1. Don’t be lazy. This machine isn’t going to write your story for you. It’s just going to provide your parameters.
2. You can drink beer while working with the assistance of the machine. But cut the Bukowski crap, cowboy. You need to be sober when you’re doing the real work. This ain’t word salad or dream-casting or automatic writing or cut-ups. This is psychological realism, where you can’t hide behind fancy talk or transgressive posturing. You got to get people right, and that ain’t easy.
3. You have to go to the supermarket or the toy store and buy some dice. Or at least one die, but I don’t think anybody sells them that way, except for those weird 273-sided ones the kids use when they dress up in chain mail and pretend to be ancient wizards or whatever. Don’t get that kind. Get the kind with six sides.
4. You’re allowed to re-write this machine to make it more interesting in the way that might generate the kind of story you want to write or couldn’t possibly think of writing. Also, you’re allowed to rig the Ohio lottery so I can win it. I would prefer if you did this sooner than later, because there is crazy shit going down at my place of employment, and who knows how long before the gravy train stops, you know, bringing the gravy.
5. If you enjoyed this machine, please Paypal me seventeen to seventeen hundred dollars. I learned this trick from another indie writer, whose brilliance as a merchandiser I hope to soon replicate, on account of (see Instruction #4.)
6. The Machine will require you to roll your six-sided die at least once per prompt. Sometimes your choice will require a second roll, or a third or fourth or fifth. Get rolling. Write down your answers. Rolling papers available if you PayPal me $17-17,000.
POINT OF VIEW: 1-5 Subjective 6 Objective If Subjective: 1-2 First Person 3 Second Person 4-6 Third Person If First Person: 1-2 Single-I 3-4 Double-I 5 Observer-Narrator 6 Voice of Town Gossip (Plural 1st; see Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”) If Second Person: 1-3 Choose Your Own Adventure point of view 4-6 Ladies Magazine point of view (see Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help) If Third Person: 1 close 3rd, writer’s language 2 close 3rd, Jamesian central consciousness 3 Alternating close third, 2 characters 4 Omniscience, one focal character, free-indirect narration 5 Omniscience, many focal characters, silentish narrator 6 Omniscience, many focal characters, narrator who is nosy and opinionated as hell
POINT OF ENTRY: 1 Start where the trouble particular to the point of view begins 2 Start on the day something different happened 3 Start at the beginning of time 4 Start in the middle of the action 5 Start at the end 6 Start with a description of the weather If weather: 1 Cloudy 2 Rainy 3 Very Hot 4 It’s Like a Sauna in Here 5 Snow 6 Magic Hour
PROTAGONIST / SEXUAL IDENTITY: 1-2 Male 3-5 Female 6 Hermaphrodite If Male: 1 Gay 2 Bisexual 3 Cowboyishly Macho 4 Hemingwayishly Macho 5 Bookish 6 Nearly Asexual on Account of Childhood Inflictions If Bookish: 1 Lord of the Rings 2 Narnia 3 Alice Munro and Deborah Eisenberg 4 Roth, Updike, and Bellow 5 Blake Butler 6 How-to Manuals If How-to Manuals: 1 Do-It-Yourself Home Repair 2 LINUX 3 Sexual Know-How 4 Libertarianism and Tax Evasion 5 Poker 6 Winning Friends and Influencing People If Female: 1 Butch Lesbian 2 Femme Lesbian 3 Bisexual 4 Likes Nice Men 5 Claims to Like Nice Men But Prefers Scoundrels 6 Only Dates Men Who Would Be Played By Vince Vaughan or Alec Baldwin in Any Given Hollywood Movie If Butch Lesbian: 1 Owns a Motorcycle Shop 2 Owns a Beauty Salon 3 Holds Elected Office in a Conservative District 4 Writes Poetry and Raises Horses 5 Is an Accountant 6 Is a Stay-at-Home Mom If Likes Nice Men: 1 Wears Glasses 2 Enjoys Wearing But Does Not Often Wear Cocktail Dresses 3 Is an Attorney 4 Works in an Ice-Cream Shop 5 Scrapbooks and Performs at Birthday Parties as a Clown on Saturdays 6 Is a Deacon in an Episcopal Church If Likes Scoundrels: 1 Is Over the Age of 60 2-5 Writes “Memoir” or “Creative Nonfiction” 6 Is Married to Someone Else If a Hermaphrodite: 1 Is Greek 2 Drives a Porsche 3 Lives in a Mud Hut 4 Is a Professional Golfer 5 Feels Guilty for Drinking a 12-pack of Coca-Cola Each Day 6 Enjoys Thinking of Self as a “Metrosexual”
PROTAGONIST/OCCUPATION (Skip this step if occupation already established): 1 Working class 2 Unemployed 3 “Unemployed” 4 Professional class 5 Cubicle class 6 Something exotic If Working class: 1 Bartender 2 Dock worker 3 Preschool teacher’s aide 4 Plumber 5 Machinist 6 Janitor If Unemployed: 1 Stay-at-home parent 2 Laid-off middle manager 3 Lives in Detroit or Toledo 4 “Writer” 5 Retired 6 Has a Sugar Daddy or Sugar Momma or “Sugar Uncle” If “Unemployed”: 1 Drug dealer 2 Street hustler 3 Creative writing teacher 4 Prostitute and/or Pimp 5 CIA or NSA 6 Mafia If Professional class: 1 Nurse 2 Dentist 3 Attorney 4 Chief Financial Officer 5 Professional athlete 6 Architect If Cubicle class: 1-5 Miserable 6 Very Miserable If Something exotic: 1. Alligator wrestler 2. Works the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom 3. Runs escort service for wealthy widows 4. Intern at the Conan O’Brien Show 5. Writes tour riders for Iggy Pop 6. R&D for Lego
TONE: 1-5 Flat 6 Exuberant
SETTING: 1-5 North America 6 Elsewhere If North America: 1-5 United States 6 Elsewhere If United States: 1-4 New York 5 Someone’s Kitchen 6 Elsewhere If Elsewhere: 1-3 Long Island 4 Upstate New York 5 California 6 Elsewhere If Elsewhere: 1 Florida 2 “The South” 3 Texas 4 Montana 5 Boston or Chicago 6 Anyplace else in the United States (your choice) If Not North America: 1-5 An American Theme Park Abroad 6 An Actual Non-American Abroad Place If Actually Abroad: 1 Europe 2 Asia 3 Africa 4 Oceania/Australia 5 South America 6 Aboard a Greek-Flagged and Recently Pirate-Boarded American Yacht Off the Shores of Somalia or Yemen
INCITING INCIDENT: 1 Love Trouble 2 Sex Trouble 3 Love and Sex Trouble 4 Extended Family Trouble 5 Child Trouble 6 Other Trouble If Other Trouble: 1 Nuclear Submarine 2 Immigrant Story 3 Begin with Funeral, End with Wedding 4 Science-Fiction Obsession But Everything Is Earthbound 5 Horses 6 A Crime Submerged Rather than Foregrounded w/ Heavy Doses of Revelation-of-Self
Scene v. Summary: 1 All Dialogue 2 All Scene, Not Much Interiority 3 Scene-Driven w/Expository Set Pieces 4 Exposition-heavy, Some Scenes 5 We Yammer On But Nothing Really Happens 6 Virginia Woolf Style
Structure: 1 Single-Movement 2 Set-up/Payoff 3 Juxtaposition of Things Happening in Two Adjacent Rooms 4 Three-Act Structure 5 Five-Act Structure 6 Meandering Thing Possibly Written by Joan Didion
Ending: 1-5 Epiphany 6 Ends abruptly If Epiphany: 1 Joycean epiphany 2 Oprahic epiphany 3 Retelling of the Christ story 4 There is Nothing Good in the World 5 People die but humanity carries on 6 He left behind a stack of letters declaring his misunderstood love