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Journaling for Creativity.

Journaling games: The story in a title

This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Journaling for Creativity and the writer's notebook. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone needing to be creative.

Introduction Contents Techniques About Method Games for Creative Development The Story in the Title

Journaling for Creativity: The story in the title

The game

The ‘Story in a title’ game is a small never ending game that can be picked up or put down at almost any time. It is a game of adding potential titles for possible stories to an ever growing list in the back of your creative journal.


What sets it aside from being just a list of titles is the requirement for each title to ‘tell a story’.



About the game

This is a game dedicated to Don Murray with an acknowledgment to Will Terrell for his insights on what attracts human attention.

Don Murray proposed that writers should keep day books, otherwise known as writer’s journals or writer’s notebooks. Don, amongst other things, filled his day books with lists, loads of lists. One of which was a list of potential titles for future stories.


All of which is good, but as Will Terrell explains in his video, a simple change can make a title far more memorable.

In his video Will states;

“I want to talk about a secret technique you can use to instantly make your work a hundred times more enjoyable … to whoever it is who sees your artwork …  The secret is – tell stories with your drawings- (2:35)

“…People look at a nice drawing and they are ‘yeah, hmm, right’ but then they forget about it the moment they have absorbed it … Whereas, if you tell a story it sticks with them for a long time.” (4:00)





What Will has realised is that if a piece of work tells a story, it gathers more interest from a viewer and continues to be present in their minds for longer than items that don’t tell a tale; be it a drawing or a title, one evoking a story is far more compelling to the viewer.


Does this mean the title has to be long? Not at all, there are examples of very short titles.

Consider the two word title on Terry Pratchett’s book above. Here, two simple words ‘Equal Rites’ are juxtaposed between the reader’s knowledge of women’s rights, animal rights, gay rights, human rights, and the ‘rites’ as performed in the occult arts. The viewer assumes most of the story implied by those two words. Admittedly, Josh Kirby’s wonderful cover art is also telling a story, so it’s no wonder that his books leave the shelves so quickly.


How to play

Make a new working entry and write your initial thoughts for a new book title. At this time it does not have to tell a story, that’s where the game comes in.

Then, for each word in the title, create separate cluster diagrams to discover all the associations each word carries in your creative-mind.

Sit quietly for a minute and scan all the cluster diagrams at the same time. Allow the associations to mingle together in your mind for a while before moving on to the next step.

Now reconsider your initial title. Does it tell a story, can you use some of the associations to tell a better story, can you shorten it, add something, make it emotive, or do you just want to throw it away? Work on your title until you are happy with it and when you are, add it to a list of possible titles somewhere near the back of your journal (or the front if that’s your preference).


Each of these new titles may be used as an imaginative journaling prompt. To do this, read one of your titles aloud a few times, in order to kick-start your creative process, and then imagine a basic story outline that would work with such a title.

Once you have it, compress the story outline into a one or two paragraph summary of the type normally found on the jacket of a book.

Remember, you don’t need to know the story before generating the title. In this case, the cart most definitely can go before the horse.

Finally, a mention about bookshops. The next time you are in a bookshop run your eye along the shelves and see if there are any titles that stick out. Also, see if there are any you think you could improve. There is no rule saying you can’t harvest ideas from other author’s titles, especially if you can improve on what they have produced.


The purpose of the game

The game of thinking up titles, gives practice in crafting compelling titles for projects, and compelling titles give your books a better chance to be selected than their bland shelf-mates.

The titles can also, as mentioned above, be used as journaling prompts for imaginative sessions and for breaking writer’s block.

Occasionally, some of your titles may germinate and grow into a complete story, in the same way that “Pirates of the Caribbean” grew from being just the name of a Disneyland ride into a new story.



Photo credit: Bookcover, Equal Rites, by Josh Kirby.

"Journaling games: The story in a title" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Types of Entry: Recording things – Questions

Journaling for creativity is a process, and perhaps the most obvious indicator that you are involved in a process, and not producing a product, is when you record questions in your journal.

These may be questions for you to answer or questions in need of answers from someone else.

Whether they are queries on your fictional characters or contemplations about real people, the whys, hows, whats and wheres will always keep occurring, and until you know an answer what better place to keep the question current than your journal.

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Mind training games: Complete the story

This week I thought I would continue the recent trend of creativity games that can be played with friends. Today’s game is not a journaling game per se, because there is no involvement of your creative journal whilst playing the game.

However, there is nothing to stop you making an entry in your journal afterwards to capture the best bits.

The game is a story telling game with very simple rules. Yet, despite being simple, these rules automatically build in frustration and social competition; a combination which makes it a very creative and rewarding game when played with like-minded companions.

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Recording things: Emotions and thoughts

The few occasions where very strong emotions are expressed will test the extent of your active observation skills.

In writing circles the mantra “to show, not tell” resounds; we are constantly being told to demonstrate to the reader what our character is feeling, not tell the reader what emotions are being experienced by our characters.

So when you encounter anguish, rage, joy, despair, ecstasy, love, shock, etc. it is very important that you record exactly how these emotions are expressed by the people experiencing them. Do not restrict yourself to just the facial emotions, but instead, soak up the range of emotional indicators demonstrated by the whole body and persona of the individual.

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Journal word games: Perpetual journal prompts

This game is in two parts. The first part takes a few minutes to do, once a week and the second part is done once a day for seven days and then repeats. Once you’re into the habit of playing this game, you should never need to subscribe to a daily journaling prompt program ever again.

The game lends itself to becoming a regular 20 minute journaling slot and part of your daily routine.

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Types of Entry: Recording things: Snippets of dialogue

Journals are great places for saving overheard snippets of dialogue. People often say the most interesting things or even uninteresting things but said in interesting ways.

If you ‘tune-in’ to the people around you, they will reward you with a wonderful and never ending selection of sayings, idioms, slang, phrases and profanity; some of which will be worth keeping in your creative journal for later use or inspiration.

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Mind training games: Finding physical similes

This week’s game is one of the really enjoyable, fun games that can fill any odd moment. If played in your journal by yourself, it makes for a satisfying diversion or it can be a pleasurable social game played amongst friends.
How to play. Look at your surroundings and for the items there identify other things that have similar physical characteristics.
In other words find physical similes of the original object.
Which is easy until you strech yourself into all the abstract possibilities.

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Are you able to help?

My apologies. This week, instead of putting up a post, I am asking all of you for a little help; especially from anyone who uses a mobile device to read this website.

We have become aware, that on many mobile phones, this website looks….

Well, it either doesn’t display anything at all or it looks really rubbish!


So, after some quick and desperate measures we have found and installed some software that detects when you are viewing the site from a mobile device.
If you are viewing this on a mobile, please give us your thoughts by filling in the poll below. It should only take a few seconds, and the results will be of huge use to making the site function correctly. We have tested the new software on all the mobiles we have available, but there are so many and to test it on all of them is beyond our capabilities.

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Journaling word games: Varying the focal length

Today’s game borrows a technique from the photographic arts. In this game we attempt to either draw in or distance our reader from the action, by considered use of viewpoint.

The game involves rewriting the same scene as observed from different physical perspectives, in the same way that a photographer will subtly vary a composition by adjusting the focal length when taking a photograph ….. this technique can provide the reader with a perception of being ‘up close’ or ‘viewing from a distance’ and so subtly change the effect of a scene. The technique can also be used to play with emotions, withhold information from the reader or make additional information available.

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Types of Entry: Recording things, Events

Mention an event to someone and they will invariably think along the lines of an organised occasion, an important incident or a sporting contest.

However, those are all big events. For us, when we are practicing journaling for creativity, events can be much smaller. For us an event is any discrete action or change that we can observe.

There are events occurring all around us, all of the time. Little events and bigger events are part of our daily life and unfortunately, unless they are BIG events, we tend to allow them to flash past; unrecognised and unrecorded.

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