26 Apr

Setting Limits

Posted in Creativity, DIY MFA, Prompt, Writing Exercises

Limitations can be liberating.  I know it sounds like a contradiction, but hear me out.  Sometimes having too many choices can be paralyzing and the best thing we can do for our writing is to set some limits.  To that end, here are a few exercises that help me keep those pesky choices in check.

Minus an “E”:  Inspired by Ernest Vincent Wright’s Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E” in this exercise I challenge you to write for 15 minutes and the only limitation is you cannot use the letter “E.”  For variations on this assignment, choose a different vowel (no fair choosing “Y”) and write for 15 minutes without that vowel instead.

The idea here is that by limiting which vowels you can use, you have to stop and really think about each word you choose.  It exercises your brain in a way that regular writing doesn’t.  Sure, you might not produce a work of genius with this exercise, but it trains you to think about word choice and you’ll start seeing the results in your writing in general.

Single Syllables:  Another exercise I learned from a favorite writing teacher is to write for 15 minutes using only one-syllable words.  Not only does it make you stop and choose your words carefully, but by using only one-syllable words you’ll infuse your work with energy and punch that you don’t get from words with multiple syllables.

Sometimes when I feel like a piece I’m writing needs more punch, I’ll go back and rewrite a section, trying to use more one-syllable words.  The change in the energy never fails to amaze me.

What do you think?  Do you think you need to set some limits in your writing?  If so, what tricks have you used that work?


12 Apr

Prompt Builder

Posted in DIY MFA, Process, Prompt, Story, Writing

This writing tool was inspired by the board game Clue. You know, the game where you win by saying something like: “It’s Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the revolver!”

As a toy designer in a past life, I had the opportunity to tease apart different games and see how they worked on a fundamental level.  The game Clue was always one of my favorites because it essentially comes down to telling a mystery story using only four elements: a character (one of the suspects), a situation (the murder), a setting (one of the rooms), and a prop (one of the murder weapons).

That got me thinking that storytelling really boils down to two things: a character plus a situation (preferably one rife with conflict). The props and settings add detail to make the stories unique, but ultimately, a character in a conflict-filled situation is what makes a story. From that idea came this prompt builder technique that I’ve used with various groups of students.

What I love about this technique is that with one index card and one standard die, I can have over 1,200 possible writing prompts at my fingertips. Also this writing tool is completely customizable so if you write a certain genre, you can tweak the different lists to make them more applicable to your own writing. I myself have devised various versions of this activity, including one for fables and fairy tales to use with younger students, and one mega-set that has over 28,000 possible combinations!  Talk about prompts that will last a lifetime.

Today I’d like to share with you the pocket-sized version.

Instructions: Copy the four lists below onto one index card or into a pocket-sized notebook (make sure to include the headers “character,” “situation,” “prop,” and “setting”). Roll the die four times to determine which item you’ll use from each list. Now write.


1.  Child Prodigy
2.  Driver’s Ed Instructor
3.  Shopping Mall Santa
4.  Clerk at MegaMart
5.  Father of 12
6.  Wedding Planner


1.  Runs into an Ex
2.  Visits a Psychic
3.  Discovers a Secret
4.  Has to Hitchhike
5.  Loses a Bet
6.  Flunks a Test


1.  Red Shoes
2.  Evidence of a Crime
3.  Superstition
4.  Regret
5.  Mask
6.  Someone Else’s Spouse


1.  Wedding
2.  Funeral
3.  Middle of Nowhere
4.  Fancy Hotel
5.  Rowboat
6.  Beach


Iggi & Gabi - All rights reserved © 2010-2011

I am a HowJoyful Design by Joy Kelley