Creative fortunes: a game for writers Reply

Here’s a game I sometimes use in the Creative Writing classroom to get students thinking about resisting the obvious when describing their world and their characters.

office items list

I sometimes chastise writers for using “family fortunes” descriptions. Family Fortunes is a British gameshow, similar to the American Family Feud.

Contestants are asked a question such as “name a sport” and they have to guess the answer that most people gave in a survey. So the more obvious the answer, the better. “Football” would be a good answer. “Roller derby” or “Nguni stick fighting” probably wouldn’t be so good.

But when writing, the most obvious option isn’t usually the best. It may be more interesting if your character referees roller derby bouts than if he plays football. So I sometimes play a game where contestants have to take turns to come up with answers that aren’t on a list of obvious choices.

For instance, I might ask them to name things one would expect to find in an office. Everyone stands up to start with and sits down when they’re knocked out. The winner is the last person standing. You’re knocked out if you think for longer than ten seconds, if you repeat an answer that’s already been given, if you say something that isn’t particularly associated with the topic (air, a ceiling, rugby balls), or if you say something that’s on my secret list of most popular answers. The list I use for the office topic is below.

Thanks for watching, and good luck with your writing.

The thumbnail for this video uses a photograph by Kennedy Library. It’s covered by a Creative Commons license and you can find more Kennedy Library photos here:

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