HTMLGIANT INTERACTIVE FEATURES #43: Psychological Realist Story-Generating Machine (Reader Participation Welcome In the Comments Section)


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: Lord of the RingsNarnia 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


  1. STaugustine

      “6 Meandering Thing Possibly Written by Joan Didion”

      Joan Didion doesn’t write meandering things; you meant “Meandering Thing Possibly Written by Haruki Murikami” . Otherwise: funny machine and well done.

  2. Tim Horvath

      Hilarious. My favorite stretch, bumperstickerable: “3 Begin with Funeral, End with Wedding 4 Science-Fiction Obsession But Everything Is Earthbound 5 Horses.”

      Speaking of horses and story machines, I just read Jaimy Gordon’s “A Night’s Work,” (Best American ’95) which, as she reveals in the end-note came from using Stith Thompson’s folktale motif K2151, the corpse handed around. A tall order, that, but she delivers on it.

  3. kb
  4. Frank Tas

      I might have to tackle this beast when I get home from work tonight. Be advised I intend to use a fake die generated by the Internet. And the main character’s name will be Kyle, regardless of gender.

  5. douglas riggs

      My favorite result was landing a ‘something exotic’ profession: Escort Service for Wealthy Widows. When the inciting incident of ‘Sex Trouble’ came up I was kinda like, well duh. All of this happening in someone’s kitchen? Demands to be written.

  6. Frank Tas

      I rolled Magic Hour for weather. What does Magic Hour mean?

  7. Nathan Huffstutter

      Instead of making a direct Paypal payment, I ordered a copy of your book and I will read it. Thank you.

  8. Scobie

      Magic Hour is a cinematic term meaning the hour after the sun goes down before it gets dark; everything has a wonderful orange glow. One of the reasons Cimino got in trouble on Heaven’s Gate is that we wanted to film the ENTIRE movie at Magic Hour, which of course is why the film went over budget and over schedule.

  9. deadgod

      hermaphroditic metrosexual

      covering all the bases and superstructures

  10. Jonathan

      On the twenty-ninth, having returned from Wolfsegg, I met my pupil Gambetti on the Pincio to discuss arrangements for the lessons he was to receive in May, writes Franz-Josef Murau, and impressed once again by his high intelligence, I was so refreshed and exhilarated, so glad to be living in Rome and not in Austria, that instead of walking home along the Via Condotti, as I usually do, I crossed the Flaminia and the Piazza del Popolo and walked the whole length of the Corso before returning to my apartment in the Piazza Minerva, where at about two o’clock I received the telegram informing me that my parents and my brother, Johannes, had died.

  11. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Oh, that’s hella appropriate, though I was hoping it’d mean something much more rare/bizarre.

      Thanks for the help/anecdote! Second character’s name is officially “Scobie.”

  12. Frank Tas, the Raptor


      Subjective third person; omniscient, many focal characters, silentish narrator; female protagonist who claims to like nice men but prefers scoundrels; writes “memoir” or creative “nonfiction; “unemployed” but an agent for the CIA or NSA; with an exuberant tone; set somewhere in North America but not in the US; the inciting incident having to do with child trouble; the story yammers on but nothing really happens in a five-act structure [I am probably throwing out the five-act part. Fuck you, machine]; ending with an epiphany where people die but humanity carries on.

      by Frank Tas

      “I like these drapes a lot.”


      “These drapes.” Kyle shakes the white drape in her hand a little the same way she might shake the arm of a cuffed con. “They’re translucent. You know? They don’t let the sun get in but at this hour it lets that orange glow from outside change their color for just a little, so like they become a really cool orange.”

      “Yeah, yeah.”

      “Like the inside of a cantaloupe.”

      “EXACTLY like that.”

      “Do you know who designed the office?”

      “Oh, I wish.”

      “How did we get this building?”


      “We should know that? Right?”


      “The government has standards for its office buildings, you know.”

      “Maybe it’s because we’re in Mexico.”


      “And, I mean, we’re CIA, you know?”

      “I DO! I do know!”

      “Not a bunch of middle-aged fat Christian ladies doing paperwork on VA claims.”

      “So maybe it’s ok, we can overlook those rules.”

      “Yeah. I mean, does the landlord even know we’re agents?”

      “He better not.”

      “So obviously we couldn’t enforce the regulations…”

      “It’d be suspicious!”

      “Right.” Scobie, feeling the urge to get up from her desk, gets up from her desk. “Shit, Kyle,” she says while pacing. “Shit. How long do you think before we come down?”

      “First highs last long. I’ve heard we probably got maybe another hour or two.”


      “I know.”

      “I mean, I like the way this feels, you know? Any other circumstance I’d be enjoying myself. I’d never do it again, but this would’ve been a good idea under any other circumstance, any other circumstance it’d’ve served as the exact type of experiment we needed to help weed out mules or users or anything like that. Like, I like talking right now, Kyle. A lot. And you know I never like to talk, don’t you, Kyle?”

      Kyle nods in broad swooping gestures. “I DO! I DO! You never talk! I always want you to talk but you’re always so aloof, Scobie! I don’t blame you for it, it’s your right, as a human, an American, your right to be as quiet as you please at work, because after all it is work, not playtime, we’re not here for our own kicks. So having you talk is exciting! It really is!”

      “I know,” utters Scobie, still pacing the length of her office chair, “it feels good to talk, Kyle. Normally I don’t talk for fear of what I’ll say, will it hurt me, you, will I sour the atmosphere instead of sweeten it, and there’s none of that right now. I don’t care. All I want is to talk. I want to share all my secrets, Kyle, all my fears, and I think it’s because it wouldn’t hurt to say them because I’m so–” she freezes. “But I’m NOT HAPPY. I CAN’T BE happy.” She hammers her desk. “We CAN’T BE HAPPY NOW KYLE.”

      “I know, Scobie! I know!” Kyle’s hands are off the drapes and now they’re rubbing up and down her face rapidly, trying to smooth out the wrinkles on her face. She moans. “It’s my fault! Why did I choose now to do it!”

      “It made sense,” reassures Scobie. “It’s Friday. Closing time. The magic hour, you know. We were gonna go and get margaritas.”

      Kyle moans.

      Scobie marches over to Kyle, who is much taller than she, and Scobie grabs Kyle’s arms and compacts her body so that she might shake it in a firm but not too-overpowering way, enough to get her attention. “It’s not your fault, Kyle. How could we’ve known that the President’s daughter would get kidnapped now, at this exact moment. We just gotta ride this out and we’ll get to work as soon as it’s finished.”

      Kyle moans. Scobie goes on her tippy toes, speaking into Kyle’s chin.

      “There are agents asleep right now, Kyle. Think of that There are agents asleep in Australia right now and they have no idea of what danger the President’s daughter is in. Think about it. We’re doing more than they are. We’re not the dregs at this moment. THEY are the dregs.”

      Kyle’s head tilts resignedly. Her mouth a wailing wide Peanuts Augh rictus.

      “It’s not just that, Scobie! It’s everything! Every decision I make is disastrous! I can’t pick the right man, Scobie! You know the dealer who we got the coke from him? Remember his teeth? His edgy eyes? The pathetic blade he showed us? I wanted to date him, Scobie! What is wrong with me! I am a fit, attractive professional!”

      Scobie loosens her grip and turns from Kyle. “Get a hold of yourself,” she mutters.

      “Why can’t I just date a dentist! A dentist who went to Tufts! I’ve been asked out by dentists from Tufts, Scobie! They’ve purchased me drinks! But I always end up in bed with some ne’er do well!”

      “Take it easy.”

      “I even started a book about it, Scobie, about my romantic misadventures. There’re so many, you know? I could probably sell it, easy. ‘CIA agent always falls for the wrong guys’ is a good premise, right? You’d read that, right?”

      “Kyle, I’ve never used this word before, but I’ll use it right now for the first time, because it’s so perfect, and I’m so excited to have found such a perfect fit, but you are being a buzzkill. You need to cut it out.”

      “I’m sorry, Scobie, I’m sorry Scobie.”

      “I like how this works. I like how I can say something and someone else receives my words and NOT ONLY do they make an acknowledgment of what I’ve said, they make an attempt to alter themselves in a way that resonates with what I said. This is how communication is supposed to work. This is the beauty of conversation. This is a wonderful thing.”

      Suddenly the phone rings. Scobie answers it. “Yes, sir.” She hangs up. “They found the president’s daughter’s body.”

      Kyle, in the final throes of her sobbing, looks up timidly. “They did?”

      Scobie nods with bitten lower lip.


      “Under different circumstances I would say we ought to begin grieving immediately. But, given our altered state, it might be best to embrace the rest of our high, for research sake, and then grieve. There’s nothing we can do now that the deed is done, you know.”

      “You’re right.”

      “People die. The important thing is to keep moving.”

      “You’re right.”

      “We’ll get margaritas.”

      Kyle, face twisted by the onslaught of emotions in such a small amount of times, smiles. A few straggling tears slide down to end the mess.

      “Ok. We’ll get margaritas,” she says, breathlessly. “Ok.”

      [Drafted between 6:05-6:59 PM, Central time]

  13. Danielle

      TONE: 1-5 Flat 6 Exuberant

      How sadly accurate.

  14. brian

       She Ate 35 Marshmallows from a Bag in the Survival Kit

      1.) John called on the phone. There was the sound of screaming in the background. His voice was muffled.
      “What’s going on?” she shouted directly at her telephone’s microphonic pinholes. “Where are you?” she almost cried.
      Her name was Stephanie, I guess. It was hard to hear what with the bad connection and a third party breaking in on an overlapping bandwidth or whatever.
      John shouted with an index finger in his earhole. It was his finger, still connected to his hand, thank the lord or no one.
      “Steph!” he said. The way he said it sounded like “stuff.”
      He was calling from the middle of a video arcade. What was he doing there? Trying to break up with Stephanie.
      “I don’t think I want to love you anymore!” he screamed, the tubes inside his neck tumescing.

      2.) Stephanie was late or early or on time for work, putting on her clothes starting with something. She had a finger inside the straps of some expensive pumps which curved from her hand like pristine prosthetics.
      She finally slipped them on her feet in the cab, the driver’s eyes sliding up her bare legs to some upper part of her legs, which was still leg, almost.
      The driver’s name was Natasha and she spoke cyrillically into the space which was angled and expectant between them: “Where to?”
      Stephanie said the name of the college where she was adjuncting. It was not Columbia or NYU or Berkeley. It was CCNY and she taught creative writing.
      She wrote a story about having sex with the cabdriver while she rode the elevator. It started with them looking at each other through the rear-view mirror. Maybe it was a metaphor, she could say; but it wasn’t. It wasn’t anything.

      3.)Stephanie watched 48 individual eyes look at her like some kind of overocular monster. If she had a stick she might have popped them.
      There was a window open and wind was blowing in through it. Her hair flapped at the base of her neck like a cape.
      At the end of the period, she ran out of there, drinking water at the fountain and then sliding down the fire pole to the first floor where she flagged down a pick-up truck and hopped in its bed.
      There were bags of seed back there and she cut one open, spreading it over herself lasciviously.
      The seeds planted themselves in her body.
      “Every story should have a –” she had been saying as the bell rang. It seemed as true as anything else.
      There was a dog in her apartment. She thought she’d go home and stab it in the heart and eat it. She didn’t think that.
      Everything was coming to a standstill, including the truck at an intersection. She jumped out and ran through the clogged street. Car horns honked. It was what they were invented to do.
      She danced through them and stole a pretzel from a vendor.
      It all made sense to her, suddenly, like a tumor.

  15. Input/Output | Draft: The Blog of Process

      […] prompt to end all writing prompts over at HTMLGiant, a list of criteria and questions called The Story Generator which is activated with the roll of some dice. This is a fantastic thing that I’m stealing […]