The Care and Use of Plot Ninjas

Last week, I went to the local coffee haus for the first of many NaNoWriMo write ins. Imagine a crew of caffeine induced writers sitting around tables with their laptops and brightly colored and mismatched coffee mugs, chatting about their stories and generally having a good time while writing. That is what the typical write in looks like. But my favorite part of write ins are the times when we toss out plot ninjas to one another in a desperate attempt to help push novels forward and pad the word count.

What's that you say? A plot ninja? What the heck. Well, a plot ninja is an idea intentionally vague enough to fit in any genre and setting and provides you a random moment in time that forces you and your characters to wake up and explore the realm of the weird and unusual. Best used when you are stuck, they come to your aid when you need advice from the muse or the writing gods but they have hung the out to lunch sign on you. Plot ninjas come in (sometimes quite literally) and give you a reason to continue writing. And anyone can learn to use and invoke the power of the plot ninjas for any of your writing (or creative needs).

They provide a random moment in time where something extremely weird and unexplainable happens and then you are left as the write, must explain the random event that just transpired in the book. A plot ninja then teaches you how to unblock the word count so that you can keep writing. Many people also refer to plot ninjas as plot bunnies or plot pirates or plot zombies or those weird and random things that you put in a novel because you were downright stuck.

There are many ways to use a plot ninja. Sometimes, you just need a quick ninja name for a place or a character or an organization. In this case, you can turn to your friends or the internet and search for the first idea that comes to you. This type of plot ninja helps you keep the story moving without worrying too much about getting the perfect name down. Names are malleable, you can change them and find better ones later. If you're so inclined.

Our crew this year gave me a second way to use plot ninjas other than the whole "quick, gimme a name" variety. Honestly, I think this use for plot ninjas is a much more fun way to use plot ninjas. At the kick off party this year, everyone got a small bag of goodies. Chocolates, a few extra NaNoWriMo stickers and tattoos, a sheet from a Sudoku book, and a badge with space for the name and novel word count. Sitting next to these goodies was a familiar, blank 3x5 card that sat inside a white envelope that said "Plot Ninja" on it.

The idea behind this is that you exchange blank cards with someone else and have them write a plot ninja on it. If you were lucky and the person filling out your card knew what you were working on, you got a custom made ninja. However, if you were unlucky or had me giving you a ninja, you got an utterly random and weird ninja. (Of course, I had more fun just writing completely random and weird but plausible things down on the two cards I got to do. *waves at iScribe*) The envelope gets sealed and you hand the package back to the owner smiling and giggling all the way. The recipient of the plot ninja then goes home to write. When they get stuck and cannot burst through the block, they are allowed to reach for their ninja and open it. They must write the scene or thing that the plot ninja tells them to do and see where that twists and takes their story.

I have yet to use my ninja (thanks to the month of preplanning and plotting I do in October) but I can't wait to see what someone wrote on my card. I think the idea of having a batch of pre-made ideas ready and willing to give your writing works a bit of chaotic spark. Whether you have your friends help by giving you their favorite random ideas or you sit alone and come up with your own, when you are done you have a portable never ending idea generation/plot ninja deck to get your writing juices going.

Please feel free to use the comments in this thread to tell us your plot ninja stories. Tell us your favorite plot ninja moment where something random happened when you were writing or toss out a ninja to the rest of us to add into tomorrow's word count. And be careful where you look, you never know when a stealthy, sneaky ninja may be waiting for you. (Like the little ninja? I made an 1280 x 800 desktop wallpaper with the little ninja guy. If you want it, PM and I'll send it to you.)

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Not exactly a plot ninja,

Not exactly a plot ninja, but for a long time I used a tarot deck for inspiration whenever I got stuck. Not that I use (or even know) the classical interpretations, but I found the images evocative enough to push my thoughts in a new direction.

I also have a handful of what I think of as 'plot kickers.' These are sure-fire things to write about when you just can't think of what to write about. For example, my absolute favorite is to have my MC realize he's famished. Deciding what to eat, and where and how and with whom takes many words, painlessly. And the palaver while eating generally sparks a new avenue to explore.

Almost always the text inspired directly by the plot kicker gets edited out of the story later on, but if they get you writing again, that's all that matters.

Awesome! I also use the


I also use the tarot as a tool to help uncover and discover aspects to my novel. I'm happy to hear that others use it for story telling and creation as well.

I also love your ideas of the plot kickers. I'll bet the use of dreaming is another one? :)


Dreams? Absolutely. Another

Dreams? Absolutely.

Another is to have your MC find something in pocket/purse that s/he doesn't remember putting there. A mysterious note, the key to something, a ticket....

Oblique Strategies

I use Oblique Strategies. I corrected the French translation of the set and I am giving it to my sister for Xmas.

There is also the tarot type Majency Oracle Deck 1, found at James Bickers's website which is very interesting.

Philip K Dick

PKD once used the I Ching to move the plot along in a story -- here he admits
to doing it only one story but rumors state he did it a bunch of times.

oohers i like this idea. I

oohers i like this idea. I also dabble a bit with the I Ching. There's even two editions of an I Ching book for writers. I'll be reading that article soon and seeing how I can incorporate that into my writing more.


If you like that then try this

I used a tarot deck for inspiration whenever I got stuck. Not that I use (or even know) the classical interpretations, but I found the images evocative enough to push my thoughts in a new direction.

You might like Charles Williams' novel "The Greater Trumps" in that case. Williams was a member of The Inklings; a group of Oxford academics that included J R R Tolkein, C S Lewis and Dorothy L Sayers amongst its number. When Williams died in 1945 Lewis wrote the final book of his SF trilogy "That Hideous Strength" as an homage to Williams; very much in Williams style and topics.

Williams is a new one to me.

Williams is a new one to me. Will check out amazon and add it to ye olde wish list. :) For more tarot inspired stories, I recommend Italo Calvino's "House of Crossed Destinies". It's a slim book but fascinating how he intertwines a tarot deck into the stories of people who meet at a strange inn and find they cannot communicate.