I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, August 20, 2010

Let's Get Random

Teri reporting in…

I teach a fiction writing class to homeschool students, and when I first started talking to them about randomness, they’d give me one of those looks—a very polite one of those looks, mind you, because their mamas taught ‘em right. But I could tell they thought their teacher had finally run out of real things to teach.

But after we’d had a session or two involving the use of randomness, they started looking forward to it. I’d post on facebook or in an e-mail saying ‘let’s get random’, and they’d post ‘yay!’

I loved to see the expressions on their faces morph from “huh?” to “hey!”

Our minds tend to go first to the usual, typical, clichéd routes—unless you’re still a child and then I dare you to find a limit to the creativity bubbling inside. If we stay on those pathways, we miss out on the opportunity to take our readers on a more unique and interesting journey.

So how do I specifically use the alphabet cube? Here’s an example from my current WIP. Like a good little student of My Book Therapy, I wanted to use Susie’s F.O.C.U.S. method. When my protagonist entered a little western restaurant, I wanted the “C.U.” of F.O.C.U.S.—the close up where I zoomed in on some details that made the place stand out.
As usual, I started out on the typical things in a restaurant, but decided to trust my little alphabet cube to roll me out of the rut. I tossed a g. Here’s the random list that came to mind: garage, gun, guy, goop, gob, gang, and grinder. Not an impressive list, and nothing for the close up. . . except maybe for that last one. From grinder, my mind drifted to tools. I thought of a funny little saying we have in my state about the only tools a Texan needs is duct tape and WD-40.

“If it’s supposed to move and doesn’t, use the WD-40, and it moves and isn’t supposed to, use the duct tape.”

So what if the western restaurant had a little toolbox nailed to the wall with that saying on it? After all, the protagonist could use some duct tape to hold her life together at that point!

Now, I’m not suggesting this is sheer genius, but I hope it does help you to see that it got my mind from the typical restaurant items to something a little more original. By the way, I rolled again and hit “p” and came up with a food to focus on: pickles. Only, make it fried pickles with the protagonist pondering (no, I didn’t use the word) as to whether or not there was any food a Texan didn’t fry.

You can roll the alphabet cube to help you think of a unique flaw, a profession, or a problem for your character. If you feel stuck when you brainstorm for the My Book Therapy big Ds, try rolling the alphabet cube.

If you don’t have a cube, a baggie full of Scrabble tiles will do the same trick. I even cut up note cards into little squares and printed a letter on each one when I first started. Another possibility is to open any book or magazine and point to a random word.

Now for a super-duper life tip: About a year ago, Michael Hyatt posted on turning problems into opportunities for cultivating creativity. The trusty random method works this way too. Let’s try it. Suppose you have a problem of starting a project and not finishing it. What could you do about it?

Just a minute. Let me roll the cube. It’s an m. So tell me friends, how can we solve this problem of not finishing a project with a word that starts with the letter m? I’ll go first: marvelous. Picture in your mind the marvelous way the finished project will look. Your turn!

Don’t forget to click on the contest button above to find all the ways you can enter our contest this month! I’ve read these books and can promise you’ll enjoy them!


  1. Rhonda Hopkins8/20/10, 9:21 AM

    Wonderful advice! Thanks!

  2. Motivation: What can you use as a motivator to finish your novel?

    Money--if you finish that novel, and it sells, you will have money to show for your efforts

    Memory--if you're stuck on a scene, go back through the character's memory and ask about a time in her life that could equate with what she is going through now and how could she relate to the similar situation today?

    Great post, Teri. I need to find one of those letter cubes!!

  3. Two great "m's", Lisa! And this problem solving can go to other areas of our lives too. If someone has trouble finishing needle point projects or even the spring cleaning...wait...I need an "m" for that one!

  4. Magnificent - Great post!

    Mundane - no way! What a unique idea for coming up with words, ideas, concepts - anything!

    Me - I'm going to get me an alphabet cube!

    Great job!

  5. Hang on, Jeanie, I think Beth's found another source for the cubes, which are really dice, I guess. Anyway, she promised to post a place to order them.

  6. Rhonda, Thank YOU for stopping by! You'll be entered in our contest.

  7. Here's how you can get one of those marvelous letter dice! It's actually a letter dice from Scattergories. So, after one failed attempt from an online company, I went to Hasbro's customer service and found an online order form for replacement pieces:
    You can mail or fax it to them.
    I've ordered 2: One for me and one for Regina, who won our basket from last month.

  8. Thanks for suggesting a way to jump-start my creativity!
    I love to play Scrabble - now you've given me another use for the bag of letters!

  9. Thanks for the info Beth! We could put one into the Ponderers basket at the conference! I'll get that one.

  10. I love your post, Teri! It is practical and encouraging. :)

    Okay, "m" words.....

    Music--or whatever "extra" (coffee, chocolate, oh wait, those are c's) can make working on the project enjoyable.

    My second "m" is Musing--preferably with friends and other writers (or encouragers, who are diligent home cleaners, when it comes to spring cleaning) who can help us with the next step of the project or give us that exhortation to keep us Moving forward.

    I'll have to ponder more "m" words. :) Thanks for the great aids for helping me Move forward!

  11. Ava, I used Scrabble letters until my friend, Shelly Dippel, gave me a Scattergories dice. they work great, but I do like having a little dice right by my side.

  12. Beth, thanks for finding that for us! I ordered a couple a few weeks ago and gave them to my students who are now firm believers in randomness.

  13. Jeennie, What a great idea to put one in the Ponderers basket for the silent auction at ACFW! We'll have to put a note in to point them to this post for ideas on ways to use it.

  14. Jeanne--nice "m" words! Lots of writers use music to create mood as they write. Personally, I need silence. But as far as helping me with spring cleaning, yes, I've often boogied while I scrub! Thankfully none of my kids ever caught it on video. (I hope!)

    Musing with others who can motivate us is good too. I hope that's a bit of what we do here at MTB Ponderers.

  15. Awesome post Teri. I think you read my mind, see I have this pesky thesis I am totally unmotivated to finish. But finishing means "Moving on with life!"

    I can do it!

  16. See, Amy, "moving on"--a great "m" to help you finish. Praying for you, my friend!

  17. Angela Bell8/20/10, 2:00 PM

    Awesome post Miss Teri! I remember our first lesson on randomness. I didn't understand it at first. (Hence "the look") But once it clicked in my mind, I learned that randomness really works. :)

    Hmmm . . . what's a good M word? Ponder. Ponder. Still pondering. Aaha!

    Master: When I get stuck in my writing, I try to refocus and remember who I'm writing for. I don't write for me. I write for my Master, Jesus Christ. He expects me to have a spirit of excellence in all I do, which includes finishing the things I start. Whether it be writing a book or washing the dishes.

  18. Wow! Great comment, Angela. I like the way you ponder.

  19. Aahhh! Proud teacher moment here! Now you know why I said many times this year that I had the best students ever! Angela, your "M" ought to be the perfect motivation.

    (In fact, I may need to go see if I left a dirty dish in the sink!)

  20. Jamie Millan8/20/10, 3:46 PM

    Oh yes, I remember when you started talking about 'randomness' and then pulled the cube out of your bag! My life has never been the same!

    This is such a great tool to use! Yay for amazing teachers that give you amazing tools to work with! :D

  21. Wow--you do have great students, Teri.
    And loyal ones!

  22. Teri,
    I'll get the "mass of material" - a really bad synonym for dice, you put together a memo - a note on how to use it, And we'll put it in the "makeshift mailer" - another really bad synonym for basket.

    Okay - I'll admit it's Friday afternoon and I'm either a little slap happy or I've lost it completely!
    Have a great weekend!

  23. Jamie! My life hasn't been the same either since teaching you! You're a great writer, and I can't wait until I read something with your name on the cover!

    Ladies, these students BEG for more classes.

  24. Thanks, Beth. A kind word about them warms my heart!

  25. LOL! Jennie! You do sound a bit slap happy, but that's okay for a Friday afternoon!

    I will try to remember to prepare that memo!

  26. Great post, Teri! We play Scattergories all the time, so I've got a cube handy.

    Jennie, Sounds like you need to rejuvenate--or maybe meditate to stick with an "m"--in your garden this weekend. At least, you have the perfect place to do it.

  27. Teri, This what fun and a terrific jump-start. SO GLAD you are teaching those home schoolers. No wonder some of your students also place high in writing contests. Thank you and blessings!

  28. Sorry this is late but this post was sheer genius! I'm so getting out my Scattigories dice and going to town.

  29. I'll have to try something like that next time I'm stuck while trying to start a scene. Thanks for sharing such a great idea, Teri!

  30. As always, Teri, you have encouraged AND challenged me! I am going to order one of those cubes right now, and then I am going to go and clean up my writing area and locate all of my SMW retreat books...I am going to MARSHAL (an M word for "organize" courtesy of Thesaurus.com) my surroundings so I can Move in on Meeting My Mission impossible! Thanks Terri!

  31. Thanks Teri. It took me almost a week to come up with Muscle. I shall muscle myself to the computer and write. Sorry I've been awol but I agreed to train someone to do the abstinence program in our area and it is draining my time. But it is so needed!

  32. Wonderful post, really enjoyed it! Totally going to use this.

    Majestic: Because we all know that's gonna be one majestic book or project or whatever when we're done with it. ;)