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Calling on the Muse and Story Starter to generate stories

Given that I’m still drowning in deadlines, I wouldn’t say I’m in a place where I need one more thing to write but some of you might be in a bit of a slump or are trolling for ideas. I often plague my students with timed writing exercises or slip them story starters to get their muse in gear. They’re usually successful. Either the student tries the exercise and words start flowing or the student is repelled by the very thought of the exercise and suddenly his or her project is humming along nicely: either way the student is writing.

Similar exercises can be found in hundreds of books on writing but writers seldom actually do the exercises in the books they buy. (No, I don’t know why–too much trouble, maybe.) However, it might be easier to play with the story starter offered on The site offers an "instant muse story starter." All you do is click on the story starter button at the bottom of the page and a description of a story, complete with a variety of elements, will randomly pop up at the bottom of the screen. The elements will include the sex of the main character, his or her’s job or profession, an archetype to draw from, some kind of key object or symbol to use, the setting, the theme and an event or situation to help generate conflict.

When I clicked, I got the following elements:

My main character/protagonist is a male.
An event or situation in my story is a mysterious phone call.
An archetype present in my story is The Shepherd.
A key object or symbol in my story is a five dollar bill.
My story will be set in a library.
My story is about fate.

Now, you don’t have to use all the elements presented but your story will be stronger and the exercise more powerful if you do. Feel free to use the elements above or try the Story Starter yourself. Another way to use the Story Starter is to get a couple of writers together, with each one bringing a set of Story Starter elements. Then do a series of timed writings, enough for everyone to produce a rough first draft. Yes, I mean write the first draft at one sitting.

If you’re wondering whether any decent material can be produced through this type of exercise, I can offer a resounding yes. I know students who have gone on to publish stories that have had a similar genesis in exercises. I wish I could offer some insight on the online classes and instructors at the site but I don’t know anything about them. If you have any info, please drop a line or two in the comment section. When you’ve finished playing with Story Starter, try the other exercises.

Now, take a deep breath; breathe–and write.

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