Writing Games for Adults: Harnessing Spontaneity to Create Story Ideas.

story writing games

By Glen C. Strathy

Writing games for adults are less common than games for kids. But if you are an aspiring writer, they are a great way to exercise your imagination and creativity and generate ideas you can develop into stories. Many of them can be played both solo and with other people (perhaps as an activity for a writer group or club).

Of course, the best story ideas often come to you when you aren't drying to find them. But writing games can be used to "prime the pump," so to speak. They get you thinking about stories, both consciously and unconsciously, making it easier for the next great story idea to arise.

First, let me tell you why I believe these writing games for adults work. Then I'll refer you to some of my favourite games.

The Principles Behind All Great Writing Games for Adults

Most writing games for adults depend on these basic principles...

1. Randomness

Story writing games usually involve selecting certain ideas randomly -- whether this means opening a book at a random page and choosing the first word you see, drawing random cards from a deck, spinning a wheel, or rolling dice. Beginning with a random element allows you to overcome the challenge of choosing a starting point for your creative process.

Playing a story writing game with other people does the same thing, because you cannot predict what ideas other people will contribute.

Regardless the source, the rule is that you must not reject the random elements. You must accept and work with whatever ideas or words are randomly produced.

2. The Human Drive to Make Meaning

Human beings have an inborn desire to understand things. We want to know what everything means.

When presented with things or ideas that have no explanation, our minds will naturally try to find an explanation. We will invent a way to connect what we don't understand to what we do understand. We will invent some explanation for things that seem to have no explanation.

In fact, we usually prefer to have a false explanation for something than no explanation at all. Having no explanation feels uncomfortable, even dangerous. Whereas, we can take comfort in having some explanation, even if that explanation is inaccurate or has no logical consistency.

Story writing games take advantage of our need to create meaning by first giving us some random ideas and then challenging us to make meaning from them. When we create a story from random elements, we are creating context, connections, and relationships that give the random elements meaning. 

Making a story out of random elements uses both logic and imagination. It's a creative challenge that can be a lot of fun.

3. Low Stakes

All games have rules that create a certain structure.

A little structure is a creative challenge. The fun is seeing if we can accomplish the task (such as creating a story) working within the rules.

On the other hand, too much structure -- too many rules, too many requirements to meet, standards that are too high, or rules that are too complex -- can kill creativity. We can get so bogged down with excess structure that we get paralyzed.

So good story writing games will have the right amount of structure. They have enough structure to create a challenge, so finishing the game feels like an accomplishment. Everyone should walk away from the game feeling positive about the experience.

At the same time, games should not have so much structure that meeting the challenge feels impossible or laborious. Participants should not be left feeling like they aren't smart or talented enough to succeed.

Games are play, not work. So the stakes need to be kept low.  Easier games usually work better.

In fact, the best games are scaleable. They can be played by people age 9-99. Children can play them and have fun making simple stories, while educated adults can use the same games to generate sophisticated story ideas.

4. Open Endedness

Good story writing games should be flexible enough to tell a wide range of stories. They should not be limited to one genre or one narrative mode.

Okay, with all that said, here are some story writing games you may enjoy playing...

collaborative games

The Word-at-a-Time Game, and Other Collaborative Story Writing Games to Play with Partners and Groups

Collaborative, turn-based writing games can be played with partners or writing groups to generate stories. Some of them are simple, fun exercises that get the creative juices flowing. Others have been used to write published novels. Discover a number of such games here, ranked from easy to challenging.

random word games

Random Word Story Games

Story writing games using words drawn at random are very popular. Here are some you can play by yourself to create story prompts or even entire stories.

four sentence stories

Four Sentence Stories

Four Sentence Stories is a simple but fun game you can play with a group of your writer friends to generate story ideas and get a basic understanding of story structure.

story cubes

Rory's Story Cubes

This fun, easy to use set of plastic, dice-like cubes can help you generate an unlimited number of original story ideas. Can be played with children, adults, writer groups, etc. They function a little bit like an alethiometer (if you're familiar with Philip Pullman's novel The Golden Compass).

exquisite corpse

Exquisite Corpse

Play this fun game to create surrealist poems, unique imagery, or story prompts that can inspire your next writing project. Also makes a fun party game to play with your writer friends.

magnetic poetry

Magnetic Poetry

Many people have a game of magnetic poetry adorning their refrigerator. There are many ways to use this novelty item, including drawing words at random and attempting to create a poem or story idea with them. You can play this by yourself or invite any passers-by your kitchen to contribute.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Related articles you may enjoy...