Five Words Into Fiction

Some years ago there was a meme circulating the blogosphere: Write a piece that includes five random and unrelated words you’re dealt by another writer. At the time I was blogging at my old home, Something She Wrote, and what follows originally appeared there in October of 2009.

My words back then, from friend Wendy Miller of All In a Day’s Thought, were contentment, water, childhood, grasp, and art. Here’s the vignette I wrote, fiction, a man’s story of artistic motivation:



People ask about my inspiration. Much like I’ve come to expect the attention of artist-hungry women, I’ve come to expect the question. What inspires you? And I have to steel myself before every show, bite the inside of my lip before I answer.

Of course, they pick up on the water theme woven throughout; it’s plain in every painting. But they assume it’s all borne of contentment, a man’s life spent on the lake. And they want to hear tell of creation spurred by deep, happy memory.

They’re right. That’s part of it, because I grew up at the water’s edge, and in its depths. It defined my childhood, my activity, the cool, smooth personality friends have long insisted is mine. It explains the fluid peace of my outer world. Fuels my art, too.

But what they don’t see, what I ensure is impossible for my audience to grasp, is the loss each piece represents. They’d never guess my work isn’t just from memory; it’s also in memoriam.

My brother’s initials are forever tucked away, whether carved into the fluff of a cloud, hidden beneath a boat stern, along the bushy tail of a treed squirrel. And in the twists and twirls of current, in the blue wisps of slight wave, I again and again feel the emotion of the day he died on the water we both loved.

Sometimes it’s too much. Other times, not enough. And I can’t stop, either way, because I’m driven. It is what inspires me.

It’s what I can’t tell them, those people who ask…


As I’ve been thinking about the creation of fiction again (after the hiatus I’ve talked about before), and considering varying exercises to get my writerly muscles back into shape, I was reminded of this meme. Reminded of the purity of creation through words, how fun it is to weave them together, how powerful a story they can tell. And I’m pressed with a feeling that I need to try this exercise once more. Have someone assign me a few words and use them to draw out a premise, or excerpt. I think this time, I’ll use the brand new character who’s recently come to mind, and bend the words to her story. It’ll be so fun, and rewarding, too, I think.

So, I’m on it.

If you’re a writer, have you tried this exercise in the past? If you’d like to now, tell me in the comments. I’ll toss you five words.

If you’re not a writer—what are you waiting for?!—but were to sit down and begin to write, anything, what kind of approach would you take?


About Janna

writer, editor, marketing assistant, resume consultant, mom, wannabe philosopher, advocate, and possibilitarian / you can call me Janna

Posted on July 3, 2013, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. What a lovely story you weaved, Janna. It’s a great idea to get those juices flowing, as you said. I enjoyed that.

    • Janna Qualman

      Thank you, Patti! I lucked out with the words Wendy gave me, somehow they formed into this story without too much frustration or manipulation.

      The exercise is a fun way to involve family, too. I’ve had my older daughter, who is ten and interested in creative writing, give me five words to work from, and she likes seeing how her initial suggestions take form.

  2. Your writing is beautiful, Janna. It makes me question my own abilities. I remember doing this exercise in college during the one creative writing course I took. (Journalism majors were discouraged from stepping over to the creative side. I’ve often thought that was a mistake.) Anyway, my story ended up a three page scene that would have been a great YA story today. I’m pretty sure one of the words was pom-pom (no lie!) and, thus, I wrote about cheerleaders. It might have been a little snarky, too. 😉 Thanks for the reminder. BTW, your writing doesn’t seem to need much polishing. Jump right back in!

  3. Janna Qualman

    Oh wow, you’ve said some very kind things, Tracy. Thank you! I appreciate your encouragement, too. I think you’re exactly right, I just need to jump back on the saddle, put the work in and believe in myself. A solid novel premise—the first in months and months—came to me this week, and so I’m getting started on it.

    Have you thought about writing YA? Maybe that old story is a good place to start. 🙂

  4. Christy Hayes

    Beautiful, Janna, just beautiful. If your premise has arrived, you are more than ready. After reading that, I’ll be your first buyer!

    • Janna Qualman

      Christy, thank you, your encouragement, too, is so appreciated. You ladies are bolstering my resolve to get back to it!

  5. Janna, your piece is absolutely wonderful and makes me want to read more about this person. Count me in the lineup for your book when you publish! As far as joining in on the meme, all of my words are devoted to my WIP, thankfully. 🙂

    And I’m thrilled you have a new story in your head. When you’re ready to share, I can’t wait to hear more about it.

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