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Writing Exercise: 5 Words into Fiction

There’s a writer’s exercise I believe to be great fun (pretty sure I’ve shared about it here before). I highly recommend!

You’re given five random words by someone, anyone, and must fuse them together to create a vignette or flash fiction piece. It’s a challenging way to get the creative juices flowing, and it can be really satisfying to see what you come up with… even when it’s almost too contrived, as my example below seems when I reread it.

Some years back I was given the words binge, crow, foray, refract, and wile. (I can’t remember now who’d dealt them to me.)


Her hair, beautiful and harsh, is the color of a crow. This is by careful choice, and she has it dyed once a month, every third Tuesday. She loves the mystique of the hue, the way it refracts the light as a wile, almost like there’s some blue to it.


Image courtesy of khunaspix at

Noah would have adored it, and so of course this is why. It is for him.

It was a month after he disappeared that she first had it colored. His foray into nothingness, hers into vanity. Because it is the single binge she’s found that stills the hurt, quiets the shame. Eating didn’t do it; she felt empty. Not drinking; she felt a waste of herself. And sleeping with Noah’s best friend, Mart, only buried guilt in her stomach and in her dreams.

So it is also for her, the hair and the rest, with the primping and pampering and perfection. It all says she is significant and strong and courageous, that she is and will be okay.

When she looks in the mirror to see what Noah left behind, she is satisfied by what she sees and she tells herself, You will be okay.


If there’s one thing I like about this little piece, it’s that the character comes through so strongly. I like her found sense of empowerment, that she has a thing—a simple thing – proving that, really, it comes down to decision and perspective—that affirms her status of being okay.

Now, so many years after writing this, a wholly different person than I was then, I relate to her. I appreciate her resolve, and that she herself has claimed the way it will be.

Do you want to try? Leave a comment below and I’ll give you five words.

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?

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