Storymatic

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[1st Note: If I had enough readers, I’d ask them whether they thought my method of starting posts with background story was annoying or boring. I find dry entries to be boring. Or the really short ones: “Found this [picture] cool.” Well, I hope the thing they are referring to is cool because their blog post is a twitter entry. I HATE TWITTER! On that note: I HATE FACEBOOK! We should have more to say than 100 characters or whatever it is (yes, I agree, some should be restricted to 2 to 3 characters) and so I hope the background story is not boring, and I do try to make them short.]

[2nd note: I reserve the right, in the future, upon having a book or story to sell, to reverse this hatred of Twitter and Facebook and shamelessly use it to sell my wares!]

{3rd Note: But that is all, I am too prolix a writer, perhaps even garrulous, for such restrictions as one can tell just from this post. GET TO THE POINT ALREADY!!!]

{4th Note: Actual subject of this post starts 10 paragraphs down!]

So we’re at the Bellevue Square Mall today to have my iPhone repaired as I cracked the screen at work. We had 45 minutes to kill. Unlike the Christians, who have 12 days of Christmas starting on the 25th, there are four to five days of Christmas in the secular calendar consisting of Christmas itself followed by four to five days known as The Great Return (where, I suppose most people return the shit they received for shit they really want – I never return – it’s rude). And I suppose they’ll have to change it to the great “buy my own shit days” because a lot of people merely buy each other cards.

Yes, I find our modern, secular Christmas to be frivolous at best, a recipe for despair at its worst.

I am not a secularist. I am also not a Christian (I lack faith in the resurrection of Christ, and that, as they say, is to lack it all) but I am a mystic.

And by that diatribe above I mean to say the mall was BUSY.

So we had time to kill because the mall was packed. Most of the stores are (way!) overpriced garment shops for women with a dress size of 2 or below and men unsure of their sexual orientation. I mentioned to the wife that what the mall needed was a really cool store. Then we turned a corner and found a really cool store called MARBLES: THE BRAIN STORE.

Although the home screen of the web page doesn’t really show it off, Marbles has all sorts of brain games. Uno can be fun if you have a child in the house but gets boring really quick. They have everything: Solitaire Chess where you learn the game in smaller pieces before you apply it to the full format. That I will probably buy in the future. Always wanted to be a decent player but never found a good strategy for improvement. Breaking something down into manageable pieces is a proven method for skill development.

There is the super trivial pursuit style game: Mindstein. Each card has five questions, multiple choice, each answer has a letter, the combination of correct answers spells out a word, you have to get the answers right to spell out the word (I suspect after 3 questions you could guess like on Wheel of Fortune). I was impressed with the questions – they were not dumbed down.

And then they have books of puzzles, the graphic logic puzzles, the hierarchical, or ordinal logic puzzles (Harry was 1 inch taller than Suzy who was taller than Gary, etc,) one book had a regular search a word that, when completed, was a summary of a literary work, and to finish you had to deduce the literary work.

I mention these because they are fun and I feel too many people nowadays focus on the body to the exclusion of the mind – and the exclusion of the soul. It is not true, is not freaking true, that to take care of the body is to take care of the mind. Otherwise you would find yourself surrounded by geniuses at the gym – and boy, is that far from the truth.

I should mention before someone thinks me some sort of mensa-type snob: I have never been able to come close to solving the Rubik’s cube, I mastered Pac-Man with a cheat book, I’ve read 3 world histories and remember almost nothing, and I have never been able to spell “guarantee” correctly (3 tries just right there!), and I have never won a chess game even against a computer set on beginner nor against another amateur.

But, much like a guy who is a T-Bone (as I am) it is still healthy to work out what little muscle you have!

What I actually walked away with was The Storymatic. What a great idea. I’m going to do a quick one called The Classic Storymatic.

1. Draw two gold cards.

I got Taxidermist and believer in reincarnation.

2. Combine the cards to make one character

Done

3. Draw two copper cards.

I got reckless enthusiasm and the last one. Mmm, lot’s of potential there!

4. Let them lead you into a story.

5. When you finish that story, start another!

Alright!

There are a number of variations, some for solitary play (or work) and others for road trips or parties or even for the classroom. There are also variations where each gold card is a separate character and the premise is “X is in conflict with Y”. “Shake it Up” where your gold cards lead to the character and following that you define a “normal” day for that character; then you draw a copper (or Gold) card and that card is the element that shakes up the character’s normal day.

There are dice rolling variations where the roll of the dice determines the sentence requirement or limit. Here are some quotes from the website for the game.

This for Writers using it as writing prompts (which I may use for short stories since I draw utter blanks when it comes to short stories).

Whether you are a teenager or an established author, whether you write short stories, novels, plays, or screenplays, The Storymatic can help you generate new material.

Before you draw any cards, give yourself a time limit–say, 30 minutes or one hour. Begin writing as soon as you draw your cards. You do not need a computer to do this; all you need is a pencil and a piece of paper (or a tape recorder). Do not think. Do not edit yourself.

Say yes to everything.

Let your imagination go wherever it wants to go, and let yourself just go along for the ride. Nobody–nobody–writes a perfect first draft. So don’t get hung up trying to do that. Your goal is to get a story down on the page where you can see it and start to shape it.

When writing, remember to abide by the Two Laws of The Storymatic.

Include the material on the cards in a substantial way. Do whatever the Wild Cards say. These simple parameters will keep you grounded, even as you turn off the editor in your head.

Then look over what you have written and start shaping your story.  At that point, you can begin to deviate from the information on the cards… because at that point, you will have called a story into existence, and the story will establish its own terms for how it wants to be.

For a group variation:

Take turns adding twists and turns with Add to It, an ideal all-ages game for the car, camping trip, and dorm, and for family gatherings and parties. Add to It is a great way to get people talking, listening, and laughing.

    1. One person draws two gold cards (yellow in Kids and Colonial Williamsburg), combines them to make once character, and begins telling a story about that character. Go for a minute or so.
    2. When you are ready to pass the story along, a new storyteller draws a card (either color) and adds to the story.
    3. Then a third storyteller draws a card and adds to the story, then a fourth, and so on.
    4. Keep in mind the Two Laws of The Storymatic.
    5. The story is over when everyone has contributed, or when 10 cards have been drawn… or go as long as you like!
    6. When you finish that story, start another!

Teachers and parents: Add to It is a great way to build a healthy group dynamic and get everyone participating equally in a creative, fun activity. It’s an excellent, improvisational way to start a class or introduce activities, and it hits dozen upon dozens of the Core Standards.

Add to It is just one of the many games, prompts, and suggestions included in the booklet that comes with The Storymatic Classic, The Storymatic Kids, and the Colonial Williamsburg Edition.

A history, and perhaps time-travel, variation for group or solo:

The Historymatic is an improv game that involves time travel… with a twist.

  1. Think of relationships two people the same age could have in the colonial era (siblings, friends, master and slave, merchant and customer, etc.).
  2. Write your ideas on slips of paper. Put them in a hat.
  3. Two players each pick one or two gold cards to make characters.
  4. Pick one slip from the hat. Now the characters have that relationship (for example, a “patriot” and a “farmer” are brothers).
  5. Pick a blue card (e.g., “shipwreck”). Work together to act out a scene about it. For example, maybe the brothers get caught in a terrible storm and their boat is leaking.
  6. Here’s the twist: As soon as the characters feel kind of real, someone else shouts a number between 1 and 100. The characters are now that old! If, for example, the number is 75, the characters become 75 years old.
  7. Continue the scene. Maybe now they are remembering the shipwreck.
  8. After a minute or so, someone else shouts another number—“Eight!” Now the characters are 8-year-old kids. Continue the scene… maybe they are dreaming of building the boat.
  9. With each new number that’s called out, the age of the characters changes. But the throughline of the scene does not. In the examples here, the story is always about the same brothers, and the same shipwreck.
  10. Do as many scenes as you want!

There is also a kid’s edition. I will probably pick that one up too. I see no reason not to use children’s ideas. I assume the only real difference between the standard edition and the kid’s edition is the material is safe of adult material. And in the stories I enjoy there is no reason not to have a dragon in it!  As long as it’s not a vapid Tolkein rip-off story, that is.

And there is the Colonial History Edition. Having all three editions would make for an interesting, and fun, master storyteller game night.

Commentary:

I see a great positive to this game and a potential negative if used in a certain way.

The positive. It gets or keeps the mind in story-mode. Authors do this sort of thing anyway. They see a painting and daydreaming about it start to write a story about an attacking robot army – and he was looking at American Gothic. Or they are reading about the Peloponnesian War or vascular surgery and the biography of Ronald Reagan and bam they’re off writing something.

Stephen King slips down a hill by a gas station and he is writing about another supernatural car From a Buick 8 (the 1st being Christine). I’ve always said if you sneeze around Stephen King, say, at the grocery store, he is already on chapter four from that “event” by that evening.

Great for writer’s block. Like I said, I can’t think of short stories. Not if I sit down and think, “I need an idea for a short story”. Nothing at all comes. I can think of plenty of ideas in general but it is my overwhelming natural instinct to build, build, build. Just look at how long this post is about a game! In this sense doing this game as a party activity can get my mind to shrink the material, as it were, since I doubt any guests will come over to listen to 10 hours of me expanding and expanding on two or three playing cards.

Similarly, it can keep writing as it should be – fun, an attribute that can disappear inside a project. Also the cards can come in handy in the middle of a project – nothing says it has to be used as the initial impetus to a story. Say you’ve written yourself into a corner, randomly selecting cards can unlock that while the usual brainstorm may be stymied. You could even use it within a story already written.

Ha! Here’s a variation they haven’t thought of! Take a famous story, choose a part in that story as the cleave, draw a card and tell the rest of that story with a new element thus rewriting some one else’s piece. I’d recommend this only for the party use as it is a waste of time to rewrite another’s work. Yeah, tell that to the rich Pride, Prejudice and Zombies author! I guess you can say that idea is used somewhat. If there is a zombie card in my game then this variation is being used in actual books.

The potential negative is complacency or reliance on artificial prompts. Ideally we get our ideas from the world around us, or, at least, a good deal of it from the world around us. But I think it still stands that while a potential great helper tool (and game), one should not use such a tool as a crutch. One runs the risk of their own conscious time, their own experiences, observations, interests and knowledge being sidelined in the initial idea generation stage which should be the main engine.

The idea of the game is not entirely new of course. When I was taking English courses way back (still have to look up the meaning of gerund every now and again) one of the exercises was to write a short story from a painting or photograph, or a saying, phrase, etc. In my case the teacher put up a photograph of a cat next to a gravestone. I wrote the most depressing, swallowed in despair, depressing thing he said he had ever read (and he thought it was poorly written!). He also said I went for the too obvious and missed the point of the exercise. What that was I cannot recall.

Of course as a game it is great, if you’re with the write sort. And it has value to a writer only to the extent of general use. That is, of an occasional aide, and to keep your mind acclimated to seeing things in story,

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3 responses to “Storymatic

  • taichiwawa

    Related:

    I know I have recommended this site before but it’s worth reminding you.

    It can inspire you, letting you know possible solutions to plot complications — or maybe which ones you might want to put a twist on. It is also just fun to see so many recognizable patterns of fiction, which may, in their variety of forms, have been hiding from us. It is a site to browse at leisure.

    TV Tropes

    • bensira587

      Oh yeah, you mentioned it on Friday. I’ll take a look at it on Wednesday. Right now my dog blew his back and that takes 99.9% of my present time.

      Dogs be loyal, but they also be stupid…

  • Having fun with The Storymatic | R.J. Wizard

    […] I explained in this post last month I bought a fun little package at the store called The Storymatic. Basically it is a giant […]

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