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Writing Prompt 6: Story Spinner

6 January, 2008

The online Story Spinner is one of my favourite writing prompts. It’s great for anyone who freewrites daily but sometimes finds it impossible to think of something to engage the creative mind. Story Spinner comes to the rescue by providing complicated prompts that must be juggled into a unified story.

How does it work?

Go to the site, which has a Story Spinner wheel.


Each time you click on this wheel (not the one above but the one on the site), you get information in 3 separate categories: a setting, a sentence to begin your piece, and 4 words to include. Here’s an example:

Setting: at a tavern

First sentence: I felt so trapped.

Words to include: rock and roll, blizzard, cruise, reservoir

Then start writing.

The first time I tried Story Spinner, I vowed to write about whatever it provided on the first spin. When I read what came up, it seemed an impossible task to incorporate every element. But I started writing, and I was amazed how my imagination grabbed the information. I started writing a ‘quest’ tale, set in the Middle Ages. The characters and their activities seemed to materialise from thin air, with little thinking on my part. In fact, as my mind raced along with the story it wanted to tell, I found it hard to keep writing fast enough to keep up with it. My experience suggests that if we let our imagination off its lead, it can come up with writing that is both unexpected and engaging.

How to use it

This activity has no rules. Use it in whatever way works best for you.

  • If you try a few clicks of the Story Spinner wheel but nothing that comes up grabs your attention, try mixing and matching. Take the setting from one spin, the first sentence from other, etc.
  • If some elements are so foreign that they don’t make sense to you or don’t provide a clear mental picture (e.g. ‘Cape Cod’ to non-Americans), replace them with something familiar.

  • However, don’t get rid of an element just because it doesn’t fit easily into your story. Try stretching your imagination to find a way to make it fit!


  • Use Story Spinner as an exercise with your writing group. It shows that people can draw on the same pool of story elements to create quite different stories.
  • Take the words and phrases that come up and see where they lead your mind.  Maybe the exercise will take you to a new topic or give you a different take on an old topic.
  • Use Story Spinner to generate ideas for non-fiction.
    Let’s take the example I started with: tavern, ‘I felt so trapped, rock and roll, blizzard, cruise, and reservoir. You can explore non-fiction topics by asking yourself questions, e.g.:

    • How does knowing rock and roll lyrics provide a reservoir of information to help conversations?
    • What cruises go into blizzardlike weather (eg to Antarctica)? Who goes on them and why?
    • When do people feel trapped at a pub/bar/tavern?
    • Do people still use the word tavern?
One Comment leave one →
  1. 7 January, 2008 3:30 am

    This looks like an interesting tool, Marsha — thanks for the link. I was going to try posting a comment using all the prompts I got, but with ‘bagel’ and ‘diaper’ ‘in a dollar store,’ it was getting a little involved. It’s interesting to see what sorts of characters show up in these spare frameworks they’re given.

    It would also be great if there was a “Story Re-starter” out there. You know, spin the dial and you get different suggestions for reworking your story: “Try changing the gender of your protagonist,” or “Try telling it first-person POV from the viewpoint of a minor character… ” etc.

    Hi Greg, what a great idea!
    As a participant of a small writing group, I can generalise that people are prepared to change some structural elements (e.g. POV and tense), rewrite scenes, and kill off unnecessary characters. It seems less common after writing the first draft for writers to make major shifts such as changing the protagonist’s gender or who narrates the story.

    I like the idea of people trying out such possibilities using their OWN work, either an early story draft or a writing exercise. Much more interesting and educational than reading someone else’s examples in the writing how-to books.


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