Totally Random

Writers! Get ready for something TOTALLY random, because this handy-dandy machine, constructed out of a simple pasta box, could house the perfect prompt for your next story. Pull the cardboard tab, and your prompt will drop out, ready to be elaborated upon!

You’ll need:

  • 1 pasta box with window
  • A box cutter
  • A bit of cardboard or poster board
  • A set of writing prompts
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

This budget-friendly pasta box project was inspired by a mini claw machine in my own house, which is also stocked with writing prompt scrolls:

Why do I have a mini claw machine in my house? The short answer is: the pandemic. The long answer is that my kids and I didn’t take our annual beach vacation last summer. We always spend a couple days in Cape May, including fun evenings at the Wildwood boardwalk. It’s our one and only vacation each year. It didn’t happen, and spirits were low. So I surprised them with a boardwalk in my studio, which we visited nightly:

I had tabletop versions of our favorite games (claw machine, air hockey, skee ball). There was a mini roller coaster, remote control mini bumper cars, and balloon darts. I also decorated the room with string bulbs, flashing party lights, and blasted three kinds of music from three different places in the room (techno, pop, and calliope classics).

To be sure, this amount of stuff was a splurge for me. However, the most expensive item (the claw machine) is currently enjoying a second life as a writing prompt dispenser. Oh, and the remote control bumper cars have resolved many a sibling fight (TRIAL BY BUMPER CARS! THIS IS THE WAY!).

To make your own random prompt generator, you’ll just need an empty pasta box with a window! Use a box cutter to cut an opening in the front of the box, close to the bottom. This is where the prompt will slide out. Above that, cut a slot with a little, folded down ledge:

Next, slide a piece of cardboard (or poster board) into the slot so it rests on top of the ledge. This is the cardboard “floor” that holds the prompts in place inside the box. Make sure the cardboard extends well past the ledge, so kids can pull and push it back easily:

You’ll also need to tape a matching ledge inside the box to hold the cardboard floor steady (otherwise, the pile of prompts will just drop out). You can see the little white cardboard ledge I taped inside my pasta box below:

Finally, make your prompt scrolls! Here’s a list Katie and I put together to get you started. Just make sure the scrolls are thin enough to be removed from the bottom of your box! Slide the cardboard floor into place, and load the scrolls into the box from the top. Done!

To operate, pull the cardboard floor slowly outward until a single scroll drops down. Then push the floor back in. Grab your prompt, unroll it, and get writing! Reload new prompts into the top of the box as needed. You can also add a facade on the front of the box…just make sure it doesn’t cover your ledge or your windows:

If you would like some feedback on that fabulous story, we have an email editing service here, as well as a one-on-one Zoom program here. And 50 zillion bonus points if you recognized the final writing prompt on our list…yup, it’s from our annual 350 for 50 writing contest, which will be happening again this spring! So stay tuned!

First Draft

This one is for the young writers out there! Would you like some constructive feedback on your work? May we humbly suggest First Draft, our library’s writing resource for authors-to-be? Simply submit your creative writing and short fiction stories via e-mail, and we’ll offer comments and suggestions.

Recommended for ages 9 – 17

We accept creative writing and short fiction stories…not academic works, non-fiction, school assignments, or college essays. Also, this is a resource for kids and teens (sorry, all ya’ll adult writers!).

For full submission details, please visit our website.

The Neverending Story

mystery mansion the neverending storyA mysterious phone call, a revealed trapdoor, a suspicious red envelope, a missing portrait. This is the world of “The Mystery Mansion,” a storytelling card game by Magical Myrioramas ($20).

Also known as “endless landscapes,” myriorama cards were popular toys in Europe in the 19th century. No matter what order you put the cards in, they always line up to create a continuous landscape. You can arrange the cards for visual fun, or you can arrange the cards to tell a story. The Mystery Mansion set has 20 cards, which means there are 2,432,902,008,176,640,000 possible combinations. That’s a lot of mysteries to uncover!

mystery mansion box and cardsThe set comes in a neat-o box that opens like a book, with the cards and 2 sets of instructions nestled inside. One set of instructions give short, enticing descriptions of the cards. Example: “He should be a loyal member of the household, but his face belies a bitter grudge…” The second set of instructions repeats the same card descriptions from the first set (which is rather redundant), but it also gives suggestions for various game play.

The cards are beautifully illustrated by Lucille Clerc, in a style that reminds me of Edward Gorey. They are printed on heavy card stock, so they’re very sturdy. Here’s my favorite. A bookshelf, of course.

mystery mansion single card There is no suggested age range listed for this product, but my 7 and 9 year-olds played with it quite happily. The dominant color is light pink, but that didn’t seem to bother my son one bit. The theme IS murder, so it might not be an appropriate topic for all kids. But in my opinion, the imagery isn’t too terribly disturbing. Here, in fact, are the 3 most intense cards.

mystery mansion three most intense cardsMagical Miroramas also has “The Hollow Woods,” which is very Brothers Grimm and graphically speaking, lot more sinister. They are also releasing “The Shadow World” this August, and that looks very cool – all sci-fi and steampunk!

This is a really beautiful and interesting set – beautifully illustrated, carefully thought out, nicely printed, and well packaged. It’s highly portable, and who can argue with the potential for endless narratives and stories of your own making? This would make a terrific and unusual gift for a reader or writer. Recommended!