Writing with Dice: How to Gamify Your Writing Session

April 22, 2024 | 5 min read
By Benjamin Westland

We've all been there — staring at a blank document, not knowing where or how to start.

Ideas bounce around in my head all day long, but as soon as I sit down in front of my draft, they just won't come out because I can't decide on one of the many things in my head.

Embrace randomness as a creative partner and you'll find that, with the right approach and attitude, that uncertainty is an opportunity for exciting twists and fresh ideas in your writing.

I want to show you a tool that has helped me find a way out of these blocked situations and also improve as a writer. All you need are three six-sided dice and some paper. (Of course, if you’re on the move and don’t have any dice with you, any dice-rolling app on your phone will work.)

Writing with dice can help you make unexpected choices in your writing process that can take your creativity in new directions.

Remember, you don't have to write the perfect story in your first draft. It's about capturing ideas before they're gone. So let go of perfectionism and enjoy the creative process.

Meet The Oracle

This approach is based on the idea that we can ask an “oracle” our questions to steer our writing in interesting and inspiring directions. Just as our friends or partners sometimes offer to do when bribed with coffee and cake. In this instance, however, the oracle is the dice.

The dice take on the role of the oracle, answering our questions and relieving us of the burden of thinking too long about a decision.

“But what questions should I ask, and what do I gain from a generic yes/no answer?” you may ask.

The short answer is: it depends…

It depends on the context in which you ask the questions.

It could be anything from the genre, basic considerations about how you want to tell the story, the characters involved, or the tropes and ideas you want to incorporate. Maybe even the different storylines and how they develop.

All of this is the context in which we make narrative decisions. In this exercise, it’s what will inspire our questions.

When you want to know where the story might go based on what you already know, ask the oracle. Don’t overthink it. Instead, introduce chance and see what the oracle says. You never know when the story will take you in new directions.


How do I know what the oracle says…?

The general idea is quite simple: you formulate a question that can be answered yes or no, and roll the three six-sided dice. The oracle will answer with the results you see in the table below.

Add up the numbers on the dice and look up the oracle’s answer in the table.

In addition to clear yes/no answers, the Oracle can also give us more nuanced answers: a weakened form (10,11) and an intensified version (3-4, 17-18). 

Furthermore, if you have extra context from the story to add to the question, apply the modifiers in the below table to the sum of your dice.


Confusing? Let’s see how it works in writing a scene:

My Question: Is it raining when Isabel leaves the café? (It’s unlikely, it’s a hot day in the story.)

Result: The three dice show: 4, 4, 3 to equal 11. I subtract 1 for “unlikely.” My final answer is 10. (No, but…) 

This simple question alone created a better atmosphere in the scene — and it also gave me some ideas for a later scene in which the approaching summer storm influences the rest of the story.


Let's have a look at a longer example: how I use the oracle at the very start of drafting a story.

All I have prepared for this is the dice, my Freewrite, a stack of blank index cards, and a small hourglass.

I use the index cards for lists of things that are relevant to my ideas, sometimes prepared, sometimes made up as I write to let the dice make a decision. One of the lists I created before the first session was a collection of interesting genres that I liked for my next story.

I randomly drew three themes from that list: Victorian, Supernatural, and Soldier.

I already liked this combination, and the first ideas didn’t take long to come. I asked some oracle questions ("Is this set in Victorian times?”, “Is it a haunted house?”, etc.) to help me figure out the basic setting. What I learn is that we are not in Victorian times, but the story takes place in a Victorian villa that is said to be haunted. The villa has been converted into a hotel and has attracted many tourists since the bloody history of the house became known on the internet.

With a few more questions, I learn that the protagonists are guests at the hotel. One of the protagonists has been trying unsuccessfully for years to become famous as an influencer of supernatural phenomena — with little success. He has his best friend with him, who has just finished his studies and has been persuaded to go on a trip. He doesn't believe in ghosts.

That's enough information for me to work with for the setting. I take notes on an index card and ask the oracle where to start. Turns out the two friends have just arrived by train and are making their way through the old town to the villa.

I turn the hourglass and start to write.

The sand runs out as the two protagonists navigate through the hustle and bustle of the town and get lost in the maze of winding streets. The hourglass tells me it's time to interrupt my writing with a random event. I use a combination of oracle questions and spontaneous lists of possibilities that come to mind. Again, I let the dice decide which option to choose.

I find that my protagonists are approached by a merchant and lured into his shop. There, they discover an old object that seems to magically attract them. Cool! The scene has gained a bit more flavor thanks to this visit. I also wonder what the object has to do with anything. I turn the hourglass again and keep writing to find out.



The dance between predictability and spontaneity is fascinating, and I hope this has given you a small, helpful insight into the oracle approach.

My recommendation is to choose an existing project first and use the oracle at specific points in the writing process. The advantage to this is that you will already know more about the context, and it may be easier to make your first lists of ideas or to know when or how to ask the oracle questions.

If you prefer to start from scratch, take a writing prompt of your choice and brainstorm with the oracle to find a starting point for the first scene.

Happy writing!


Ben Westland is a freelance ghostwriter, editor, and author of interactive fiction, bringing a diverse background in computer science, product development, and organizational change. Ben holds a doctoral degree and has authored two scholarly works on knowledge management, as well as various interactive narratives that employ storytelling to enhance organizational training.

Ben is one of the editors of inspiration.garden, an inspirational creativity magazine, and has recently launched storyhaven.online to publish his serial fiction as he explores new narrative forms.

Having lived and researched in Spain and Japan, Ben now draws on his experience to create immersive stories and help others find their creative voice.

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There’s an age-old debate about the superior version of a story: Is it the book or the movie? Most readers and far too many writers will default to the idea that “the book was better.”

But was it? Was it really?

May 20, 2024 9 min read

Talking to Alex Kazemi doesn’t feel like talking to the guy who wrote 2023’s “most dangerous book of the year,” a book Ellen Hopkins calls “raucous, raunchy, and sure to offend.” And it certainly doesn’t feel like talking to Bret Easton Ellis’s “favorite millennial provocateur.”

It feels like talking to a friend I haven’t caught up with in a while. And my friends just aren’t that cool.

We’re chatting because Kazemi lives a ruthlessly offline lifestyle, a philosophy at the core of Freewrite and which Kazemi sees as necessary to being the best artist he can be. Having garnered a book deal at the tender age of 18, he knows a thing or two about life as an artist.

Kazemi released his first book, Pop Magick, an occult book about how to manifest, in 2020. “Madonna helped me launch that,” he says, casually mentioning one of the biggest pop stars of the twentieth century. “So, yeah, that was insane.”

But it wasn’t until the release of his first novel, New Millennium Boyz, nearly a decade in the making, that things got truly wild.

Kazemi’s unflinching look at Y2K culture and teenage boyhood reads like a horrifying screenplay — or the transcript of a violent AIM conversation between bored, lonely teenagers. Even before publication, the book faced criticism calling it dangerous, prompting the publisher to splash a content warning across the front matter, to Kazemi's extreme annoyance. Conservative American moms later flagged it for book bans, leaving the Canadian author baffled.

Was an honest look at the 90s and early ’aughts really worth all that uproar?

We sat down with Kazemi to discuss the driving force behind his portrayal of this often-glamorized time period, why he felt compelled to present this reality to modern audiences, and how in the world he lives an offline lifestyle in the year 2024.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


 Mirror selfies without a smartphone

ANNIE COSBY: First things first. Are you a millennial?

ALEX KAZEMI: Yes. I was born in 1994, which means I’m on the cusp. I do not identify with any Zoomer qualities or tendencies at all.

COSBY: In general cultural discourse, millennials tend to get a bad rap – very infantilizing, even though some of us are 40. What's your take?

KAZEMI: I think it's pretty insane because we were dealt a really bad card, with the recession, jobs being lost, the digital age booming… Many of us still have memories of going to Blockbuster and, you know, AOL chat rooms and the early web. But then we watched everything go chronically online and digital through the 2010s. We watched technology and the information age replace a lot of skillsets. So we became a weird bunch, for sure.

COSBY: I do find it interesting that people glamorize that period specifically because it was the beginning of everything being online — so everybody's mistakes and drunken pictures are out there.

KAZEMI: Right? And we did it willingly.

COSBY: Oh God, the things I said to strange men in chat rooms.

KAZEMI: Me as well. And it’s so, so dark, because the internet has always been and will always be, even as we're adults and growing older, a mirror of our subconscious vomit. The frequencies we vibrated to when we were coming of age were more about exploration, and that's why there was so much stranger danger. There were so many scary scenarios that kids could get themselves into with the early web because of how unregulated it was, as well.

COSBY: Would you say New Millennium Boyz is a defense of the way we Millennials are? Or is it a commentary on how misremembered that era is?

KAZEMI: It's definitely a commentary. And it's supposed to be historical fiction, educating younger folks and also older generations about how, you know, this beautiful picture that you see of Rachael Leigh Cook from She's All That on TikTok? There was actually a lot of darkness and chaos going around, especially when it comes to very normalized racism, misogyny, and homophobia.



I find it very ironic that this new generation that is so fixated on social justice and evolution and freedom would fetishize the aesthetics of an era of true debauchery and chaos and cruelty — like really — which was mirrored in the art in that period. Look at 2000s teen movies! I just wanted to write a satire of that extreme teen genre, like Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, Larry Clark's Bully, Spring Breakers...

My second motivation was to really look at boy culture in the post-Columbine era and how this was very much a prescient, predictive time of where we would end up with the alt-right and 4chan and “incels,” and how it's all connected.

And then of course exploring the romanticized aspect of Y2K — going to the mall, people wearing Marilyn Manson shirts, and the aesthetic obsession with it. I wanted to create the book I wanted to see in the world that I didn't feel existed yet.

COSBY: I’ve heard you talk about the misogyny of the “teen girls are bitches” trope. It's like, have you met boys? Have you been a teen boy talking to other teen boys?

KAZEMI: Oh, they're the biggest bitches. They're so cruel. You see the “mean girls” trope in tons of movies, like Jawbreaker, but it’s so strange how we don't ever look at the cruelty teenage boys face. And not just the cruelty but also the misguidedness and the culture that feeds that.

Especially in the 90s and 2000s, boys were so encouraged to be testosterone-driven and hyper-masculine. Woodstock 99 was such a great example of the chaos of too much of something – and it’s being talked about now because of the documentary.

COSBY: New Millennium Boyz really explores this violence inherent to 90s culture for boys, and because of that, it got a content warning, right?

KAZEMI: Yes. During the final cuts of the book, when we were in edits and copy edits, I got the call from my publisher that “So-and-So is not going to stock it without a content warning because they're really worried about how teenagers are going to react to the work and if they're going to reenact the behavior.”

And I was like, this is a cultural critique. It's not anything to be glamorized. I think anyone who reads it would understand that.

COSBY: Do you think we as humans always look back on past time periods with rose-colored glasses, or is there something special about Y2K?

KAZEMI: There's something really freaky about what we're doing with the 90s and 2000s. I don't think we've ever before been in a place, as humans, where corporations like Meta and TikTok can just algorithmically feed into us all the time.

A teenager in the 90s could fetishize the 70s or the 60s, but they could close the book when it was done or finish the movie and turn off the TV. But with Gen Z, and every generation now, we're just inundated every day with memes, photos, videos, and other people’s thoughts.

And I guess this 90s nostalgia is partly because it represents familiarity for people of a certain age, but even for the people who didn't live during that time, it seems to represent a kind of order, a sense of quietness — “Oh, 90210 is on at 9 p.m. and that's all there is.” No choices to make. There weren’t one billion options like kids today have.

COSBY: So you think people are viewing that period as a time of simplicity and unplugging, which we’re all kind of yearning for now?

KAZEMI: Yeah, and you certainly could unplug then, but you can unplug today, too — we're just brainwashed into thinking that we have no choice, that we have no free will. But it's totally not true. You could simulate Y2K if you wanted to! You just have to set a lot of boundaries.

COSBY: Like writing on a Freewrite.

KAZEMI: Yes! That’s why I write offline. Over the years, I’ve had different cool ways to do that. For a lot of my teenage years, I wrote in Apple Notes. Then, I ordered a BlackBerry off eBay and used it as a word processor for a while. I have a dead AlphaSmart here — rest in peace.

I feel like what's so crazy about Freewrite is a lot of people don't know that these products exist, which is a problem.

COSBY: It's also super polarizing. Without even trying it, some people are like, “What is this hipster thing?” Meanwhile, we get so many messages from new users saying, “What is this magic? I'm actually writing for the first time in years!” It's really interesting to see people's reactions. Tech is such a weirdly touchy subject.

KAZEMI: And a Freewrite is way better than a typewriter. I'm not fucking doing the ribbon, there's no time for that.

COSBY: Some people do though, right? Aren’t you friends with Matty Healy?

KAZEMI: Yes, yes. I told him about Freewrite. I love his songwriting. I love the 1975's lyrics. I love him as a literary mind.

COSBY: Alex. [heavy pause] Is he the one being referenced in the song?

KAZEMI: [rolls eyes] Honestly, I'm not really interested in all the gossip. I don't think great artists should be reduced to that.

COSBY: OK, that's fair. I think they're both great storytellers, too. And it would be so hard to live a creative life under that kind of microscope. On that note, your offline approach to life goes beyond writing, right? How does that work?

KAZEMI: Well, it definitely includes a lot of conscious boundaries that annoy a lot of people.

I’ve had a flip phone for a few years now, and I have a landline. When it comes to the internet and iMessage and emails, I try to do regulated “office hours” of screen time.

It's a very privileged position to be in, because a lot of people have to be on call all the time for work. But being disconnected definitely gives me more time for my mind to be free and creative and to write more.

COSBY: And this annoys people?

KAZEMI: Yeah, it drives everyone insane. It's a huge boundary I put in my life. People have to go through loopholes to contact me. But it's the only way that I can have a life as an artist and as a writer.

All of this technology can be a tool. There's nothing inherently bad with the tools that exist on the Internet. It's just the compulsivity and the addictive mentality we have with it that creates this chaos for us as writers and artists.

COSBY: You've mentioned being on Tumblr before, back in the day — are you on social media now?

KAZEMI: No, I'm not. Sometimes I have to look at it on friends' phones to get a person's email or something like that, but no, I don't have social media. It's so scary, the pressure of having to perform or turn my most personally valuable things into currency — to monetize it. It just feels weird. I'm not into it. I'm not into it.

And when you're online so much, you're like, “I don't have to be doing this. Why am I doing this?” That's where that punishing feeling of addiction comes in. A lot of us, when we are in those spirals, we don't even really even want to be there. There isn't a sense of agency or control.

It's a loss of control.

And I think that submission of when you are looking at other people's work, what they’re doing, and you're scrolling, scrolling, it just creates a huge sense of inadequacy and darkness.

COSBY: It's interesting to me because time goes so much faster when I’m scrolling — and I feel the same way when I get really into something I'm writing.

KAZEMI: Like a flow state.

COSBY: Exactly! It’s complete absorption. But scrolling doesn’t make me feel good after, the way creating does.

KAZEMI: It’s like a black market, counterfeit flow state. A heroin flow state.

So I guess the question is: How can we induce positive, offline flow states?

COSBY: Isn't that the question. How do you do it?

KAZEMI: I find that just setting boundaries is so important. You have free will over your boundaries. This idea that we have no sense of agency and have to give all of our energy and life force to these corporations zapping us is just so crazy and unfair.

But when you bring up these things to certain people, they can't even fathom living without their online habits.

COSBY: Yeah, it has to be a conscious choice.

KAZEMI: You have to ask yourself:

"OK, am I going to just sublimate myself to be a consumer of everyone else's content? Or am I going to be a creator and produce?”

COSBY: Most of us know which one we want to be.

KAZEMI: You have to know which one you want to be.

COSBY: Any last words for the creators out there?

KAZEMI: For creators and artists and writers who are overwhelmed by information overload and the prospect of putting your work out there, just know there is an audience for your work. Just stay focused and don't be discouraged. You’ll find your place in the weird world.


Annie Cosby is the Marketing Manager at Freewrite, a former fiction editor, and the author of seven books — and counting. Her work deals with Celtic mythology and has twice won the YA Indie Author Project in Missouri. See what she's writing on Freewrite.

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