Four Random Words — the plotting game.

Four Random Words

I could talk about my new Sonicare toothbrush, but I won’t. Instead I’m going to show you this writing game, where I pick four random words from a book (the dictionary is the default), and then come up with a plot idea.

Just for fun, today’s word source is the GrandinRoad catalog, which I received in the mail last week. They do have some reasonable furniture. (I gave you the link to a table I particularly like.)

Word #1: cleaning (The product is a steam floor cleaner)

Word #2: nailhead (Decorating an armchair, doncha know.)

Word #3: hand (As in, these windchime bits are attached “by hand.” Possibly by little Thai children who have been rescued from the sex trade. One can but hope.)

Word #4: batteries (Which are not included with the color-changing, light-up Easter eggs.)

I was tempted to pick something else when I got nailhead (yes, you can do that), but with the addition of batteries, all is well. And away we go…

Lupita Tenenbaum cleans houses to pay for her education in graphic arts. One of her artist buddies says that she knows this performance artist, Randall Lesser, who is looking for a housecleaner. Randall is a rich white guy in his 50s, with an invalid wife. He’s offering a lot of money, but he’s kind of creepy. You just don’t want to spend a lot of time talking with him. Lupita says that she’ll take the job, but her friend should say that Lupita only speaks Spanish. That way, interaction with Randall will be kept at a minimum.

Randall Lesser actually seems pleased that Lupita doesn’t speak English. The friend sets up the first meeting, and Randall kind of steers Lupita to sit in this armchair with all these nailheads decorating the front edge. Lupita’s artist friend makes a big show of translating Randall’s cleaning instruction into Spanish, and Lupita nods a lot. Randall signals her to get up so he can show her the cleaning supplies, etc. When Lupita gets up, she’s briefly dizzy and her hands tingle, but it only lasts a second. She checks out the house, then leaves, with a slight headache. She cleans the house every week, except for the basement, which is kept locked. She cleans around Randall’s wife, who lies in bed apparently watching TV, although she could be in a catatonic state, for as much reaction as she shows.

One day, Lupita is walking down the Pearl Street pedestrian mall when she sees Randall doing his performance art. He’s using the same chair he had her sit in, and he’s dragging people out of the crowd to sit in it, then doing a sort of stand-up comedy routine, although it’s weird and mocking. Still, it gets a few laughs. Then Randall pulls this one woman out of the crowd. She seems very shocked when Randall grabs her, but before she do much, he sits her in the chair. Then she seems to go into a trance, with her hands gripping the arms really tightly. No matter what Randall says, she just stares into space. Randall becomes kind of abusive and gloating, and the crowd gets uncomfortable and drifts away. Lupita goes into a store and watches through the window as Randall pulls the woman out of the chair and tugs her after him, around the corner of the block. After a while, he returns with a furniture dolly and carts off the chair, which doesn’t seem like it should be that heavy.

Can you guess where the batteries come in? Why the woman who sat down seemed to go into a trance? Why the chair affects some people and not others? Well, I could tell you, but this idea turned out to be good enough that I might use it.

Our minds tend to follow familiar, well-loved plotting paths. The great thing about picking random words is that they at least change the landmarks on the path. And sometimes, in order to use them, you have to leave your regular path altogether.


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6 Responses to “Four Random Words — the plotting game.”

  1. Pris Says:


    This is a fabulous idea. And your story… the chair, the nailheads… hmm, you got me intrigued. But, you’re Esri, and I can always count on you to make me laugh or make me think or both.

    Bravo on your new blog!! Can’t wait for your book to come out so I can rave about it to all my friends!


  2. Bonnie Frank Says:

    So do you plan to finish the story, or do we each need to try to finish our own story line?

  3. elvesamongus Says:

    You’ve probably already read the next post and know the answer, but I’ll put it here, too. When I get 50 people subscribed on my book update list, I’ll write the idea up as a short story and post or email it. Probably I’ll email it. Gotta figure out that Vertical Response mailing thingie.

  4. Esri Rose Says:

    Just to let you know, it’s May 1st, and we haven’t reached that 50-people mark on the mailing list. Which is kind of good, because I SO do not have time to write a short story.

  5. carbet Says:

    Gorgeous idea Esri !
    I wish to write a short film from it and from this process
    Can I? (to the short ?)

  6. Esri Rose Says:

    Go right ahead. I’d love to see what you do with it!

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