Out of Ideas? Play Narrative Bingo!

Forget ordinary writing prompts — create your own!


Photo Credit: Lua Ahmed via Compfight cc

Word Museum has told you about how to find the time to write, but new writers often struggle with a different problem altogether: figuring out what to write. While most people write when they have topics in mind, new writers will often want to challenge themselves by writing about different topics and scenarios, adapting their writing styles and learning as they go along. More often than not, new writers will find that they’ve run out of ideas, and they often seek other sources for help.

The community over at GoodReads.com has some great discussions about possible writing exercises, and there’s even some mention of a Facebook page that gives creative writing prompts to aspiring writers. However, you don’t always want to go with the prompts presented by others, and when this happens, a short bingo game could help.

You might think that bingo is a game left to the elderly in nursing homes, but the game has seen an unthinkable resurgence in the past few years. Reports by the BBC have shown that the number of online bingo outlets in the U.K. have increased from 20 in 2004 to 350 in 2012, with much of the increase in popularity coming from the sense of community built in online bingo. As bwin.party explains, their decision to bring Cheeky Bingo to Twitter has helped them reach out to more players and maintain “strong player loyalty with friendly, engaged chat hosts who hold regular chat-based and social media competitions”. Bingo is becoming quite the popular game as well, with the industry making upwards of $557 million in the U.K. alone.

Many different kinds of bingo have emerged throughout the years, and you too could play your own version of bingo in order to stimulate yourself to write about a wider range of topics. First, make a list of 5 of the five elements of a story: Plot, Character, Conflict, Theme, and Setting. You can then arrange these into a bingo card, like so:

narrative bingo

Whenever you find yourself strapped for ideas for things to write about, simply take out your bingo card and roll a die for each element. Should you roll a six for any element, you have free choice over what to write about. At the end of the game, you should have a selection for each element, and the challenge is then to build a narrative fulfilling these elements.

As you go along, you can then create more bingo cards with more elaborate items, making for more complex storylines.

Stolen Moments – Finding Time to Write

Stolen Writing Moments

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Over the years, I’ve worked with students from the age of 6 all the way up to 92. The number one complaint I hear from adult students, and sometimes teens, is that they have a burning desire to write, but simply can’t find the time to site down and complete a book or even a short story. The number one thing I share with them is that I managed to write several novels while going to school part-time, writing as a professional journalist part-time, promoting authors and raising two small children. On top of that, I did a ton of volunteer work back then. I’ve since learned to say no and only take on the volunteer work that I am well-qualified for and feel I can help others through, but back then I didn’t know how to say no.

How Did I Do It?

You’re probably wondering how I was able to complete several novels during those years. It wasn’t a fast process and it wasn’t an easy process, but if you have the desire to write and to put your work out there for others to see, I promise that you can do it, too.

Steal Time

You don’t have to sit down and complete a novel in one week. Although I admire those who participate in NaNoMoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it isn’t a realistic endeavor for some people. Instead, find those little moments during the day that are wasted or where you can multi-task.

  • Waiting in a drive-through
  • At the doctor’s office
  • While the kids nap
  • While food cooks
  • When riding in the car
  • Five minutes in the bathroom (sometimes, this is your only escape from small children, but it won’t last long, so write fast.)

Keep notepads and pens stashed in these locations. You also will want to carry a few index cards and a pen on your person at all times to take advantage of these stolen moments. You never know when you might have a spare three minutes to write that next paragraph.

Remember It Isn’t a Race

The other thing that helps me to this day, when I often have hectic article deadlines and a promotional schedule for my clients, is to remember that I am not running a race with my writing but am telling a story that is dear to my heart. While I don’t have time to write four books a year, I do have time to write one really good book.

You do not have to write as fast as anyone else. You do not have to write the same genre, the same style, the same length of book. Write your story. Don’t worry about what other authors are doing. If you feel even the slightest twinge of jealousy, and we all do because it is human nature, push it away. Wish them well, congratulate them effusively, lift a prayer of thanks for them and move on with your own work. Jealousy is a waste of time and energy. You are special. There is no one on this earth like you or who has had your exact same experiences. Therefore, there is no one else who can tell your story the way you can. Focus on that and what you personally have to offer your readers.

Eliminate Distractions

What is your distraction? For some people it is television. I am blessed that I have always worked best with noise in the background. In some strange way, it settles my mind, which races in overdrive at all times, and allows me to focus better on my work. However, I have found that the majority of the population prefers quiet when working. Figure out which works best for you and embrace it. You may need to make a quiet spot in your home to escape to and write. Be creative with this. As I mentioned earlier, if you have small children, this may be five or ten minutes in the bathroom. Simply leave the kids in capable hands (husband, grandparent) and excuse yourself for a few minutes, until that little hand pokes under the door or the knock comes telling you that your time is up.

For other people, cell phones are a huge distraction. If you get so many calls that you spend an hour a day on the telephone, then you need to limit those. Why not chat for 30 minutes and spend the other 30 writing? Having trouble getting off the phone with a chatty Cathy? Come up with an excuse beforehand and hang up. Better yet, there are apps that will schedule a call so you can truthfully tell them you are getting another call and have to go.

Be Determined

The biggest component as to whether you will ever finish your story or not is whether you are determined to do so. If you really want to write, you’ll use these tips and others you pick up along the way and you will find the time. When you do, come back here and let us know about your successes.

Happy writing!


Karen Kingbury’s Redemption Series

So, here at Word Museum, we no longer take in books for review. It was just too much at a point as far as keeping up with submissions, finding people willing to review the books and so on. However, we are always open to a guest blogging about a great book (not your own or your best friend’s, please, but one you just truly enjoyed reading and perhaps don’t even know the author). Such is the case with the Karen Kingsbury books.

Recommended by Cheer Moms Everywhere

I had never heard of Karen Kingsbury, but some of the moms at my daughter’s cheerleading mentioned that they loved her Redemption series and that these books were set in Bloomington, Indiana. Bloomington… Home to Indiana University, rolling hills and about an hour and a half from where I live in southern Indiana. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I ordered Redemption, the first book in the series, on my Kindle reader and put off starting it.

Why I Sometimes Hate to Read Fiction

When you are a writer, it is hard to read books. On top of that, I am also an editor by profession. I see every error, every passive bit of writing and every plot point gone wrong. Yes, I likely make just as many mistakes in my books, because no one is perfect, but there are a lot of books published that I wish I’d never set eyes on. I put off reading the Kingsbury series, because I knew my cheer mom friends were going to ask what I thought and I hate to lie.

Over Thanksgiving, we headed to Alabama to visit some close friends. I went ahead and started the book. I couldn’t put it down! I know a lot of reviewers say that about books. However, when I can’t put a book down, it must be particularly compelling because of the reasons I mentioned above.

I read it from first page to last and was left wishing it hadn’t ended. Which, of course it hadn’t, because there is a second through fifth book in the series.

A Few Plot Details Without Spoilers

The story is about some pretty hefty topics and the books are Christian. The characters deal with everything from choosing to have an extramarital affair to dealing with the cheating spouse and whether that person should be forgiven to murder to lust to… on and on it goes. The plot was interwoven where you could see the spin-offs that would come from the other characters, mainly brothers and sisters from the same family, the Baxters. By book five, I was so in love with the characters that I actually sobbed as I read the end of the book. I don’t mean that a few tears trailed down my face, which is unusual these days anyway. I’m a pretty tough cookie anymore. I mean I curled up in a ball and breathed out those gut-wrenching, soul-wracking, loud sobs that I rarely, RARELY let out of my inmost being.

My only complaint is that one plot point was pretty predictable. You knew it was coming. You almost wanted this thing to happen. However, a little more suspense might have been nice. Still, all in all, I loved the book and the series so much that it didn’t matter. I wanted this horrible thing to happen anyway. Does that make me a bad person? Nah. They are fictional characters after all.

If you’re looking for a good, clean read, then Redemption by Kingsbury is an excellent choice.