Writing Lesson 28 – Randomness

A Creativity Tool

At any point when you create your story, you will come to places where you need to do some brainstorming. It could be at the beginning when an idea first begins to germinate. You’ll need to choose your characters, their profession, the goals, conflicts, and more.

Or maybe it’ll be in the middle of a scene where a character enters a room, and you need to decide what it is she notices. What’s that little detail that will catch her attention when it might not someone else’s? Coming up blank?

Randomness makes a great tool for such a decision. For instance, if you need to choose a profession for your character but either come up with an empty page or the same old ideas you used for the last story, try this.

Select a random letter of the alphabet. One of those red Scattergories cubes with letters works great. Or a bag of Scrabble letters will do. Suppose we roll the letter “s”. Let’s brainstorm professions beginning with the letter “s”.  Try for at least ten.

Softball player
Ship’s captain
Slap stick comedian
Salmon fisherman
Sacker at a grocery store
Skater, maybe at the Olympics
Scientist—one in the Space station

Maybe one of these becomes your next hero. If not, roll again and make another list. Since you’re using a random letter, it forces your mind to go in directions it might not otherwise.

You can use this to choose a single item as well. Just for fun, let’s imagine a scene where someone knocks over a girl’s purse. What unusual thing might fall out? Let’s roll a “d” this time. (I wish you were here to call out the words with me!)


Hmm. I think I’ll choose dominos. Why would a girl carry them in her purse? Does she like to challenge folks to a game? Or maybe they belonged to her father who died, and she likes to keep them close. In any case, I don’t think she’ll be happy when they spill out of her purse.

See how it works? If you worked hard and pushed past ten items listing twenty, who knows what you’d come up with!

Another way to use randomness is to open a book and, without looking, put your finger on a word. Brainstorm how that word may help you. Sometimes it won’t necessarily be the word you landed on that you use, but the word will take your mind in a different direction than you expected, and you just may come up with something unique.

Need a new conflict for your character? Roll the Scattergories cube. Need to get your character out of a fix? Reach for a Scrabble letter. Need a new setting? Open a book and let your finger land on a word. Even if the word doesn’t seem to work, keep pressing through for ideas that branch from that word.

I challenge you. Any time you’re stuck or need a fresh idea. Try randomness. It’s my favorite creativity tool.

About Teri Dawn Smith

Teri Dawn Smith lives in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and tries to keep up with the holidays, quirks, and loyalties of her international family including her Canadian husband and three adopted Bolivian children.

Read more about Teri.


  1. Alassiel says:

    Thanks for this cool idea. I read your post this morning. Then this afternoon when I was writing and needed a profession for a character, your suggestion came back to me. I was originally going to make him a cloth merchant carrying a shipment of fabric, but decided instead on the owner of a diner carrying a load of specialty foods. Much more interesting.

  2. This really is a fun way to get the juices flowing and make yourself think “outside the box.” It generates lots of ideas quickly. After you comb through the possibilities, you can decide which options seem most appealing.

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