Writing a Novel: Make a Game of it
Discover many kinds of writing games to help stimulate your creativity and shake off writer's block.
Writer’s block can happen at any point while writing a novel. Maybe you have a deadline on the horizon, and you don’t know where to even start. Maybe you’ve encountered a plot hole as big as an island and figuring out how to slay that monster has sucked all the creativity out of your brain. Maybe your book’s ending is being elusive or simply doesn’t work any more with the way the story turned out. Whatever the reason, there are some imaginative and fun ways to take your mind off your troubles, stir up some creative juices and maybe even find a solution. Arguably the best way: play a game.
Creative writing games give you a framework to change up the way you think, which might help you find new solutions to problems. They warm up your creative muscles and take you out of your current situation. Fun writing games can help you sharpen your writing skills, allowing you to exercise areas of your craft you wish to improve, such as dialogue or descriptions.
What are Creative Writing Games?
Writing games are fun and small activities that encourage a writer to consider a topic in a different and unfamiliar way. They are meant to be short, inspirational and creative, with the goal of sparking new ideas and combating writer’s block. They can be played on an individual level, or in groups.
Playing with Characters
By answering a few questions about your character, you are forced to think of them in different ways and explore character development. These types of questionnaires take you beyond the physical and emotional facts of your character and dig into the day-to-day and find out what makes your character tick. What’s their favorite food? Do they like music? How would they react if they met a celebrity? What would they do if they found a hundred-dollar bill on the ground?
Try these “juicy” questions from Reedsy to spur on your writing activities
A Letter from Your Character to You
This letter writing practice involves writing a letter as a character from your novel, explaining to you, the author, why you should document their story. This game puts you in the head of your characters and can unlock their motivations and desires. Is your character sassy and thinks they deserve to be published? Or, is your character timid and not sure why anyone would read their book?
What’s in a Name
Write down your character’s name and tell the story of how they got the name. Why that name? Who gave it to them? How does your character feel about their name? If they don’t like it, what would they call themselves if given a choice? Do they have a nickname?
Usually used as an icebreaker party game where people don’t know each other, use conversation cards like these and apply them to your characters. Draw a card randomly and answer the question on each one as if your character has been asked. These writing activities can help with character development and get the creative juices flowing.
Take a Holiday
Put your protagonist or antagonist into an everyday situation. How do they celebrate Christmas? Or how would they react if they just discovered the holiday? Make them set New Year’s Resolutions based on what they’d like to see happen in the new year. What would they dress up as on Halloween? What are their thoughts on fireworks on the fourth of July?
Judy Blume tells her family members about her characters as if they’re real people. In this fun game, spill the tea to your family or friends about your characters. Answer these questions.
What are they doing?
Where are they?
How are they?
Who are they with?
What recently went wrong or right?
Select a movie or tv show and write a short story or scene where your character lands in the middle of the action. Have some fun writing your character in this situation. These writing activities try to keep you within the boundaries of an established story and forces your mind to find ways to integrate your characters into the storyline.
Playing with emotions
Pick your favorite food and write a scene about eating it. Dig into how you feel about the dish, how it tastes, the temperature, the best way to eat it. Do you share? Did you make it or did someone else? Connect your writing to the emotions you experience around the item of food.
Sometimes descriptions bog writers down. Try the fun game of creating a new space. Something that has significance to you. Maybe the new kitchen you want, a hut on an exotic island, another planet where milk products don’t exist. Write down every detail you can think of. Who visits this place? Why are they there? What is the flooring like? How does it smell? Are there plants?
In another version of these writing activities, instead of a place, pick an object that might go in that space. Describe it. How does it fit into the space? What is its purpose? How does it feel in your hand? Why is it there? How did it get there?
Simple but effective, Joe Brainard wrote a whole novel around “I remember.” Start a paragraph with the words I remember and let whatever pops into your mind come out on the page. Repeat until you’ve filled a page… or inspiration to write hits. Examples from Joe Brainard’s novel:
“I remember not understanding why people on the other side of the world didn't fall off.”
“I remember waking up somewhere once and there was a horse staring me in the face.”
Find something near you and write an advertisement for the object. Try writing for different audiences, like an ad for older children, people in their 30s, or seniors. Try a classical classified ad where your words must be precise and succinct (every word costs money.) Then craft an online classified ad like a dating profile where you wax on about the amazing properties of the object.
Playing with Words
Verb Noun Fiction
According to Stephen King in his book On Writing, “Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence. It never fails. Rocks explode. Jane transmits. Mountains float. These are all perfect sentences. Many such thoughts make little rational sense, but even the stranger ones (Plums deify!) have a kind of poetic weight that’s nice.”
Brainstorm seven nouns and seven verbs and write each on a piece of paper. Put the nouns in one cup, the verbs in another. Pull one of each out and have fun writing a short piece of fiction based on them.
From Beginning, to End
Pick two books from your bookshelf. Open the first, find a random page and on that page choose a sentence. That is now the opening line of your story. Take the second book and repeat the process. This is now the last line of your story. Write a short story trying to connect the two lines.
So often as writers, we focus on describing a scene as it’s perceived by our characters’ eyes. Try writing the same scene (or another one) from each of the other 4 senses:
Twenty-six to One
Write the first sentence of a scene using exactly twenty-six words. Write the next sentence using only twenty-five words. Continue removing one word per sentence until you get to the last one-word sentence. Or flip this game around and start with one word.
For some writers, dialogue is difficult to write. Find three containers. In the first, place sheets of paper with locations written. Any location. In the second, place slips of paper with your characters’ names. And in the third container place pieces of paper with interesting topics like songs, glass blowing, or historical events. Choose slips of paper from each container and write a dialogue-heavy scene based on those writing prompts.
Playing with Poetry
Write a poem
Poetry is a fabulous way to get out of a certain mindset. In this game, write a poem using only the letters in your name. Yes, you can use your first and last name. Maybe even pull in that under-used middle name. But if your name doesn’t have an “e” anywhere (like mine), this fun game gets creative really fast.
Write a Limerick
Tap into a different part of your brain with this one. Conform to a specific format and make everything rhyme. Typically, the 1st line introduces the character, often with “There was”, or “There once was” and the rest of the verse tells their story.
The 1st, 2nd and 5th line all rhyme together. The 3rd and 4th line rhyme together in a different way. The overall number of syllables isn’t important, but the 3rd and 4th lines should be shorter than the others.
Example from the Princeton Tiger:
There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.
Write a Pantoum
Another poetry game, this time write four lines of verse. The second and fourth lines now become the first and third lines of the next set. The poem can be long or short, but in the last set of verse, change the pattern so the third and first lines of the first stanza become the second and fourth lines of the last, so your poem ends with the beginning line.
A good example of the pantoum is Carolyn Kizer’s “Parent’s Pantoum,” the first three stanzas of which are excerpted here:
Where did these enormous children come from,
More ladylike than we have ever been?
Some of ours look older than we feel.
How did they appear in their long dresses
More ladylike than we have ever been?
But they moan about their aging more than we do,
In their fragile heels and long black dresses.
They say they admire our youthful spontaneity.
They moan about their aging more than we do,
A somber group—why don’t they brighten up?
Though they say they admire our youthful spontaneity
They beg us to be dignified like them
Write a Song
Not literally. Take the line from a song and make it the title of a story. Now write the short story of that song. Either use your characters and apply the song to them or create new ones. Why are they saying those words? What brought them to this point? Where do they go from here?
Playing with perspective
A different POV
If you’re having trouble finding inspiration, take something already written and write the scene from a new viewpoint. Maybe it’s the last scene you wrote, and you spin it around from the villain’s point of view. Or even an inanimate object's perspective.
Generally, stories are told from a beginning, middle and end perspective, moving through time in a chronological manner. Shake things up and start a popular story like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, but start in the middle. Where the bears arrive home. Then flashback and write until you find yourself back at the present. Or flash forward, slip back in time, and then write to the present.
Break The Glass
Got a passage you’re not happy with? Print out each sentence on a sheet of paper, cut up into strips and throw them all in a hat. Draw them out randomly and put them together in that order. A variation on this is to cut the sentences themselves into three parts (subject, verb and object), toss all of them into a hat and after drawing them out, try to put them back together into sentences.
You might have your opening scene nailed, and you’re committed to it. But what if it wasn’t the first scene? Write down six significant moments in your book. The big ones. One on each on a piece of paper. Next, put them in your handy hat and draw them out one by one. Play with the first one you draw as your opening scene. How does that change the story?
This fun game starts with selecting a letter in the alphabet and then writing a scene with phrases that lack that specific letter. For example, I choose the letter “o” and wrote that last sentence without any. Don’t cheat and use the letter “x”.
This game flips the rules above. Write a sentence using only one vowel. Here’s an example from Christian Bok’s book of poetry, Eunoia, using only the vowel “o”:
Scows from London go to Moscow, not to Boston, to drop off bolts of mothproof cloth: wool for long johns, wool for work socks.
Instead of focusing on one letter, why not try using the whole alphabet? A pangram is a sentence using every letter in the alphabet. The most famous one is, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
Otherwise known as automatic writing, the concept is to throw all the conventions of writing, grammar, sentence structure, style and form out the window. Instead, you jot down your thoughts as they come to you during short writing sessions. Keep words flowing uninterrupted and don’t pause to think.
For more on this creative writing exercise, check out Freewriting - Silence Your Inner Critic and Let the Words Flow.
Good for groups of any size, this is a fun way to write a story. To start off, the first person chooses a word that starts with A, the second person with a word that starts with B and so on. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, just keep the alphabet going.
One Sentence at a Time
Similar to the alphabet story way of writing, here the first person writes an opening sentence. The next person writes the next sentence and so on until the story runs out. It may be helpful to start with a theme or genre at the beginning to spur creativity, but have fun with it and let the story go where it takes you.
Split into groups of two and act like your character. Pretend you both have accidentally ended up on a blind date with the other person. Maybe there was a mixup with some reservations, a black hole or time machine that sucked in one of the characters or any other way these two would be forced to spend time together for 10 minutes.
Best for small groups of three or four, this game starts with the concept that you are your character and you’re going on holiday with these other characters. Each character is given a different aspect of the holiday to plan. Location, mode of transport, food and activities.
Have each member in the group select their spirit animal. Now write a scene from that animal’s perspective. Read it to the group and have them guess what animal you selected.
Inspiration from Kids Games
Tap into your inner child with these educational games teachers use to inspire young writers. If you have children around, invite them to play along. If you’re homeschooling, consider these as a means to help your child write new words.
Roll The Dice
Start by selecting a main character, a setting, and a problem. Write the first sentence of the story using these facts. For example, “There was a purple pig in a field who was allergic to flowers.” Have the next person roll a set of dice. The number they roll is the number of words they can use to write the next sentence in the story. Repeat until the story is written.
Get out the coloring crayons or markers. Draw a picture with a character or two. Or print something out from the internet. Get coloring! Once finished, add a speech bubble above each character’s head and create thoughts for them based on the picture. If there is more than one character, create a conversation between the two. If you want, you could do this multiple times to create a comic strip.
Map the Story
Since you have the coloring utensils out, use them to create a map of a fictional setting. Label the different portions or kingdoms on the map. Show roads and rivers and special territorial areas. Then write a story to go with the newly created land.
Sticking with the drawing theme, take a piece of paper and have everyone write a word or phrase on the top. Then pass the sheet to the player on the left. That player now has to draw a picture that matches the prompt. They then fold the paper over the image and pass it again to the next player, who has to guess the phrase based on the picture drawn.
Take a piece of paper and write each letter of the alphabet down one side. Set a timer and race around the rooms of your home and find items that start with each letter of the alphabet. Write down an item for each corresponding letter.
Start a story on a fresh piece of paper using two sentences, each on their own line. Fold the paper over the first line and pass the paper on to the next player. The first sentence should be hidden. The next player must write their own two sentences based on the one line they can see. Once finished, they fold the paper over their first line and pass the now accordion-like paper on to the next player.
Once there is no more space to write, unfold the paper and read the story aloud together.
Focus on the Details
Deceptively simple, this game requires finding a common object and writing it down. For example, a shoe. The next player adds one word to describe it. Black Shoe. The next player adds another word. Old Black Shoe. continue until you have 6 or 7 adjectives and then write a sentence using all the words.
Nominate one person to call out random words, like table, hat, kettle. Next, have everyone else write a phrase related to the word. The team with the most meaningful phrases on the chosen topic wins.
Ask The Oracle
One person asks “the oracle” a question and writes it at the top of the page. The next player writes their answer to the question, then folds the paper so the answer can't be seen and hands it to the next player. The next player writes another answer until the sheet is full. At the end, the first person reads the answers aloud.
Rewrite the ending
Take your favorite book and reread the ending. Now get out a piece of paper and rewrite the ending in a different way. What if the villain won? What if the main character had a younger sibling? What if the story ended in a party? Or a meal?
Playing the Game
What if writing was a video game? And by writing, you could complete quests, level up, and earn new clothing and weapons for a virtual avatar? 4thewords offers you the chance to do just that. This is a great tool to employ for writers who enjoy writing sprints, and gamers who like a sense of character progression over time.
Whatever You Do, Make it Fun!
Whether you pick a solo event at random or set up a brainstorm session with a small group of other authors, these creative writing games are sure to inspire and motivate. Games are an effective way to move past writer’s block and see your novel from a different perspective. Just don’t get too involved in the games and forget to get back to your book!