Monthly Archives: September 2012

SCAMPER Outside the Box!

In the 1970s, Bob Eberle developed a method of innovative thinking which employed the mnemonic, “SCAMPER.”  The theory is based on the understanding that all inventions are merely modifications of things which came before.  Which I hope doesn’t bum anyone out.  It’s progress.  It’s evolution.  It’s a new Veet strip which doesn’t actively attempt to rip your skin off.  Not that I speak from experience or anything.  But, regardless, the concepts it highlights are:

Put to other use
Rearrange ( or Reverse)

As you can probably guess, SCAMPER is particularly geared towards inventing new products and Ze Business World.  However, I’d like to volunteer it as a process for creative writers, too.

If you’ve picked up a book about writing lately, you will have no doubt learned that there are only so many story premises in the world and only so many basic plots.  It can feel like a major soul-sucker when you first discover this principle.  You will suddenly feel, in the words of Tyler Durden, that your story is not a beautiful or unique snowflake because somebody has done something similar themselves in a different genre or setting.

However, SCAMPER can really help you to think outside the box with your writing.  It can also help you to look at other books differently, and perhaps generate enough of a distinction that you can turn something into an entirely different novel.  For example:

Substitute: What if Bridget Jones’s Diary was written by a man, not a woman?  (Not as in it’s a stalker’s notes on his neighbour, Bridget, or that a man actually called Bridget is writing the diary, but you get my meaning.)

Combine: How could one combine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with The Hunger Games?  Would this be a preferable outcome for Foxface?


Adapt: Under what circumstances could the cast of The Only Way Is Essex become a crime-fighting squad of MENSA members who did charity work on weekends?

Magnify: What if Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were trained as a ninja and had a lot of clones?

Put to other use: What if Will’s knife in His Dark Materials cut through tough steak rather than the fabric between parallel worlds?

Eliminate: What if Bella Swan and Edward Cullen were not in Twilight?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Rearrange: What if Harry Potter’s parents had been killed by Voldemort during his time at Hogwarts in a cake-related disagreement, rather than before?

Who knows, maybe this tack of “modifying the pre-existing” could ironically produce something far more original?

A more detailed description of SCAMPER, as well as a list of related questions you can be asking yourself, can be found here.  Be sure to check out the question randomiser, too.

Now, SCAMPER away, my pretties!

It’s Like Countdown With Words In It

Before this week, I had struggled with the idea of writing prompts.  I always wanted to challenge myself and so went for several random words at once, but none of the random word engines I came across seemed particularly good or reliable.

When bunches of fairly easily connectable random words came up I began to wonder how astute the random word generators actually were.  I began to contemplate how many words were actually in these generators; whether all the supposedly random words in each group were truly independent of one another, or if they appeared in a finite number of fixed groups which just seemed to be random.

After all, I didn’t want to be the thousandth person out there writing a story about a squirrel eating metal sandwiches whilst trying to somersault on a motorcycle in front of swans fighting furry ladies.

But I feel a little differently now.  Partly I’ve just joined a writing course, which I think is helping me to look at everything as an opportunity to write.  I haven’t heard anyone’s work yet, but already a competitive streak is starting to emerge in me.  Though admittedly my competitive streak is not renowned for being entrenched in sound logic.  For example, I am irrationally competitive with Frank Sinatra because we share a birthday.  But that’s a story for another day.

Another helpful factor has been stumbling across a particular word prompt website which is totally fantastic.  It’s called The Write Prompts and has a variety of different challenges to try, supplying a new one every day to get you writing frequently.  I’ve already made use of several of them myself.

So in conclusion, my advice is to open your mind, push yourself and look for more unusual stimuli to stay motivated.  And by ‘motivating stimuli’ I do not mean arranging to being poked in the back every hour with an electric cattle prod.

Violent Typing + No Thinking = Win

Hi guys.  This week has not been without its challenges, but a lot has actually been accomplished.  My handwritten notes have been typed up into almost 4,000 words of work (apparently with such force my laptop would not be unreasonable to call social services when I am out).

Also, those scenes are only first drafts, so they’ll have to be majorly fleshed out as time goes on, meaning room for growth and lots of groundwork going down.  I’m still writing more scenes, which is great, and I’ve watched a couple of movies which ideally will put me in the right mindset in terms of plot structure.

I think there’s a lot to be said for writing the first draft before fleshing out your characters.  Only for things which are more action-based, of course.  If your story is driven by your character’s psyche you can’t exactly exclude them from the party.  But just getting bare bones down, which you know are going to need a lot of work, is quite comforting because you aren’t writing anything to which you feel committed or attached.  I write a scene and, if the scene doesn’t tally up with my characters for the second or third draft, I’ll reinvent, re-jig or replace it.  It means the creativity can just keep on flowing without me worrying in the moment where things are going to fit or whether they’re ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

I also find something quite soothing about going over a draft and editing it (albeit I am currently holding off until I’ve finished the first draft completely).  I feel like a teacher, going over the work with fresh eyes and thinking about what needs to change or be added.  Perhaps I need a red marker to better accomplish this task.  Is it acceptable to put ticks on your own work?  Or is it arrogant?  Or do I just need to get some sleep?

Internet, We Need To Talk

I never thought I’d become the kind of person who wrote by hand.  I’ve always been so paranoid about losing sheets of work, I hold my pen awkwardly enough to bring about discomfort after short periods and, okay, fine, I am a bit of an IT snob.  Plus, growing up, writing on a computer made me feel important and intellectual.  I was writing documents, after all.  Documents!

But then Broadband happened.  And YouTube.  And Facebook.  And Wikipedia.  And online gaming.  And suddenly writing on a computer became a very different game.  A game I have recently cut back on tremendously.

Charlie Haynes, runner of Urban Writers Retreat (yes, the apostrophe is meant to be missing – she says so herself!), offers a useful piece of advice.  She notes that writers beat themselves up about being so easily distracted, and yet continue trying to write around huge temptations in modern life.  What they need to do is work in an environment where they are removed from those distractions.

So that’s what I did: got out these old mysterious relic items called a ‘pen’ (from the Latin, peniferus inkius) and ‘paper’ (formerly an Old English acronym) and began to write.  And I’m writing a lot more than I’ve written in an awfully long time!

There’s also an anti-perfectionist edge to writing things out properly.  The Delete and Backspace buttons can’t tempt me into dismissing anything I don’t particularly like.  On paper, if it’s written, it’s written and you have to make the effort to work with it.  Plus you can focus exclusively on your project rather than constantly splitting your attention in several directions.

So, thank you, Charlie.  And thank you, archaic writing tools.  And thank you, internet, for not calling me back to you too relentlessly.

For anyone interested in writing retreats, online or actual, Charlie’s website is

On another note, however, a quick celebration of another set of milestones!  I have now written over 20 posts and have over 30 blog followers, over 50 blog likes, and over 125 Twitter followers!  Thanks so much to every one of you for your support!  It means so much that you would associate yourself with a nutcase like me!