Say goodbye to writer’s block

with this randomized story writing game that can keep writers engaged for hours!

Has your student ever struggled to get ideas?

Maybe they just sit there, staring at that blank paper/screen as the minutes tick by? Are there tears involved?

The Random Story Machine is a low-prep writing game that turns idea-getting into a game—engaging even the most blocked writers.

In fact, I invented this game during a tutoring session in which I had a student who HATED writing. Not only that, but he stuck his tongue out and spit at me every time I asked him a question.

After several failed attempts to engage him, I made up this game with some dice I had on hand, and he was suddenly totally focused on writing! And it was his best (and longest) story I had ever seen from him. On top of all that, when we finished, he asked if we could play it again!

Soon he was able to play completely on his own to create dozens of stories from a simple piece of paper and a 6-sided die.

In this post, you’ll learn how to play the game, how to use story structure to get the best results, and how to get more out of the game with several variations.

Plus, to make this easy for you to start playing immediately, I’ve included a free download at the end of the post.

How to play

Players

The standard game can be played with 1 player, but you can easily expand this to include a small group or even an entire classroom.

See “Variations” for ideas for playing this game as a class.

Skills Reinforced

  • Story Structure
  • Character and Setting
  • Other skills can easily be introduced as needed

You will need

  • 1 Six-Sided Die
  • Optional: The printed Random Story Machine PDF
  • Pencil
  • Several blank pieces of paper

Set up

Step #0 (Start here if using your own paper)

If you download and print, the Random Story Machine printable, you are ready to move straight to Step #1.

  1. If you are using your own paper, divide your paper into three columns.
  2. Write “Person” in the first column, “Place,” in the second, and “Thing” in the third.
  3. Number each column 1–6
  4. In the first column under the number 6, write “Action.”
  5. In the second column under the number 6, write “Problem.”

Your paper should look something like this:

Step #1 (Start here if using The Random Story Machine printable)

  1. List 6 characters in the “Person” category. For example, “Knight” or “Duck” or “Robot.”
  2. List 6 places (settings) in the “Places” category. For example, “Mars” or “Classroom” or “Dungeon.” They do not have to relate to the characters you listed in the first category.
  3. Fill out each of the other categories. Things can items or tools—something a character could use. Actions are things a character could do. Problems are any problem that could happen in a story: getting lost, getting captured, losing a diamond necklace, a volcano exploding (you get the idea).

None of your lists have to relate to each other. I have found the more random they are the better.

Here’s what mine looked like at this stage:

Step #2

  1. Roll 1 six-sided die for the “Person” category. This is your main character for this story. Write this down at the top of a second piece of paper.
  2. Roll the die again for the “Place” category. This is where the story happens (the setting). Write this down next to your main character on your second piece of paper.
  3. Roll the die once more for the “Problem” category. This is the main problem the main character will be trying to solve.

Your second paper should look something like this:

Gameplay

Time to start writing. Take some time to introduce your character and setting—maybe 1–2 paragraphs.

Where you go from here is up to you. The possibilities are endless. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:

  • Your character should be trying to solve the problem you rolled in the beginning, but don’t make it easy for them. Make them work for it by introducing new problems (you can roll for random ones, using the Random Story Machine).
  • Introduce new characters, items, or problems into the story by rolling the die for your Random Story Machine categories.
  • If you get stuck trying to figure out what the main character will do next, roll for the “Actions” category.
  • See the “Variations” section below to see how you could expand this game to create even more random possibilities.

How to get the best results

Think of the elements of a typical story and use the Random Story Machine to help write each part:

  1. We meet the main character and his/her friends (Roll for the “Persons” category for each character).
  2. We learn about the setting where the story begins.
  3. We learn what the character wants (Maybe this is a thing from the “Thing” category?).
  4. A problem occurs that is so big it moves the character away from the starting setting and into a quest to solve the problem (Roll for a new setting from the “Place” category).
  5. The character tries and fails several times to solve the problem (Roll for various Actions and new Problems as needed. Maybe introduce new Things and Persons along the way).
  6. The character finally solves the problem.
  7. We learn what life is like after the big win.

You don’t have to rely on the die roll. Feel free to make up as many details as you want, but the Random Story Machine is always there in case you need some random fun.

Variations

  1. Classroom Variation #1: Break the class into small groups and assign each one of the categories to brainstorm. Groups can then transfer their lists to a chalk/marker board for the whole class to see. Each small group works on the story together with a single scribe writing it down.
  2. Classroom Variation #2: Brainstorm each category as a class. Each student writes his/her own story. The teacher picks a student to roll the die at various intervals throughout the story-writing process.
  3. Create your own categories: Events, Villains, Accessories, Vehicles… (I’ve actually added an expanded version of this game to The Writer’s Sketchbook: A Volatile Adventure. If you like this game, you might want to check it out.).
  4. Use two six-sided dice so you can have 12 items in each category (well, technically 11 because you would roll a number between 2 and 12).
  5. Set creative limitations for the story: no violence, it has to have a happy ending, all characters must be office supplies, no adjectives may be used…
  6. Before playing, set up your Actions category to be the solutions to the  Problems. Every time your character tries to solve a problem, roll the die and see if you get the right action from the list. If you do, you can move on. If not, write about how the character fails and try again.
  7. Randomly pick three items from the “Things” category to be the solution to the main problem. Write about your character trying to find them. When the main character is in a new place, roll the die. If you roll one of the Solution Items, you are one step cloer to winning. If you fail, write about how the character fails and try again.