Personal Universe Deck

Okay, this writing exercise was introduced in my college creative writing class, and I fell in love with it. Essentially, it’s an activity trying to get writers away from always thinking and pairing words or phrases in a rational way. It gets inspiration flowing by getting participants to combine words that aren’t usually seen together.

The exercise is set up with conditions, but you can make changes and do what works best. As it was introduced, students needed the following:

1oo index cards – something stronger than paper so you can shuffle and play around

100 words or phrases with the following conditions

  • 16 – Words to deal with each sense (touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste)
  • 10 – Words of motion (don’t have to be verbs, can be associated with motion)
  • 3 – Words of abstraction (love, truth, anger, home, etc.)
  • 7 – Words of your choice that sound good to you

Altogether you should get 100 words or phrases (one for each card) to work with. There are a couple things to remember for the original set-up of the activity:

  • Words must have significance to you
  • You may not use adverbs
  • You may not use plurals

Keep in mind this is the set-up I used in my class, but don’t feel as though you have to follow these directions verbatim.  This is a structure to get your list and set of cards going. You can always add more so you have more than 100 in total. You’re not limited by anything other than your own imagination.

Here are some tips:

  • If you struggle, grab a paper dictionary and flip through to see random words.
  • Pick words that sound good to say or are just plain fun.
  • Keep an open mind and don’t limit yourself to the rational.
  • Get a group of friends to do this with as it’s much more fun to create ideas with someone.
  • The senses don’t have to use words to explicitly describe that sense! They can words you associate with that sense as I mentioned with motion.
  • Keep a notebook handy to write down the combos you come up with! Also, you may want to borrow some words from your friends to add to your list.
  • Have and create something awesome!

This exercise was initially meant for our poetry unit, but don’t feel as though all you can create is poetry. I’d love to seem some interesting combos in fiction and will try to incorporate them myself to avoid cliches and draw reader’s attention. Your possibilities are endless.

You can use these to create:

  • Writing prompts
  • Poetic phrases
  • New ideas for description
  • Inspiration
  • Character traits
  • New objects/items
  • A cure to writer’s block (don’t quote me on that, not clinically tested)

I want you all to try this exercise if you’re feeling stuck or want something to break you into unchartered territory. This is definitely the exercise to do it! If any of you decide to try this, feel free to let me know how it goes in the comments below. Also, if you have ideas to improve this activity, leave those too!

Happy creating!

-Author S



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