By Glen C. Strathy
Chances are you're familiar with Magnetic Poetry. Consisting of little magnets, each featuring a single word, phrase, or part of a word, these kits have been used to decorate refrigerators, school lockers, and other metal surfaces for many years.
To some people, they are simply a way of leaving legible messages for others in the house – a slower and more clumsy method than a simple message pad. To others, they are a fun poetry-making game.
However, for writers and novelists stuck for inspiration, magnetic poetry can also be a tool for generating story ideas.
Magnetic poetry comes in a variety of kits these days, each containing a different assortment of words. If you're just starting out, you probably want one of the larger more general kits, such as the original. If that seems too limited after a while, you can buy a number of different kits and pool all the magnets together, which gives you a much larger vocabulary to work with.
You can also make your own kit by printing out a few hundred words in a large font on magnetic sheets, which you can buy in office supply stores and cutting them up. Or you can imitate kidnappers in classic crime novels and cut words out of newspaper headlines. However, magnets have the advantage of staying where you put them on a magnetic whiteboard, refrigerator, or cookie sheet, where they won't get blown about by drafts.
Once you have your kit, you may want to divided the magnets into groups. The biggest group will be nouns and verbs. I don't recommend separating these because many words can serve as either a noun or a verb, depending on the context. (For instance, words like “shape, cook, show, use, head, dream, shine,” etc.
I like to put modifiers in a separate group, keeping in mind that some adjectives can also be verbs (e.g. “calm, near, brown, wet”).
Other categories may include:
conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor, yet, so, if, that)prefixes and suffixes (s, ed, ly, er, ness, bi)articles (a, an, the)pronouns (he, she, I, you)
Of course, you could just put all your words into one big pile or container. It's a matter of personal preference.
Once you have your words ready, you can them to generate some ideas for your story or novel.
Start by creating some magnetic poetry. Close your eyes and draw some words from the pile of nouns and verbs, one or more at a time. Arrange them on whatever surface you choose to create an image, phrase, or sentence that feels interesting to you. Don't worry too much about grammar or getting all the articles and pronouns in just yet.
If you have some words that don't seem to fit, move them to one side for the moment. Later on, you can try to incorporate them into another sentence.
Keep drawing more words and incorporating them into what you already have, creating new sentences above or below the first. Throw in a few modifiers, pronouns, or adverbs along with nouns and verbs. You can stop when you feel done, which will probably be when you have somewhere between one sentence and a page worth of poetry.
You can do this poetry making process as often as you like. It's a great exercise for getting the creative juices flowing.
You can also use magnetic poetry to play a game with friends. Everyone can take turns adding words until you have made a group poem.
However, if you are specifically looking to create story ideas, take the next step...
Try to turn the sentences you've created into a story. Start by turning your images and phrases into better prose. Add whatever extra words or punctuation are needed. You may need to rearrange your sentence order.
Most likely, there will be gaps in the story. That's great. Start asking yourself questions and filling in answers. Who are these people? Why are they doing what they are doing? What is the world of the story like? What happens next? What happened before? What happens in between? What do the people want? What kind of _______? What's really going on?
You can do this exercise as often as you like. It probably won't take you more than an hour each time. Soon you'll have a collection of story ideas. In time, one or more of them will likely be ideas that you feel are worthy to base a novel or short story on.
If you don't already have some magnetic poetry, you can get a variety of sets through amazon.