A Writer’s Emergency Fiasco (writing exercise mash-up)

(Update: Click here for a table of content page regarding this project.)

The Idea

Personal writing challenges are great. Finding one that suits myself, though, sucks.

Right now, I’m in the finishing stages of the first draft (or 0 draft) of my supernatural action-thriller novel. I’m at the point in the narrative, where I seeded all the cool stuff, blew up a bunch of things, had drama and action and loss and terror, and now I somehow have to tie it all up and make sense of it all. Fresh stories are great because you can do whatever the hell you want. Almost 70,000 words in, you’re committed, and shit needs to fall into place already.

What I have learned about my writing at this stage is that I really don’t have a clue what I’m doing. That’s not a bad thing–really, it could be worse. I’m throwing down words, smithing together scenes and closing chapters. I think–think–the story not a bad overall idea (the truth about the worth of the current story will show in the first real edit I’m already dreading). However, I find myself lacking a certain vision from time to time–especially when I feel that the current point of the narrative is lacking, and would I be the reader, I’d turn away now. You know, the point when you need to hook them again. When you need to make them crave, not starve, but hunger for more. Sometimes it takes me several days of not-writing to just *think* about how to up the pace again. How to make things naughty, make the reader want to look away in disgust, but not able to because of our all too human morbid curiosity.

You know–how to make it twist.

I recently received a product called “The Writer Emergency Pack“, designed by Quote-Unquote Press. It’s a self-help deck of cards to get back inspiration, funded through Kickstarter, and very well designed. I’ll talk about it a little more in a minute.

I also own a copy of the game “Fiasco“. A GM-less RPG, brought to you by Bully Pulpit Games.

So, what’s the idea here? I want to use both Fiasco and the Emergency Deck to create and produce a narrative (length as of yet not determined).

How am I going to do that? I’ll get to that. First, let me tell you a little bit about both products. If you’re already familiar with either one of them, feel free to skip that part of the post. I won’t tell you anything you didn’t already know, and probably forget half of it anyways.

The Writer Emergency Pack

by Quote-Unquote Press

Writer's Emergency Pack by Quote-Unquote Press
Writer’s Emergency Pack by Quote-Unquote Press

The pack is a neat, simple idea to get out of the dreaded Writer’s Block being stuck in your narrative. It consists of two decks of 26 cards each. The first deck, numbered 1 – 26, offers 26 different ways to think of where to take your story next with three different aids: A catch-phrase, a short text illuminating the idea of that phrase, and a picture with all sorts of things going on around the same idea. You shuffle the deck, focus on the moment in your narrative that causes you trouble, and randomly pick a card from the deck. That card’s meant to inspire you right away, triggering ideas, pictures, moments to steer your characters and narrative.

Matching each idea-card is a corresponding detail card in the second deck, also numbers 1 – 26 to easily find the match. Those cards are double sided, with one side containing a detailed explanation of the thought behind the matching idea-card, and the other side offering a few easy writing exercises around the concept of the card, pitching settings and interesting twists to apply to your story and characters to get you thinking.

Often, the results of the random cards might not actually match what you’re looking for in your story, but it might just get you thinking enough about it to get back on track—or it might actually give a brand-new approach, letting you come up with ideas you wouldn’t have thought of before.

For example, idea-card #1 is called Cause and Effect, saying, “Actions have consequences. How can the next few events result because of something the hero does?”

The corresponding detail-card explains further that “Everything happens for a reason. Usually, that reason should be the hero[…]” And so on. The back of the detail-card offers ideas like, “Talk through your story, replacing every ‘and then’ with ‘because.’ What would need to change.”

As you can see, the cards don’t tell you what to write, but what you could try you to keep on writing.

You can get more information from their Kickstarter–and though their campaign ended (successfully), and there isn’t a way to buy new decks after the fact, they are talking about offering them for sale eventually, letting you sign up on their website for a newsletter to stay in the loop.

by Bully Pulpit Games

Fiasco by Bully Pulpit Games

The best way to explain Fiasco is to quote the games description on Bully Pulpit Games Website:

Fiasco is a game about ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably all go south in a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination.

It’s a GM-less game for 3-5 players, using a set number of dice to roll out random elements of the story. In turn, each player chooses on of the rolled dice, and applies its result on one of several tables (based on an agreed upon playset)–relationships between the characters, or elements important to the relationships (such as objects, needs, locations). Since you can’t control the dice, and you don’t know what each player will end up choosing on their turn (though, co-op creation is surely encouraged), you have no way of knowing just what sort of Fiasco you’ll be getting into this time. And the ideas and inspirations come naturally as the elements of your story begin to filter through.

Players then each play out a scene, which they either set up, but can’t control the nature of the outcome (good or bad for their character), or with the control of the outcome, but set up by the other players. There’s not a lot of technical stuff to the game, and the focus is heavy on the role-play and narrative, so I won’t go into detail with all the rules here.

Needless to say, the games always end up in a Fiasco (see what I did there?)

If you’d like to see the game in action, I recommend watching Geek & Sundry’s Tabletop Episode, where Wil Wheaton and Guests play a round of Fiasco in two parts (plus an extra part for the initial setup). It’s extremely funny and gives you a good idea of what a game of Fiasco is all about.

Back to the Idea


Here is how it’s going to go down (subject to change without notice):

I’ll be using the normal Fiasco rules to create three (3) or four (4) characters, their relationships and important elements, as per normal rules (dice and everything). I’m not settled on a playset, yet, but will most likely go with one from the core book. After I did all the technical stuff, I’ll write a little about what I think is going on at the beginning of the narrative, talk about the characters a little bit, and what I can see will happen. Of course, I will log in detail what I rolled and how I applied the dice and why I did so.

Most likely, I’ll keep the structure of Fiasco during my narrative-two acts, giving each character two scenes per act, and rolling on a tilt table between act 1 and 2. After all, it’s a clever and simple way to keep structure, which is the point of this exercise.

Maybe I change it up a little. I’ll see when I get closer to setting this up.

Either way, after I established the initial conditions of the narrative, I will pull a card from the Emergency Deck. No cheating. I will then go ahead and write the each scene with that card in mind, effectively creating a new turn and twist in every scene. I’m not settled on whether I draw a new cart for every new scene (since it might be a little too much for tension, though I don’t think there’s such  thing as too much), or change the card with every new “round” (given that I keep Fiasco’s narrative structure).


That is the basic framework of my exercise:

  • Create a setting with characters and their details using the Fiasco Rules
  • Draw Emergency Cards through the narrative to steer things in interesting or unexpected ways.

Pretty straight forward, no?

To add a little spice to the whole thing, I will stay a moment with each drawn card as it comes up. First, I will show the card, telling you about what the idea and details are, and then talk about what first comes to mind, what creative paths it sets me on, and how I see it fit into the current story. I might do that in a separate behind-the-scenes post, or at the top/bottom of the story itself. See what looks better.

The Goal

I’m aiming for several things.

Create a cool story. After all, that’s what a writer does, right?

Dust off the old blog. I’m a terrible online person. Maybe this will teach me how to commit to regular posts and stuff.

Follow my own creative process, hopefully learning something. The main reason for all of this is to step back and look at my own process, see where I can do better, see what I do best–and do so as it all happens, not after the fact (as is the case in my current project).

Write outside my comfort zone. Since I don’t know what’s going to happen, and a lot is left to chance and random numbers, chances are i end up writing things I usually don’t come near. We’ll see, and I’m excited to go there.


I’m working on a novel right now, and once the last few words are in, I will go over the whole damn thing and edit the crude parts (such as commas and dots and one particular chapter that I know for weeks has to change completely). During that time, I can’t commit to this project too much, and I don’t know how regular I’m going to post about it.

Should I actually manage to finish draft 0.1 of that novel, I’ll do what any sane person does and step away from it for a week or two, let it cool off while my head airs out. In that time, I should be able to commit to this here project more.

I said it. Hold me accountable.

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