Child's Play:

The Writing Games I Play

By Justine Manzano

            In my attempt to re-spark my writing life, I have begun to play games to keep my imagination open.  Iím trying for writing inspiration.  I donít really have time to sit down and write so much anymore, so Iíve been working on exercises that keep my brain going on the right track, so when the time comes where I can sit down, concentrate and write, something will actually come out!  By the way, I write fiction, so these are largely fiction related exercises.  So, this is the stuff I am currently doing to keep the writing portion of my brain functioning.

Strange Habit #1: The TV Game: This is a fun little exercise to do, as an obsessed TV fan, which I am.  You see, I love many shows, many of them so religiously that I can recite them backwards and forwards.  When a show comes along that I love that much, I like to play this little game.  I create a character that could exist within the cannon of the show.  If itís a detective show, itís a fellow cop, an adventure show, a fellow traveler, an action show, a fellow fighter.  I give this character a name, a backstory and a life within the frame of the show, creating storylines for that character that relate to the showís main characters.  Sometimes, my characters bend the entire storyline, and I have to shift characters, and storylines to fit my needs, thus creating whole new timelines like an alternate universe.  This is fun because it keeps you on your toes, especially when the show is still running, as you may need to shift your storyline as it progresses.  I have often found that a specific relationship or circumstance my character finds himself in will have a story all itís own that I find to be novel-worthy.  Though I have yet to write my first novel, the four (yes, two blogs ago it was three) ideas that are still in development stages have all developed, in their rawest state, out of this game.

How is this not stealing?  Aside from the copyrighters nightmare that is the phrase ďThere is no such thing as an original idea,Ē the stories I come up with are usually completely independent of the original source work.  For example, watching Spiderman (and yes this works for movies too) inspired a story about a childhood romance gone very wrong.  How, well, thatís what makes me a writer Ė but through a series of schizophrenic relational thoughts, I was able to pull out a solid novel idea.  And if you donít get a novel out of it, thatís ok.  At least you get to exercise your brain.

Strange Habit #2: The Music Game: This one is an exercise for a story you already have going.  Have an idea and some characters, but youíre missing integral plot developments or characteristics necessary to make the story go?  Hereís what I do: I sit down for a brainstorming session.  I put my iPod on shuffle.  When the first song comes up, I listen to the lyrics intently and try to match up each line I hear with a character or specific situation in my story.  Some will inherently fail, some will succeed amazingly well and will trigger a brainstormingÖwellÖstorm, that will have you jotting down ideas for a few songs to follow.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Do this as directed for about an hour and you will either be brimming with new ideas perfect to fill in the missing pieces in your story or you will be rethinking the storyís entire structure.  I guarantee it (in that way where I canít really guarantee it because every writer is different.)

Strange Habit #3: The Idea Book: This is one that doesnít require a writing idea at all.  Iíve been working on a journal lately to collect things that inspire me.  It could be a picture that captures a certain emotion Ė Iíll tape it into the book.  Sometimes itís a picture of a place I would love something to take place in Ė like a really great picture of a dive bar, that you know you could use for an awesome description later.  Sometimes itís just cool character names you thought of or heard or a personís habits that you think are interesting.  I once had a professor that pronounced every letter of a word Ė even the silent ones.  So length had a ďgĒ in it and width had a ďdĒ in it.  Not only did it make it very difficult for me to get through my geometry class, but it served as something I could definitely see myself giving to a character in the future.  Probably someone annoying.  (My apologies to any of my readers who pronounce their words this way.  You are probably not annoying.  Maybe.)  You could also dump ideas there that are half formed.  Like so Ė ďMaybe I should write a story about what a group of people would do if they knew the world was going to end tomorrow.  Would they retain their morals?  Would they dive in blindly?  And would they be granted temporary insanity if the world never did end?Ē  (Actual quote from my idea book)  Itís not a fully formed idea, but itís something to think about in the future.  So, the idea book becomes the dumping ground for things you canít use yet, but just know you are going to.  Even if you never use it, it will keep you thinking.

Strange Habit #4: The ďCould Get You Beaten Up On The NYC SubwayĒ Habit: You donít need to do this on the Subway, you can do it in any public place where there are people around.  A restaurant.  Laundromat.  Anything like this Ė itís actually a fun game, even if youíre not a writer.  Select a person that interests you.  Try not to stare too much as even though I donít know who you are, your life is important to me.  Then, work out their life story.  Do they have a scar?  Make up a story about how they got it.  Do they look sad?  Make up a story about why they might be sad.  Itís a nice little exercise in observing peopleís behaviors that can teach you a lot about people.  A true writer is a snoop.  Remember, please, donít get beaten up.

            Ok, so that was my attempt to be a serious writer and give you some tips.  Even if you arenít a writer, I hope you enjoyed the view into my wacky writer brain.  Maybe next time when you catch me staring out into space blankly, youíll know what Iím doing.  Or at least youíll hope thatís what Iím doingÖ


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