If there’s one thing in the writing process I seriously underestimated it would be the importance of warming up before you write. Before university if I was to write something, I would open my laptop, get up a word document and just write. The start of my writing was always a bit clunky; it didn’t flow very well. If anything needed the most editing in my work, I could guarantee you it would be the start. I now understand that was because I didn’t warm up before I wrote anything.
Since being at university I’ve come to realise the importance of being in the right mindset before I write. I’m not talking about making sure I’m relaxed or feeling very motivated, what I’m talking about is making sure the ideas are flowing and I’m warmed up. So far, I’ve been doing this by free writing. I will set a two-minute or five-minute timer on my phone, pick up a pen and write non-stop until the time was up. What this did was let me get most of my clunky writing out of my system before I was working on my manuscript or essay. You don’t have to do this with a pen and paper, it’s just I find it a little bit easier to be less perfect when I’m scribbling down ideas on paper and not typing them.
It’s all been very well and good but over time it’s got a bit boring so when I went back home at Christmas, I found my story cubes and decided to bring them back with me to university.
I’ve had these since I was about 13 and I think they’re so useful. They’re a fantastic way to just have fun thinking of stories and plots. Since I’ve been back at university, I’ve been using these cubes regularly as writing prompts and over time they became my warm up, replacing free writing. What I wanted to share with you all today is how I use these as a professional writer as a method of warming up my writing muscles. I understand they’re designed for children, but I really wouldn’t underestimate them or dismiss them because of the target audience.
Very quickly I just wanted to explain how they work. Rory’s Story Cubes come in several different packs and I have the voyages pack. Only reason I use this one is because it’s the only one I own, but I am definitely interested in getting more packs in the future. Each pack contains nine cubes and every side of the cube has a visual prompt; in total this leaves you with 54 unique images. You simply roll the dice and create a short story from the prompts presented to you. One thing worth mentioning is that this is a warm-up only. This isn’t going to be the best work you’ve ever created; its only purpose is to get your writing muscles going.
It really is that simple, so how about we give it a go?
The prompts: A fuel gauge, a submarine, a whip, a temple archway, a ladder, a bowl of rice, glasses, an egg and finally a crab. All the images are up for interpretation, so if you don’t see them the same way I do that’s perfectly fine.
My story: The hero was in trouble. They’ve been covering up their tracks by travelling by submarine for the past two weeks. They were tired and the only food they had available was bowls of egg and crab rice, they hated crab. Looking down at the fuel gauge, pushing their glasses back up their nose as they fell, they couldn’t help but bite their lip and worry, they were running out of fuel fast. They needed to resurface and soon. They couldn’t put it off for any longer, they told the captain that now is the time. In under an hour the crew was getting the ladder to the hatch of the submarine ready to leave. On the way out the hero remember to grab their trusty whip and attach it to their belt. They were tired, on the run and losing hope. Some part of them deep down encourage them to carry on, to find the temple with the wooden archway and inside would be the world’s greatest treasure.
Prompts: A necklace, angry person, thieves, a backpack, a Sheriff, waves, a snake, an egg, and a nervous person.
My story: It turns out stealing a priceless necklace from a bunch of thieves is a really bad idea. You know this because of the mob of angry people who are currently chasing you through the desert, they’re after the contents of your backpack where you stashed the necklace. It’s moments like this you wonder how you got into this mess, where did it all go wrong? It all started with the town sheriff putting up a wanted poster, the mayor’s wife’s necklace had been stolen and the reward for bringing it back would have been enough money to buy the medicine your sister desperately needed. She was only young and stumbled across a snake whilst she was out at the farm collecting eggs from hens, she was too young to know the dangers of snake venom. It bit her. She’d been suffering from waves of nausea ever since. Without the medicine she needed she was going to die. You had no choice but to track down the thieves and steal the necklace back, the thought made you nervous and scared, but there was no other way.
Note: In this prompt I couldn’t really think of a way to include physical waves. It’s set in a desert and let’s be real, there’s not going to be many oceans around. So, I decided to use the word waves in the context of waves of nausea to still include the prompt.
Prompts: A cactus, a necklace, a nervous person, a hill side, an angry person, a snake, a mushroom, dinosaur bones and bacteria.
My story: This is bad, very very bad. You felt sick to the stomach you looked across the barren hillsides, the word nervous didn’t even come close to describing how you felt right now. Instinctively your hand reached up to your neck to touch your mothers’ necklace. Your stomach clenched at the thought, she was one of the first to die by the disease. She was an archaeologist, looking for dinosaur bones in the desert, things had been going well until they found an ancient bacteria hidden deep in the soil. Those exposed started to show symptoms of extreme anger and aggression, after that they become so ill, they were basically comatosed. They didn’t live for more than a few days after that.
You searched your surroundings again, there was nothing other than cactuses and the odd snake hiding in the mountain shadows. This was bad. There was a cure to this illness, but it had one very rare ingredient, desert mushrooms. You never knew such a thing existed until a few days ago when you and a team were sent out to collect more of this mysterious shroom. The rest of your team had died, dehydration had got to them, you were the only survivor. Everyone was counting on you to bring back the vital ingredient.
Note: I used a bit of artistic licence with the hillside in this prompt. In my head I had the idea of a desert like environment with large barren rocky hillsides and mountains. If I was to take this prompt further, then I would have done more world building and explained the environment more to the reader. But this is only a warm-up, so I didn’t include that.
That’s how I used story cubes as a writing exercise and warm up. It’s not very complicated and I think that’s a real strength to these cubes, they are designed for children, so it really does help you not take the exercise to seriously. For example, in prompt three I didn’t really go into all that much world building and that’s okay, it’s just a warm-up, something to get the ideas flowing.
In the future I’m going to be purchasing some more cubes, I really like the idea of the astro pack and the actions pack. I think being able to combine those cubes with the voyage pack would be quite exciting for a warm-up.
Of course, you don’t just have to use these as a writer, I do a lot of digital artwork and for warm-ups I will choose two cubes, roll them and then create an illustration from those two prompts. If I’m feeling a little bit more adventurous, I’ll use three or four but for the most part, it’s two of them.
A challenge for you guys, especially the writers amongst you, is to choose one of my three prompts and do a quick piece of flash fiction warm-up, and if you feel comfortable then post it in the comments below. I think it’d be quite cool for us to compare how we interpret prompts. Or if you already have these cubes, get them out and use them to do a quick exercise and same again post in the comments below.
I look forward to reading what you come up with.