Wikipedia as a Seed for Flash Fiction

Lacking for a creative outlet, I recently tried a new writing exercise:

  1. go to the front page of Wikipedia
  2. click “random article”
  3. research/plan for a maximum of one minute
  4. write for fifteen minutes, or 500 words, or one page, or some other arbitrarily small limit

You must use the first random page that comes up, and the subject of that random page must be integral to the story. No picking and choosing.

It actually turned out to be a lot of fun! In one afternoon I wrote short pieces about a coastal town in Kenya, an early 20th century ceramics artist, data compression, and a Dungeons and Dragons version of Hell. All told, a little over an hour of writing. My mind felt limbered up and cleared out. Dusted off, even; like hitting the gym after an extended absence. My favorite part was that it broke me out of my comfort zone. I know next to nothing about Kenya, or ceramics. But that is still more than I knew before I tried this exercise.

In a way, this could work as a brainstorming exercise for an external topic. Trying to fit disparate ideas into a common narrative creates new viewpoints for that narrative. Imagine writing a story about wineries of the Great Lakes region, and when stuck for inspiration, randomly hitting the following five pages: Inger GiskeødegÃ¥rd, Tahuna Breaks, Vincent HallinanList of Pittsburgh Pirates first-round draft picks, and Telephone numbers in the British Indian Ocean Territory. For each page, try to fit the the content or concept into the larger narrative. Completely random brainstorm. Let your mind go where it will. At the end of the exercise, go back through and see if there are any useful insights; any new and unusual ways of thinking about Great Lakes wine.