The All Time Best Writing Exercise Dreamed Up by a Nun

Let’s pretend you asked me where I come up with my stories. It’s one of the great mysteries for non-writers, but even writers who are normally creative can use a spark now and then.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been asked this question at least once and mostly likely a million times. Even Myren, my chauffeur, asked me this once a long time ago before he knew me very well. He regretted it immediately was fascinated with my answer. I wouldn’t have much of an answer for that question except for this one time in school, my nun came up with the most inventive way to get a story going ever.

Sister Joseph—a young nun with a quick smile—dreamed up one of my all time favorite writing exercises. She started with three shoe boxes and a wad of paper ripped up into squares. She handed out three of the small slips of paper—the size of a standard yellow sticky although they hadn’t been invented yet—to each of us in the room.  And since this was catholic school and no government regulations applied—there were about 50 of us in the class.

On the first piece of paper, she told us to write two names—character names. Just the names—nothing else.  

On the second slip of paper she said to write a place for the setting—anything from New York city to a corner store would do—no other details needed.

The third slip was trickier. She said to write an incident or event—for a plot. I wrote murder. Myren doesn’t believe me. He insists I’m lying and I must have written wedding because after all I’m a romance writer. I reminded him that I write romantic suspense. Besides, I said, why would I lie? He said I’m too embarrassed to admit it. I told him—well, never mind. But I told him loudly.

Anyway—back to Sister Joseph. She collected the slips putting them in their appropriate boxes for Character, Setting and Plot and mixed them around. Then we each picked one slip of paper from each of the three boxes.

Up to that point we—or rather I—had no idea where she was going with this and my curiosity was killing me.

“Now using the three elements on your slips of paper, write a story!” Sister Joseph said with her smile wide.

I still remember to this day what I pulled from the box. Madame X and Fluffy were my characters, a penthouse was my setting and I ended up with murder for my plot.  That was all I needed.

My imagination was triggered by the slips of paper. The exercise felt like an adventure. I had such great fun filling in all the details and inventing a story around those crumbs.

Sparked by the excitement of a murder and glamour of a penthouse, I created a wild and crazy story about a glamorous Madame X and her dog fluffy who invited a man to her penthouse and murdered him by kissing him with poisonous lipstick. 

I don’t remember why she kissed him to death. I still had a lot to learn about plotting, but that was my first real attempt at a short story. 

Even if Myren doesn’t agree, I’ve come a long way since then, mostly writing novels. But I went back to writing shorter with many novellas, including my most recent Falling for Captain Hunk. It’s available now as part of a box set Hunks to the Rescue. Myren says the title is longer than the story, but he exaggerates. It’s like saying his hat is taller than he is. Whatever. Chauffeurs can be exasperating especially pretend ones.


There’s still time—to get a copy of Hunks to the Rescue, a boxed set of 18 novellas.

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About The Author:

Stephanie Queen is the USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance. She used to be a 9 to fiver working in downtown Boston, but threw away her stylish suits and fancy heels and now hangs out in UConn t-shirts writing romance novels. She lives in New Hampshire with her family.