Chance Encounters: Playing at plotting4 min read

by Jan 13, 2017Writing0 comments

Let’s play a game!  Maybe a challenge for the New Year?  We’re going to plot out our stories using some ideas modified from chance operations.

John Cage – the composer famous for the piece of music made up entirely of silence – used “chance operations” to create paintings, music and poetry.  (Although I don’t think he used it in his other hobby as an amateur mycologist…)  It had some pretty odd/beautiful results depending on your opinion…

You want to use something broad enough that you can interpret it in a variety of ways, rather than giving you a direction that can’t be budged.  What we’re looking for is something that will nudge us along and provide slightly unexpected directions, to push us out of our normal plotting habits…

You could buy (or make) story dice, where you roll for a suggestion of what happens next.  You can be like John Cage and learn how to use the I-Ching (though it is hard and I could never get my head round how it works).  Or you could try Italo Calvino’s method in The Castle of Crossed Destinies and use tarot cards.  Dixit cards might also work in a similar way!  (Cards Against Humanity might be too directive, but you could take a chance…)

There are all sorts of other weird and wonderful things, like throwing darts, using computer programs, etc.  But we want something a little quicker, with  less time spent on preparation and more time on ideas and writing.

One chance operation I like to use is choosing a number of my favourite books and using them like cards.  I start with an initial story or character idea (but you could just pick the first book and see what the muses hurl at you).  Next post-it note all the books with a number.  Then you can then work through in numerical order.  Or roll  dice to choose the next number.  Or just get people to yell out numbers at you.  But the basic plan is you pick up the next book and have to base your first scene on something to do with it.

So let’s say my first book is Alice in Wonderland.  My first scene could involve the unexpected appearance of a rabbit.  Maybe it could involve all my characters at a tea party.  Or it could involve creepy disappearing cats.  It throws a lot of ideas wide open, so it’s also a fun technique when you’re having a moment of writer’s block.

Book number two is Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists.  So obviously now my story has to involve luxuriant beards.  Or ham.  With my creepy disappearing cat.

Book number three is a Harry Potter, so this time I’m just going to steal a whole character.  (Because who doesn’t want Severus Snape in their story?)  With a creepy disappearing cat and a plot point involving a large, well-groomed beard.

January is a financially hard slog after Christmas.  So let’s save our remaining pennies, stay indoors in the warm and plot as weirdly and wildly as we can.

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