Get Your Writing Gears Going: Random Word Association

Get Your Writing Gears Going

Get Your Writing Gears Going

brainstorming ideas & finding inspiration for fiction stories

National Novel Writing Month is coming soon in November! I thought this would be the perfect time to revitalize the Get Your Writing Gears Going feature I had started on Books That Hook.

Today’s post is about Random Word Association. There may be another name for this method; that’s just what I decided to call it. This is something I have done many times in the past. I have tons of book ideas, just none finished.

Even if you have some awesome ideas already, it’s fun to think of more. And, if you need some help getting started, this is one method that will help get your writing gears going.

How to Use Random Word Association to Generate Ideas for Fiction Stories

This method is what it sounds like. You take randomly picked words and try to link them together to create a story.

Exercise #1

Looking around my workspace in my home, I see the word ghosts on an XBOX 360 game, the word zoo on a computer game case, and the word evil on a book.

My first book idea stemming from those words is: An evil witch imprisons ghosts in a “spirit zoo” to slowly siphon their energy for a ritual to raise an army of demons.

My second book idea stemming from those words is: When an evil real estate developer tears down a graveyard to build a zoo, the ghosts have no where else to go but into the bodies of the animals. Angry at their fate, they plot to destroy the new zoo and kill anyone associated with building it.

What kind of story could you come up with that incorporates ghosts, a zoo, and evil?


Exercise #2

On the television, I heard the words: Indonesia, cats, and whore.

My first idea: An Indonesian whore who is afraid of cats is sold to a brothel in Egypt, where she must learn to worship cats or be beaten daily.

My second idea: While visiting Indonesia, a man befriends a whore and a cat. They risk their lives to save a group of tourists who are abducted by religious extremists.

What story ideas can you make with these words?

Another Way to Use Random Word Association

Rather than picking from things you see or hear, you can pre-select the words. You can draw from a hat, random sample, or select the words in any other way that makes them a surprise. For example, you could make a spreadsheet with three columns: protagonist (hero), goal (objective or challenge), and antagonist (villain). List all the things you can think of in each column. Then close your eyes and pick one thing from each column.

Or, you could put them in a database that randomizes the words to be certain you aren’t influencing the outcome.

If I had a protagonist list, a goal list, and an antagonist list and picked randomly from each one, imagine I came up with the following: protagonist=archaeologist, goal=rescue a child, antagonist=alien.

What kind of story could I make with those choices?

I’m thinking something like: An archaeologist discovers an artifact left by space travelers. He takes it home with him. Visitors from outer space come to get it back and he refuses to give it to them. They take his son hostage until he is willing to trade the artifact for his child. This should be an easy choice for him, but he has been getting sick every time he goes too far away from the artifact. He fears he will die if he returns it to the aliens.


Of course, not every idea you come up with will be good, as you can see from some of my examples. But, now and then, you’ll get an idea that you won’t be able to shake. It can fester in your mind until you work into an actual story or at least an outline of a story. Or, you may find that your imagination takes over and morphs the idea into something else. That’s fine! The whole point is to give you ideas. Random word association is just a starting place.

Did you come up with any good story ideas by using these words? Have you ever used random word association before? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 

For anyone interested in writing fiction, we have a writing resources page. You can also find posts about writing by clicking articles in the main menu under features.


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About Jen Schaper

In addition to being a book blogger, I am a mother of three children, a retail backroom coordinator, and a wannabe writer (when I make time to do it).
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