Writing Someone Else’s Ideas

This actually isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’m not talking about plagiarizing here. I’m actually talking about writing a piece built around ideas you’re given.

A couple of months ago, a writing student approached me to help him with a writing assignment where he had to build the beginning of a piece from someone else’s reactions to a series of questions. (His story was well beyond my sense of good taste, but I went along for a bit, anyway.) It seemed to me an odd way to develop a story, especially since he really was trying to herd me toward giving him the reactions he wanted.

For a couple of days, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to try to write something not inside their own head.

Then I started organizing my writing list in preparation for my editing list winding down. The largest project on it: to complete my 2005 NaNovel, appropriately named A Deck of Plot Ninjas. I had no idea what I wanted to write that year, and in a fit of desperation decided to have everyone scribble ideas on cards, thereby creating a deck of plot ninjas. I had no idea what was in the deck. I had no story concept. I was just as unaware of the novel as I had been all along.

When midnight on November 1st came, I pulled out the cards, drew five off the pile, and started writing. Fortunately, the first cards provided me with a location and a main character, and the story just fell in line after that. (Unfortunately, the odd-year virus I seem to suffer from in November hit like a ton of bricks, and I didn’t get to finish that month.)

A Deck of Plot Ninjas is driven entirely by random thoughts in other people’s heads. I’ve named characters. I’ve built what I can around what the cards say. It was a fun experience, and one I’m looking to complete this summer (finally).

It’s by no means a conventional way to write, but it’s an interesting experiment that tests your creativity.


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