Review: Susanna Leonard Hill’s Story Cards

I am just back from a vacation in Quebec City, one of my favourite cities in the world. I had a fabulous, fun-filled five days there!
Although I was away from home, I still continued to do creative things. That included observing the clouds from the plane for a story I have in mind.

The basis of a future story

The basis of a future story

I also played dress up at the Museum of Civilization. The museum had this awesome exhibition where you could dress up as fairy tale characters. I had a blast there. I even dressed up as more characters than my daughter! As I have written before, it’s important to remember to play to continue to light your creative fire.

Do I rock this costume or what?

Do I rock this costume or what?

Before I left, I met my local critique partner, Bev, for a writing session. We tried out Susanna Leonard Hill’s “What’s the Story” cards, which I won from Susanna’s Holiday Contest. (Yes, I meant to do it earlier, since I won them around Christmas. Just think of this blog post as a celebration of Christmas in July.)… Anyway, to read my winning entry, click here.
To read a short description of the cards by Susanna, click here. It is at the end of the blog post. The basic idea is that you use words from different categories (i.e., problem, setting, goal) to write a story. You can either use a story card that gives you suggestions or you can draw your own.
I had tried the cards once with my daughter. We had done a preliminary informal session where we had used the cards to tell stories orally. That was a lot of fun.
This time with Bev we decided to write down our stories. We set a time limit of 5 minutes for each story and did three stories. Instead of jumping into each story immediately like I usually do, I decided to take Bev’s lead and brainstorm first before writing each story. I think that her way is a great way to do it.
For the first exercise, we each used a different “What’s the Story Card” to inform us what categories to use. You can check out my picture to see my card choices. I accidentally replaced cake with birthday, but no matter. And my character completely surprised me! I will tinker with this story to see if I can make it work.

My selection of story cards

My selection of story cards

For the second exercise, we each drew our own categories. This was the hardest of all three exercises for both of us.
The third exercise was the most fun. We both used the same “What’s the Story?” card with the same choices. Not surprisingly, we came up with completely different story lines! Bev came away from that exercise with a story that she wants to use! Hurrah!
So as you can see, the whole writing session was a success with both of us coming away with a workable story. So I’m giving the cards a two pens up!

What I like about these cards:
They are very flexible:
• You can use as many or as few cards as you wish.
• If you don’t like your choice you can draw another card, as Bev did one time.
• You can brainstorm first or not.
• You can set a time limit of a few minutes or no time limit at all.
• You could save a particular story to work on later, as Bev did.
However, my favourite part is the category choices, and I think that this is the strongest point of the cards.

Who could use the cards:
Well anybody really, but here are some suggestions that Bev and I came up with:
• People who want to work on a certain category that they are weak in (One of my weaknesses is themes, so this will be one I will concentrate on.)
• If you have writer’s block
• For warm up exercises
• As a confidence booster: see, you really are creative!
• Beginners who think they have no ideas
• On a day when none of your ideas appeals to you

Any drawbacks?
Well none, really. The only time I struggled was when I pulled a card from every category. I think though, had I brainstormed first, it would have been manageable.

How do you get your hands on these cards?
Click here to go to Susanna’s website to order them.

Thanks, Susanna, for your generosity and for creating such an excellent tool.

The Importance of Play to Creativity

Tara Lazar had a recent post where Deb Lund wrote about the importance of play to writers. Deb mentioned that we creatives often think that we don’t have enough time to play. Yet, play is so important! It is a fun post, and worth your while to read. Click here for the post.
So do you take time to play? I used to think that I had no time to play either, but lately I have found myself playing more often. And I have found myself with more ideas as a result.
On the same day of reading the Tara Lazar post, I read the latest 12X12 post featuring author Roxie Munro. Although I am not a huge fan of apps, I do really love Roxie’s maze books, so I ended up buying Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure. It did not disappoint. Immediately after purchasing it, I spent 1/2 hour playing on my iPad, discovering how to navigate her complex mazes. Truthfully, I was trying to see if my daughter would enjoy the app, but it is just as fun for an adult. This is definitely an app I will revisit.

Puddle play in my snazzy new black boots

Puddle play in my snazzy new black boots

That same day I had gone out to play in the rain. Yup, I got myself some shiny new black rain boots, and I tested them out. I have a recent string of stories that relate to rain, and I needed to make some observations to make them more realistic. But why not play at the same time?

Certainly books are part of my collage

Certainly books are part of my collage

I am also experiencing a lot of play in my “family journal jam” course. One day, my daughter and I did a collage on the theme “What makes me happy”. Amy Bowers, leader of the course, later mentioned that in one of her writing courses, one of the activities was for the students to collage the theme of their book. This is a great way of adding play too! Right now the other theme to my stories is socks. Collaging socks would certainly be fun. And so would collaging rain.
How do you play?

Another Reading Game

Because she was overtired, my six-year-old daughter didn’t want to take a walk with me and her grandfather on Sunday. Instead of it turning into a power struggle, I decided to offer to make a “treasure hunt” for her to do on the way. She agreed, so long as it was a question and answer one with multiple choice answers.

I wracked my brain as to what sort of “treasure hunt” I could make up in such a brief period of time. So I decided to forgo a traditional one, and instead I made up some questions about the neighbourhood that she could answer.

I asked questions like “What is the name of the crescent across the road?” I also asked her questions about her neighbour’s houses and streets.

It was a great way to practice her reading skills while also having fun. But not only did she practice her reading skills, she also was able to hone her observational skills. At the same time, she got to know her neighbours and neighbourhood better, which is important for all children.

I was surprised at how many answers she already knew before we began our walk. But she also learned some things that she did not already know.

I am planning on doing something like this again. If you try it yourself, let me know how it goes.

Word games for readers and writers

Play is so important for both children and adults.  It is a good way to enhance anyone’s creativity. For writers play can do all sorts of things: solve writer’s block, create new characters, generate new ideas…

A new tool for me is the magnetic poetry series. This kit is great for when I am having trouble coming up with some story ideas or writing prompts.

There are many ways to play. I like making haiku poetry. And I never try to rhyme. Prose can sound just as lyrical.

My favourite way to play is to pick up a handful or two and see what I can come up with in a short time. That is, I try not to think too much about crafting a sentence. A princess dog bikes to a castle and gets mud feet? Could become a story.

I also like coming up with adjective noun combinations, ones that I had never thought of before. That “pink star like bird” may become a protagonist one day.

My daughter also loves to play. She really loves to make nonsense sentences, much like she loves to make nonsense words. It’s a great way to discover the beauty in language. But it also helps her to review the words she already can read. And at the same time she learns to read new ones.

So here are a few sentence prompts I came up with if you are looking for something to inspire you today:

1. Because a bug is family, a frog loves you.

2. I remember a ghost bird with no name. Together we always dug the summer garden.

3. I saw a wonderful balloon pig in the morning sky.

Feel free to use them. And let me know the results. Or leave a prompt of your own.

Solving writer’s block through storytelling games

I often lament the times that I am away from my writing. I chide myself that I should be writing all the time instead of doing other tasks. But in the real world, you do need to do other things besides writing like laundry and cooking. What makes me feel better too is that usually I come back feeling enriched from what I have been doing–yes, even if it is chores–and with fresh thoughts about my writing. Obstacles which I had been facing before suddenly become manageable. I have been using my brain for other tasks and new insights come from that time.

And, yes I admit that sometimes I would rather be writing when I am looking after my child. But at least she loves to play games. I loved board games as a child, and I never understood why people say “board games are for the bored”. That’s certainly not true. Most have a lot of value and teach skills such as cooperation, problem solving, and good sportsmanship.

One type of game that may solve your creative block while at the same time entertaining your kids is the storytelling game. There are several different versions along the same line.

“Tell Tale Fairy Tales” by Blue Orange has a set of cards with a variety of images on them, standard fairy tale images that repeat themselves, like dragons, bubbling cauldrons, and treasure chests. There are a variety of ways to play the game, but my favourite is where you leave the cards upside down and only turn the card face up when it is your turn. I find the richest stories come out of that way of playing the game. Otherwise you may spend too much time thinking about how you want the story to go.  If you do not want fairy tale images, there are other versions that you can play.

Related to that game is “Rory’s story cubes”. These games have a set of dice with various images on them. Roll the dice and try to come up with a story out of the cubes. There are also variations of the game. We found the actions version to be much more difficult than the regular version. Using verbs instead of nouns to make up a story is definitely more challenging. The game is billed for eight years and up, but my five year old has no problem playing it.

Of course, you can also play these games by yourself. Pick a time when you are feeling unmotivated to write and see what you come up with.

Storytelling is a skill that is underrated in our society. But really it is a building block to literacy. It is also an excellent way to engage a reluctant reader. For more information about how to integrate storytelling into your life, check out TVO parents.