Action Cards: for Inspiration and Complication

Last month I had the pleasure of subbing for one of my Philadelphia Young Playwrights teaching artists. When I asked him how I could best aid the class of awesome 8th graders, he told me that the students needed help infusing more action into their play ideas.

Spl-It

Guess which card inspired this poem!

Action can be tricky. In an age of television and movies, the word tends to conjure up ideas fueled by catastrophic events like kidnappings, deaths, and so on. There are certainly stories that utilize this type of action to great effect; however, with this group of young writers, I wanted to create an activity that also touched on action by way of deeds, altering forces, unfolding events, and so much more.

To encourage the nuance and possibilities of action without being prescriptive, instead of giving the class a lecture, I gave them verbs.

The cards below can be used to activate depth and complication in one’s writing; they can also be used as an idea-generator for any genre. In fact, I pulled one of the action cards last week to use as inspiration for this Twitter poem.

They can even be used by theatre teaching artists for improv explorations, or to dig into subtext and motivation during acting exercises!

If you’d like to print a full set of Action Cards for individual or group use, you can access the full set here as a printable .pdf. Or, if you’re an individual seeking the random luck of the draw, know that the slideshow below is set to randomize which means it’ll begin with a different action card each time you load the page.

So let’s dive into the many ways you can use them!

 

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ACTION CARDS: USES FOR INSPIRATION

Genres: Writing or Theatre

Creative Process: Idea Generation

Age Level: 13+

      For Individuals:

      Part I, Trying Actions on for Size. Scroll through the action cards, choosing three that inspire you. Make sure you pick three very different actions – take at least one risk, too, by choosing one to explore that’s out of your norm!

      Part II, Pitch Yourself. For each card, write a one-sentence pitch for an idea that incorporates that action. Pick the pitch that you like the most, and continue to expand on that idea through further writing.

      For Groups:

      Part I, The Group Warm-Up. To begin each round, have a participant pick and read a card at random. Then, ask participants to call out ideas based on the following prompts:

  • Round 1 – What’s a one-sentence idea about someONE that relates to this action?
  • Round 2 – What’s a one-sentence idea about someTHING that relates to this action?
  • Round 3 – What’s a one-sentence idea about some CIRCUMSTANCE  that relates to this action?

Optional: Write an idea bank of these responses on the board, so participants can return to them as they write or improvise.

      Part II, FOR WRITERS – Individual Decisions. Using tables or walls, make a gallery of the Action Cards. Participants shop the gallery, picking the action card that inspires them. Encourage participants to take a risk, and choose an action to explore that’s out of their norm!

      Part II, FOR THEATRE – Improvisations. Using tables or walls, make a gallery of the Action cards. Pairs or small groups shop the gallery, picking the action card that inspires the given circumstances for an improv. Using that action card, participants create a improvised scene with a beginning, middle and end.

ACTION CARDS: USES FOR COMPLICATION

Genres: Writing or Theatre

Creative Process: Plot, conflict, complication

Age Level: 13+

      For Individuals:

      Part I, Trying Actions on for Size. Scroll through the action cards, choosing three that connect with your current idea but that also help you expand or imagine something new. Take at least one risk, too, by choosing one to explore that’s out of your norm!

      Part II, Pitch Yourself. For each card, write a one-sentence pitch for an idea that uses that action to deepen or complicate your work-in-progress. Pick the pitch that you like the most, and continue to expand on that idea through further writing.

      For Groups:

      Part I, The Group Warm-Up. To begin each round, have a participant pick and read a card at random. Then, ask participants to call out ideas based on the following prompts:

  • Round 1 – What’s a one-sentence idea about someONE that relates to this action?
  • Round 2 – What’s a one-sentence idea about someTHING that relates to this action?
  • Round 3 – What’s a one-sentence idea about some CIRCUMSTANCE  that relates to this action?

Optional: Write an idea bank of these responses on the board, so participants can return to them as they write or improvise.

      Part II, FOR WRITERS – Individual Decisions. Using tables or walls, make a gallery of the Action Cards. Participants shop the gallery, choosing an action that connects with their current idea but that also helps them expand or imagine something new. Encourage participants to take a risk, and choose an action to explore that’s out of their norm!

      Part II, FOR THEATRE – Improvisations. Using tables or walls, make a gallery of the Action Cards. Paris or small groups shop the gallery, choosing an action that alters their current scene. Using that action card, participants revise their initial improvised scene, creating a new beginning, middle and end that incorporates this new action.

That’s it! Action Cards are an easy but effective tool to generate rich imagination and writing. They can be used as prompts for journaling or memoir writing, too, as a new angle to stir up memories or reflection about our experiences.

And….ACTION! Feel free to suggest other action words or post about your experience in the comments. Remember, whenever I post an activity, prompt (like this one), or a guided writing exercise in the Support For Writers section of my site, I will always write a blog post about the activity as well. That way, if you follow my blog you’ll always know when new exercises become available.

 

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