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


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