I’ve found a new form of short story inspiration that I’d like to share. It worked really well for me the first time I did it, and I’m eager to try it again.
(I just read that first paragraph out loud to myself and it totally sounded like one of those spam comments you see that’s advertising for some phishing operation. I swear, though, this is totally legit.)
Dixit is sort of like Balderdash, only with surrealist artwork instead of words. Everyone has a bunch of cards, one person chooses a card from his hand and says a word or phrase to describe it. The other players pick a card from their hands that fit with the word or phrase. All the cards go together, get shuffled, and laid out on the table. The players then have to guess which one belonged to the person who said the word or phrase at the beginning of the round.
So, how does the inspiration part of it come in?
I’ve always enjoyed using artwork as a way to get inspired for a story, but over the years I’ve found that there are only so many unique ways you can craft around a girl touching a unicorn, or a gnome riding a dragon, or a spaceman pointing a gun at an alien. Those kinds of pictures are in many ways very generic, and the inspiration that comes from them is likewise generic, meaning there’s still a lot of work to do on the part of the writer to come up with a unique set of circumstances.
However, with art that’s just a little bit surreal, it provides all kinds of inspiration for a truly unique story. When the picture itself doesn’t quite make sense, it raises questions, and as you answer those questions you come up with a story that is anything but generic. Under what circumstances would a little boy be smiling as he walks into a dark forest holding hands with a massive ogre? What’s in the backpack over his shoulder, and is it important to the story? Why does the ogre’s skin have what looks like coattails coming off the back? These are the questions I was trying to answer with the card that inspired my first story using this game.
The method I used was to sit down with my wife and randomly pull out a card. Then between the two of us we just asked questions, which I scratched down in my notebook, questions like the ones in the previous paragraph. Once we’d asked all the questions, we started trying to brainstorm answers. It wasn’t long before we had a whole lot of details for a really different kind of story. A deep story? Maybe not. An entertaining one? We’ll see once I have it all typed up and edited. Fun to write? Absolutely.
Go ahead and either get yourself a copy of Dixit, or go find yourself a collection of surrealist art and see if you can’t come up with some really unique stories.