed to go.
  • She tries to find it from her fairy godmother. This one almost works, but there are time limits and she fails. When the love-struck prince can’t find her, all is lost.

Eventually, the life-changing moment comes at the end of the story when the prince finds her and Cinderella gets to choose her happy ending.

(In most versions she says yes and marries the prince; in every version, this choice is the first time Cinders has had any power. This is when her life changes.

So, this is where the story ends because the character’s story arc is over: She has her chance to reach her goal, at long last.

(If you want more information, check out this post.)