[WORLD CLINIC] A Beta Test for ALL Writers: Free First Chapter

Sometimes show is better than tell. Okay, USUALLY show is better than tell.

So for those of you wondering if worldbuilding works with or is necessary for YOUR genre and YOUR work, here’s Chapter 1 of Holly Lisle’s Create A World Clinic. THE WHOLE CHAPTER.


World #1: The Dot World

Build Your First Complete World In Five Minutes

I’m going to hold off on the introduction for a few minutes, in favor of trying something different.

I’m going to walk you through building your first world right now. So grab a pen and a piece of paper. A napkin will do just fine if it’s all that’s available, or lined paper from a notebook, or the back of a page of the stack of email printouts sitting on your desk. Or that memo from your boss…

Whatever. If it’ll hold ink and you’ll be able to read what you’ve written once you’re done, it’ll do.

You’re going to build a small world, but big enough to give you what you need for a story. And by the time we’re done with this first exercise, you’ll already have a start for your story, too.

Here’s how this works. I’m going to do my version of the exercise as I write this section, so my answers won’t be canned or polished, and you’re going to do your version of the exercise. I’ll give you the answer I get for each step, along with some variants so you can see some of the possibilities—but this will work much better for you if you don’t see my answers first. So I’ll start on a fresh page after I give you each question you need to answer, and before you go to the next page, write down your answer.


Let’s build a world.

The Exercise

With your pen and paper at the ready, I want to you imagine that you are standing in a dark room. It’s small, and it has a ceiling, a floor, and four walls, but you can’t see them yet, because it’s absolutely dark. Don’t worry. The light will go on in a second.

But before it does, the room has one other thing in it, not including you. When the light goes on you’re going to see it…but odds are pretty good that a word or an image just popped into your head suggesting what the thing in the room with you is—so if it did, USE that.

It doesn’t matter how silly you think it is. It doesn’t matter if you can’t imagine how that word or image could matter. Or how you could get a story from it.

All that matters is that this time, you use the very first answer you get.

Okay. Now the light goes on, and you see the thing in the room with you.

Your Turn

Write down what it is.

My Answer

My answer is: The paint on the wall.

What this means is that my Muse, also known as my subconscious mind, or right brain, has decided to be a smartass. Don’t know if you have a good working relationship with your Muse yet or not, but my relationship with mine is…interesting.

And because sooner or later, most folks who rely on creativity to put food on the table develop equally interesting relationships with their Muses, I’m going to detour for just a second here. This matters, and I guess this is as good a place as any to discuss the bare bones of it.

Your left brain is your editor, the driver of your body when everything is calm and no tigers have just started growling behind you, your internal grown-up. Your right brain is a perpetual kid, one who believes everything it sees and hears, one who loves to play, one who balks when commanded to work. (It’s also the part of you that will get your feet running and have you up in the top of a tree before you can think about it if those tigers do start growling—so it has many uses.) But if you want to build a career as a writer, you have to learn how to deal with both halves of your mind. And telling your right brain—your Muse—that the idea it just gave you is stupid is a real fine way to make sure that part of your mind goes off in a corner and doesn’t give you any more ideas for a good long time. (This is how writer’s block is born, incidentally.)

Your You/left brain/conscious mind is smart and articulate and organized, but it is not creative. So if you tick off your Muse and give it an excuse to shut down and quit playing your game, you are going to have a bad writing day. Or week. Or year.

Having been dealing with my particularly cantankerous Muse/right brain/subconscious mind while having to be creative on deadline for the last twenty-five years, I have learned the importance of using the ideas it gives me, no matter how weird or unworkable they seem initially, and then working to make sense of them.

EVEN, and this is important, when I suspect the idea was intended to make things difficult for me.

The paint on the wall. Ha. Ha. Very funny. My muse could have told me, window with bars on it, or ancient door, or even dead body, and I would have had an easy time of this. But it didn’t, so now you get to see what to do when your Muse decides to get cute. And because it’s good practice, no matter what answer your Muse gave you, you’re going follow the same steps I do this time.

I have to dig deeper. I need to ask a follow up question, and I need to ask it in a certain way. It cannot be a question that can be answered with a yes, no, or maybe, as with the question, “Is there anything unusual about the paint on the wall?”

My subconscious mind just rolls its metaphorical eyes at that one and says, “Maybe.”

This is not helpful, but your subconscious mind won’t do things just to be helpful. It likes to play, and the only person it has to play with is you.

So you have to learn to ask questions that can only be answered in a useful fashion.

This is my follow-up question:

“What is unusual about the paint on the wall?”

Your Turn

Before I write down the answer to that (though my Muse just told me the answer, and it is, in fact, pretty interesting), you need to ask a follow-up question.

Here are some variants that will work:

  • Why does this___________ in the room matter?
  • How did this ____________ get here?
  • What is unusual about this __________?
  • Who (or what) is this, and how did he/she/or it get here?
  • When did this ___________ appear, and under what circumstances?
  • Where did this ___________ come from? (Or where does this ___________ go?)
  • Why is this ____________here?

Just answer one of the questions above (or one of your own devising related to your specific situation), but answer it at whatever length you need to give yourself the information that will allow you to understand what you’re dealing with, and answer any follow-up questions you need to ask to those questions. Don’t turn to the next page until you’re sure you got the full answer.

What I Got

So here’s my question again: “What is unusual about the paint on the wall?”

And because of the way I work with my right brain, I’m going write out the answers I just got in the form of a conversation. Yes, I do know this is bizarre, and you are not the first person to raise an eyebrow and suggest that I might want to seek care, counseling, or perhaps a nice padded room.

I do this because it works, because it lets me develop good story ideas quickly, and because I actually hold these conversations inside my head, though my right brain answers in images (and other sensory data) more often than it answers in words.

I just don’t usually do this in public.


Holly: What is so unusual about the paint on the wall?

Muse: It’s black, and it’s high gloss.

Holly: Okay…why does that matter?

Muse: Because it hides the blood.

H: (thinking carefully to avoid potential booby traps) What about Luminol, which makes blood on surfaces show up?

M: Not an issue here.

H: Why is it not an issue?

M: Because Luminol doesn’t exist yet.

H: So I’m in the past?

M: (No answer. My Muse does not answer stupid questions, and that was one.)

H: (trying again) Well, the black paint suggests intent to me—that the room is going to be seen by people, that the person who painted it needs to have them not know about the blood, and that the room serves two purposes—people go into it voluntarily, but maybe people die there, too. So who owns the room?

M: An artist. (I get a flurry of images here, so what follows is the flow what runs through my mind.) Blood on the walls, part of the process, passion and imbuing each painting with a different soul, love and murder at the same time, blood in the paint, a lot of dead women, a lot of live men who buy the paintings in this room, the room where they’re hung, and the artist working on painting after painting in quick succession, and then not working at all until all but the most perfect paintings, which he keeps for himself, are sold.

And at that point, I have the jump-off point for a story.

If I need to, I can build more details into the room before I start writing, or I can ask more questions about the artist, or the women, or the buyers.

But I can write the whole story in one room, in a handful of scenes, and I already have the critical key to this world.

Glossy black paint.

This is what worldbuilding is, and this is why you do it.

Worldbuilding has nothing to do with putting a map in the front of your novel.

It has everything to do with:

  • Getting good questions that help you come up with story ideas.
  • Getting good answers that help you tell your story.
  • Finding the fixes for broken projects—you know, all those 30-page novel starts you did that never went anywhere, and you don’t know why…
  • But mostly, worldbuilding is what brings your story to life for your readers.
  • And…

When You’re Finished…

Let folks know what sort of world YOU got. I invite you to post your exercise below.

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167 responses to “[WORLD CLINIC] A Beta Test for ALL Writers: Free First Chapter”

  1. Elaine Avatar

    I saw a large rabbit with clothes on sitting up looking at me!
    E–Where did it come from?
    M–Alice in Wonderland
    E–(I should steal from another story?!) How did it get here?
    M–jumped out of the book.
    E–(Great!) Why does the rabbit in the room matter?
    M–All of the characters in this story are animals. Many of them wear clothes because they are a higher life form than the common animals, which are also present in this world. The clothed ones have advanced communication skills and can build various relationships and even societies with other “advanced” animals.

    Cute and fun, but not a lot of help with my historical fiction series. Perhaps I’ll write some cute short stories for younger kids sometime. I usually write middle grade.

  2. Aoife Avatar

    Aoife: Where am I?
    Le Muse: A sad place.
    A: Why is it sad?
    M: He lost her here.
    A: Who did he lose?
    M: His lover.
    A: Why did he lose her?
    M: Earpieces, guns, comm.s, shooting, blood-raspy breaths, tears promises.
    A: Who was he?
    M: Tech, guns, clean, perfect, disinfectant, sterile perfect hospital corners. He gave her what she needed.
    A: Why did she need things?
    M: She killed people.
    A: Who?
    M: Whoever hurt her land.
    A: Why this land
    M: Because she loved someone who loved it.
    A: What about her lover?
    M: The one she loved didn’t want her.
    A: Okay, but why did she go to her lover?
    M: Heartbreak cleanness edges distance why does it matter now?
    A: Did her lover love her?
    M: Very much.
    A: How did she die?
    M: The same way she lived.
    A: Did she want to die?
    M: She didn’t know. (Yes.)
    A: Did she love him?
    M: She didn’t know. (Yes.)
    A: Why did he lose her here?
    M: Distance static breaking jamming shots heartbeat over.
    A: Equipment failure?
    M: Sound noise still there not gone yet dying almost dead.
    A: So the comm.s still worked?
    M: [silence]
    A: Why didn’t he save her?
    M: She was too far for him to reach.
    A: What did he do after?
    M: She doesn’t know.

    1. Erin Avatar

      ‘A: What did he do after?
      M: She doesn’t know’

      That gave me chills… This would make a beautiful story!

  3. Benjamin Solheim Avatar

    First thing I thought of was that the stone was dressed green stone, but then looking at it again it was thinking it had to be something in the room so the first thing that came to mind was table round with papers and maps over it. Then looking over the questions, it became a map table like out of medieval fantasy setting where wars and foreign policy is decided.

    From there it fleshed out into a dark green stone with gold flecks in it, decorated with bunting and cork board permanently attached to walls. The bunting represents the various houses around the kingdom. The light seems to emanate from the massive fire opal ceiling.

    There is no one in the room but an old man staring at one map on the table and notes about the crisis facing his realm. His king is brash and foolish. He knows his liege will not listen to him as he did when he was his tutor. They have multiple enemies and the only allies are the aloof elves. The king only respects them for their nobility and power. The weir’dhel people are proud of their heritage having fought off Viking raids from the North and Legionnaires from the South. The elves on Arcadia to west do not really care what happens as long as they are left alone in their mist covered island. Those who venture on the island find weird things happen and few ever escape untouched, of those that manage to get off the hallowed place.

    1. Amazingrace Avatar

      Does the old man seek counsel from the nearby elves? some of their wise people could know how to balance the king’s arrogance with the people’s need to be protected.

  4. Seleane Gray Avatar

    I really enjoyed this. I actually got a male character this time, I usually get female main characters. 😀 So here’s how it went down:

    S: What’s in the room?
    – I hear a sick, squelching sound before the light comes on and then a whispering male voice, “You need to leave!” The sound came from a bloody mass that looked as if it had been badly maimed but it wasn’t a human shape.

    S: How did the “mass” get here?
    M: He dropped it.
    S: Who’s this man?
    M: He’s standing behind you in the shadows, he told you to leave…
    S: So what is this “mass” of?
    M: Don’t know their name yet but they prey on human souls, they are very scary monsters. This is one of their bodies… or part of it….
    S: Who does the body belong to?
    M: (She didn’t answer here, but she would meet my eyes either which can’t be good for anyone. Or it is something HUGE that she can’t share yet which leads back to it not being good.)
    S: Okaay…. Why do these monsters take human souls?
    M: They are powerful.
    S: Powerful how?
    M: The souls feed them, sustain them.
    S: What is the process for this soul sucking?
    M: It isn’t soul sucking!
    S: Then what is it?
    M: (Again she won’t talk. Is anyone else getting a creepy feeling as well??)

    I change the topic in hopes to get something else so I ask:
    S: Why does this man want me to leave?
    M: It’s dangerous.
    S: Dangerous how?
    M: The bad things are coming.

    Uh, creepy much? But I really like how this is going. Of course I’m curious as to how these monsters came into being so I asked my Muse that final question and got this:
    M: Science.

  5. Colleen Avatar

    Oh man, this was so much fun. My Muse gave me a smart-ass answer at first, but that streak didn’t last long, and the whole exercise took about two minutes.

    What’s in the room?
    –> A cat.

    (Sigh. My friends call me a crazy cat lady for a reason.) What’s unusual about the cat?
    –> It has three eyes, all with horizontal pupils like a goat.

    (…oh. Well then.)
    Why does it have three eyes?
    –> The cat is a god of wisdom. Sort of. A half-god, or lesser god.

    Why goat eyes, specifically?
    –> “Black wisdom.” Knowledge of hidden, dark, forgotten things. The kind of stuff best left buried in the ruins of ancient libraries under the sea.

    How is it only half a god?
    –> The cat is the mortal vessel of an immortal spirit. The black wisdom is passed from mother cat to a single kitten in a litter, who inherits the three eyes and the lost knowledge of the universe.

    Why a cat?
    –> Cats know what they know, and do as they please — and don’t talk. If a mortal wants access to that wisdom, they have to get creative and invent a way to communicate with the cat. And the cat will decide if this supplicant is clever enough to entertain it, and cause sufficiently amusing havoc with whatever knowledge they seek. This never seems to end well for the human, but this hasn’t stopped the brave and the desperate from seeking the cat.

    1. DeColuvj Avatar

      Wow, I love that!

      1. Amazingrace Avatar

        Oh boy! a great, intriguing novel in the making.

    2. Erin Avatar

      This is amazing!! If I could, I would ask your muse why the black wisdom is specifically in libraries under the sea. Does your muse mean Atlantis? Did the cat originate there? Or did the spirit originate there? Also, why is the spirit immortal? Has the spirit always been immortal? If not, what was the spirit’s life like?

      Sorry, I only meant to ask that first question, I got a bit carried away…. This has so much incredible potential!

  6. Gail Moniz Avatar
    Gail Moniz

    A rat.

    How can I get rid of the rat?

    Where did this rat come from?

    There’s a window in the room. Open it. Throw your jacket over the rat, pick it up and throw it out the window (don’t throw away your jacket with the rat).

    Now, where did it come in? There are no holes in the room where it could have entered, but there is a space under the door where it may have been able to squeeze through. Take your jacket and stuff it under the door to fill the gap.

    OK – now the biggie – what am I doing here and how did I get here?

    I don’t remember entering this room, so I’m thinking someone must have put me here when I was unconscious. How did I get here? I don’t have any memory of coming here, so I’m either in a room of the house I was already in, or I have been moved to another building. I have a faint and brief memory of being in a car and traveling quickly but silently along the road.

    So I am in a room by myself (now that the rat is gone). I can’t hear any voices or sounds of activity. I don’t hear any traffic, and the window looks out on a brick wall a few feet away. I can see sky above, but there is no way I can see past the brick wall. All that’s below is a weed-infested space between the two buildings.

    I try the door, which is locked. From the window, it’s a three-story drop to the ground below.

    What’s going on? The last thing I remember is sitting in my aunt’s sunny garden, reading a book and enjoying a lovely cool drink. Then there is a blank. Then I wake up in this room with a rat.

    The rat being here tells me that (a) this place is abandoned, or (b) it is infested with rats. Also, there probably aren’t any cats in the house.

    Why would anyone want to lock me in here? I don’t have any enemies that I know of. No one is angry enough with me to lock me in here. I have no money and few possessions. I was just visiting with my Aunt Celia because there was something important she wanted to discuss with me. When I arrived, she was just finishing up a business meeting in her office, so she told me to get myself a drink and go sit in the sun, which I did, and I don’t remember anything after that. No, wait… I do remember a funny smell, sort of medicinal. That’s it.

  7. Natalie Avatar

    I enjoyed this exercise, but I got more out of reading everyone else’s answers more than my own. I didn’t know how far out to take this exercise or when to stop. So the examples really helped me understand what the goal is here. Also, I confess that I was thinking of my novel’s fantasy world before I quizzed my muse.


    Me: What is in the room?
    Muse: A candle in a holder.
    Me: What’s unusual about the candle?
    Muse: It’s glowing but it isn’t lit.
    Me: How is it glowing?
    Muse: The wax itself is glowing a deep lime green, yet the light it emits is colorless.
    Me: Why is it candle shaped if it doesn’t need to burn the wax?
    Muse: It’s not. It’s an orb.
    Me: What is the candle for?
    Muse: It’s there to illuminate the room. It also changes color to give you information. Green means you’re safe.
    Me: What other colors can it be?
    Muse: Any color in the prism. Even colors humans can’t see.
    Me: Is it hot to the touch?
    Muse: Not hot, but warm like a cup of tea. Still, you wouldn’t want to keep it in your pocket very long — that’s why it’s in a holder!

  8. Paul Williams Avatar

    OK I’m freaked out now.

    What else is in the room?
    A window

    What is unusual about this window?
    It is underground, and looks out onto dark earth and rock.

    Why did somebody put a window in an underground room?
    Because a window makes a room seem normal.

    OK, but this is not a normal window. Why is there no view?
    It is a normal window. The view is of dark earth and rock.

    Whose room is this?
    It isn’t used any more.

    Why isn’t it used any more?
    The people who were here went away.

    Why did they go away?
    They finished what they wanted to do here.

    What did they do here?

    What was unusual about these experiments?
    Children. (Images: Lost souls, abandoned, didn’t know any different, morose, listless, nobody visits, cold, watched by doctors for signs, all of them are dying, the doctors fight back tears, the work has to be done, soon they become detached, these things are not human, deaths are unimportant, the work must continue.)

    Why did the work stop?
    They found the answer.

    1. Seleane Gray Avatar

      This idea just gives me chills but it has me hooked. I bet it would be an interesting read.

  9. Eryn Avatar

    A figure, slender, male
    I don’t want a character though, I want a place. I look past him.
    Bamboo walls
    How do the bamboo walls matter?
    Because while it’s raw material construction, it’s not a rough dwelling
    How did the dwelling get here?
    People built it.
    Is the dwelling unusual here?
    It’s better than the others
    How many others?
    How many people live in each?
    3 or 4, sometimes more, sometimes less
    That wasn’t a question brat. Who is the man in the room?
    He lives here
    Why here, why not another hut?
    Because his wife lives here
    Why does she live here in the better hut?
    Because she’s the boss
    The boss of what?
    The survivors
    What did they survive?
    The war
    And this is where I got my flurry of images:
    This was big, bomb blasts, nukes fired, mutually assured destruction. Chem war, bio war, 1 in 10 survived. No one won, they just ran out of tech to fight with. There’s not much of the old world left, not even many people who remember it. Children have grown old, bomb craters have grown over. The people left are rebuilding. Small communities, hovels, huts, just struggling to survive, hunter gatherers learning to farm in the wreckage.

    1. Amazingrace Avatar

      Our probable future – so sad. Where is the joy? Need joy to enable survival. Joy in small things, small achievements. then they grow.

  10. Chris Avatar

    I had to try this. And I decided I hate my Muse.

    Me: What is in the room?

    Muse: A horse.

    Me: Why is a horse indoors?

    Muse: It’s in a cave.

    Me: Is it alone?

    Muse: Yes.

    Me: What is it doing?

    Muse: Nothing.

    Me: So helpful. Why would a horse do nothing?

    Muse: Too complicated. Ask something else.

    Me: Fine. Was it always alone?

    Muse: No. There’s a saddle on it and it’s tied to a hitching post.

    Me: Why is there a hitching post in a cave and who did the hitching?

    Muse: It’s a resting cave for messengers traveling between this one place and that other place. And I don’t know. Did I mention the carrots and apples scattered on the floor out of the horse’s reach?

    Me: No. But that begs the question. Why is the horse doing nothing instead of trying to get to them? And where is the messenger?

    Muse: Because it’s been alone a long time and already gave up. (Muse pointedly ignores the last question.)

    Me: So that’s why it’s doing nothing.

    Muse: Shut up.

    Me: No. Is the horse male or female?

    Muse: Stop bugging me and come up with something yourself.

    Me: No, I don’t feel like thinking yet. Are there signs of a struggle?

    Muse: Yes. The carrots and apples were in a small wooden barrel that is now overturned. There is a clean fancy shoe against a wall, a dirty leather boot near the barrel, and a dirty blanket – not the same kind of dirty as the boot – wadded up in the middle of nowhere on the floor. The floor being dirt, or earth if you want, and the same kind of dirt as the dirt on the blanket but not the same as the dirt on the boot. Oh, and the shoe and boot are both from the left foot. And before you ask another question, you were the horse owner and I’m the one who came and attacked you.

    Me: So we’re dealing with a schizophrenic? Or twins?

    Muse: I hate you.

    1. wednesday Avatar

      I have got to stop reading comments. My muse is jumping up and down saying, “Oooh, a horse! I wanna play. Can I play?”

      “No. Whether it’s real world or writing world, you know you can’t ever play with someone else’s horse without their permission.”

      “That’s stupid. And you’re mean.”

      Thus beginneth the sulks. But she’ll be back.

  11. Cheryl Avatar

    Nobody likes a smart-arse muse! My muse has a delightfully prep school sense of humour.

    M – a light switch
    C Funny. OK. What’s unusual about the light switch?
    M It doesn’t turn the light on or off.
    C Does it turn on something else? (useless question)
    M Yes
    C Is it a monster? (another useless question)
    M (Huffs) No.
    C (rereads Holly’s list) Why does the light switch matter?
    M It controls the door.
    C (surprised) Is there a door?
    M There will be if you flick the switch!

    Haha to you, too, Muse.

  12. Stewart Smith Avatar

    Awk! I’m in a blank room with no doors and an extremely dangerous six legged robot. I can walk through the walls, but I don’t want the robot to escape. I am the one who assembled the robot in this room. The robot is continuously searching for the door. Will it learn to walk through the wall too?

  13. Melissa Barker-Simpson Avatar

    Here’s what I got. Thanks, Holly for a great motivational exercise. I plan to continue the story and share it online.


    I knew what I would find before the lights came on. I could hear the sinister buzz – it vibrated along every nerve ending in my body. Its very presence in fact, pushed towards me, like a giant-sized nightmare come to life.

    That’s what it was, my biggest fear and, ultimately, my biggest weakness.

    They’d shoved me in the room blindfolded. But it wouldn’t have made a difference; the darkness was oppressive. That too added to the clawing need to escape, to be out of this box and free from the nightmare it contained.

    When the light came on I left my blindfold where it was. I know it’s irrational. But I didn’t want to see it. Hearing it was enough to amp up the volume on my fear; by then I was all but singing with tension.

    It was big, my tormentor. It was no ordinary nightmare. It was a mutant, a genetically produced replica of what it had once been. All in an effort to defeat me.

    We all balk at tests from time to time, but this, I think I would have done anything to avoid this particular battle.

    I wondered, manically, if they were somehow controlling it. It hadn’t made its move after all, and I was easy pickings. I was vulnerable and exposed and its prime objective was surely to attack. How else was I to prove myself?

    That’s when I knew. The biggest obstacle, the thing that would seal my fate, was allowing the fear to consume me. To drive me mad, push me to turn and pound on the door. To beg for my release.

    Clearly I couldn’t do that. This was only the first of my trials; a series of assessments that would tell them if I was worthy of the prize.

    They hadn’t sent me in empty-handed. I was allowed my weapon of choice. Since I didn’t know then what was waiting for me, I’d chosen the sword. And what’s mightier – right?

    I knew the moment it chose to attack; the subtle movement in the air, the threatening sound that preceded it.

    Somehow I was ready. I swung the sword through the air, using every sense at my command to measure the depth and height of the blade and brought it home.

    A deathly thud, followed by another was like sweet music to my ears. I could still hear the buzzing, but I knew that was merely an echo. I could hear it in my dreams, even when it wasn’t there.

    Now, I removed my blindfold and looked down at the creature at my feet; its body in two clean halves and oddly symmetrical.

    At its original size it would have been nothing but an annoying insect, dangerous to me but nevertheless, hardly worthy of my earlier distress.

    It made me wonder why they’d modified it at all. If they’d put me in a room with a swarm of the things, I’d have been toast. Granted, they probably didn’t want me dead.

    I’m allergic to wasps you see. Not in the normal sense. I cannot be killed except for the venom contained in these predatory insects. This little loophole was genetically predetermined. A scientist’s idea of a sick joke perhaps, or their way of keeping me on a leash.

    When the door opened behind me, I was ready. Ready for the next of my challenges, and for whatever they threw in my path.

    I gave the creature one last pitying glance before I stepped out; one genetic mutation to another. We were both screwed.

  14. Mike C. Baker Avatar
    Mike C. Baker

    There’s a chair in the room, varnished oak, the type used for a visitor in an office of the 1940-ish (CE) timeframe. An empty chair, not dusty yet not new, and it is there because it is needed – just not at the immediate moment. It has cohorts elsewhere, of course, in offices and meeting halls, churches and police precincts, and (in the future) scattered through an untold number of farms after having been purchased at surplus. Ten years later, or perhaps fifteen, it would be steel and vinyl and perhaps a chrome highlight or two.

    But, for now, it is an oak chair built to withstand years of daily use and all the occasional abuses of existence in a busy office.

    And the door has been sealed over so that the chair will not be found for three hundred years.

    * * * * *
    So, this snippet will find a home in Mad Harry’s universe, a gift to remind an FTL engineer that simple can be very good, when simple does exactly what it is supposed to even after three centuries of doing nothing but existing.

  15. Joe Lawler Avatar
    Joe Lawler

    Love this exercise, this was awesome so much more to go on! here is what i got.
    A small dark room: Crackles and sparks spuradically from electricity allowing only breif moments of sight.
    Me: what do i see?
    Muse: You see a room made of stone with no windows, one wooden door and a body in the center of the room.
    me: anything unusual about this body?
    Muse yes. the body is of a young man with short spiked snow white hair. he has dark tan or bronze colored skin and he is chained to the floor. Oh- yeah he is also the source of the sparks.
    me: is he a android or robot?
    muse: No!
    Me: but he sparks so is he magical or supernatural perhaps?
    Muse: Yes!
    Me: Why is he chained to the floor?
    Muse: So he couldn’t get away.
    I knew that was too easy.
    Me: Anything unusual about the chains.
    Muse: the chains are made of pure silver and etched with mystical symbols.
    Me: Is the man alive?
    Muse: Yes, but barely and he is unconscious.
    Me: Is he hurt?
    Muse: yes, he has many bruises all over his body and several bloody scars run down his back and sides.
    Thanks again Holly this was awesome.
    Me: How did he get here?
    Muse: He was trapped here.

  16. Marie Avatar

    This is great. My head was dead after a horrible day and was wondering what on earth I was going to do with the ‘fish bones’ my Muse rather grumpily spat at me, but:
    Me: How did the fish bones get here?
    Muse: Well, the fish died, didn’t it? (sighs)
    Me: Okaay…but is that important? Okay, okay (as Muse shows signs of leaving in a huff): how did the fish die?
    Muse: Not natural causes. It was a fight, went on for hours, a trial of strength.
    Me: And it was brought here by the winner?
    Muse: Eventually. After the battle – it’s a coming of age trial that everyone goes through on the estuary (a huge serpentine expanse of tributaries and spreading distributaries, channels deep and shallow, treacherous and deadly, benign and beautiful), the young man brought his prize to his home, cooked and ate it with his family, and then preserved the bones.
    Me: But we’re not near the sea now.
    Muse: No. But he’s brought the bones with him. Touches them. Strokes them alone, late at night.

    And so on! I’ll have fun with that. Thank you Holly: looking forward to the launch.

  17. Kayelle Allen Avatar

    I became aware of a person nearby in the dark.
    The unusual thing was that although I could tell it was human, I also felt an animalistic aspect. That made me uncomfortable. Putting out my hands, I walked away from the sound of the creature breathing, and came to a wall. I found no corner, as this seemed to be a round room. Which meant if I kept walking, I’d walk into the creature, or at least closer to it. So I stayed where I was. I didn’t know what it is supposed to be, or do. I only sensed a basic, down deep panic in myself, and feared I would not leave this room alive.

    Must say this all tumbled out rather quickly. It was a good excercise in how to create a scene and a feeling.

  18. Felicia Fredlund Avatar

    What is in the room?
    A typewriter on a pedestal/small table.

    What is unusual about the typewriter?
    It was never meant for typing words, it is the creation machine of the gods or an emotion writer (a writer that writes emotions); it creates real things (even intangibles) that didn’t exist before. More creating molds than duplicates.

    Who uses it?
    The gods whenever they want something new, or to spite each other. War was a particularly heinous concept created to destroy another god’s work.

    Why is it there?
    Because even gods need to create, maintenance is not enough for someone to do; and because the universe isn’t finished.

    1. Seleane Gray Avatar

      I really like this idea. Really interesting!

      1. Olivia Avatar

        I agree, it has endless possibilities and can be philosophical or fantasy.

        1. Felicia Fredlund Avatar

          Thanks! Now I just have to figure out a story for it. Perhaps World Clinic’s later chapters will help! 🙂

          1. Erin Avatar

            This is fantastic!! The creation machine really shook me up, I think my brain was expecting ‘moody writer with cigar locks self in room to write’ (which created an interesting image when I got to ’emotion writer’). Also, I love that war was created to destroy another god’s work. You can really see that god typing three simple letters (if that’s how it works…) with this awful finality and pettiness.

            Also — ‘Because the universe isn’t finished.’ Brilliant. There’s so much post-apocalyptic stuff around, this is such a great concept!

    2. Emeraldfenix Avatar

      OK, this is awesome!!! It begs the question: How many keys on a typewriter does it take to create something in the universe? *-)

  19. Antonia Avatar

    I got a blue chair, a sky blue chair.
    It’s blue because that’s the color of the blood that covers it.
    Why is there blood on the chair? Did someone torture people on it?
    No, people cut themselves to sacrifice their blood to the gods. The chair (lots of things, actually, but right now, it’s only this chair – the village isn’t that big or rich) is for them. People have worked long on it, and they plan to finish it until…some festival. One of the gods is going to be in a city nearby.
    And why should I care?
    Because he will absorb the essence of their faith and then he will die.
    Because someone decided it would be funny to kill a god (and yes, he actually has a better reason than that) and put some poisonous blood under his own.

    Then my muse threw in some things about the gods being like people, only different, and decided to shut up and let me deal with it.

    I hope this was actually understandable – this is only my second language.

  20. Melissa Avatar

    This was fun, and I’ve loved reading everyone else’s answers.

    My muse provided me with “an elephant on a sofa.” Which is annoying. I tried asking where the elephant came from, or how it got there, or why it was there, and my muse just kept giving more details of the room. It was small. There was no room for an elephant. It was on the second floor. The door wouldn’t fit an elephant. It took maybe a dozen questions until I realized that it was a sofa with an elephant patterned fabric.

    Which led me to who owned it. It is very old, and owned by a lady who lived in India as a child. But this sofa was made after she returned home to Britain. She prides this sofa and holds an idealized version of her youth and can’t break free of the past. I have a vague sense that she suffered some sort of trauma around the time she returned to Britain, and this is why she is stuck on the time before that.

    I don’t have a story yet, but I have a very interesting character to work with and explore.

  21. Elizabeth Poole Avatar

    The thing in the room is a book.

    It’s ancient, bound in leather. It’s dusty, the pages are yellow with age and made of thick vellum. It’s written in an ancient script no one can read or understand. There’s another book just like it, but evil incarnate. One book for the angels and the other for the demons.

    It contains magic, heresy, and the key to unlock the borders between heaven, hell, and earth. But it’s in code and no one knows how to read it.

    * * *

    The biggest thing I struggle with is making my ideas feel different from each other. I have several other ideas for books about angels/demons/gothicy feels, and every time I get something new, I have to wrestle with myself.

    On one hand, I don’t want to constantly tell my Muse “No, we have a book with angels and demons in it already” but on the other hand it starts to feel like the same book with two different plots.

    The ideas that are similar enough get combined, but there’s several ideas I have involving one genre element (angels and demons for example) that would be completely separate from each other (the demons are really extra-dimensional monsters for one, the demons are groups by types of sin for the other).

    So when I start worldbuilding one idea, it starts to feel really similar to the other and it’s sometimes difficult to keep each book’s individual “feel” separate in my mind.

    Basically, I need to figure out how to ask myself these questions, and stay open to the answers, but to also stay on task to THIS idea with the angels and demons. 😛

    1. Nicole Avatar

      You might try asking your Muse if these are different stories or the same——or possibly multiple installments in the same story or world (e.g. a series). If they’re the same, ask her (?) to show you how they connect. If they’re different, ask her to show you how the stories are different enough to make them two (or more) distinct plots, etc.

      Another possibility (and this happens for me all the time) is that they’re the same story but in superposition (i.e. a quantum state with multiple possibilities, all of equal probability). They’ll stay that way until you either a) get additional information that makes the multiple possibilities settle (or “collapse”) into one, or b) you choose one and stick with it. In fact, this might be a very interesting premise for a story; hmmmm… 🙂

      1. Elizabeth Poole Avatar

        I’ll have to try asking! That’s a pretty straightforward idea. Mostly I avoided directing because I didn’t want to piss my muse off, but I can always combine Calling the Lightening with this and specify I need it for THIS story.

        Mostly I think it’s because my stories exist in the superposition state, where I can see several different possibilities and have a really hard time narrowing down which is the right one. Breaking it off into different stories doesn’t help, especially since my muse is also looking at preexisting ideas, with a little tweaking, could also merge. It’s like playing Tetris with components of ideas…

  22. Jimena Avatar

    My heart’s still pounding. To do this exercise I decided to stand with my eyes closed and pretend I was in a dark room, but my muse was way ahead of me. A FREAKIN’ MONSTER JUMPED OUT AT ME, Y’ALL. It didn’t even wait for the light to turn on. Rude!

    1. Laura Avatar

      That made me snort my tea.

      1. Jimena Avatar

        My muse probably found it funny, too. 😛

    2. Elizabeth Poole Avatar

      Funny, that’s my muse’s response every time I go into a dark room and give myself a minute to think about it.

      “What if there’s a monster in the closet? What if it’s reaching for your ankle RIGHT NOW?”

      Or worse, the mirror. At night. I hate mirrors at night. “What if there’s someone standing right BEHIND you? What if something crawls out of the mirror to GET you?”

      Thanks, brain. I wasn’t planning on peeing in the middle of the night, ever.

      1. Amy Avatar

        Okay, I was totally not planning to comment on this post, but I had to note that right as I read the line RIGHT NOW, a bird flew at the window right behind me, and I jumped so hard! 😀 hehe. Nice timing.

    3. Mike Avatar

      I found a monster too!

  23. Amanda Avatar

    – What is in the room? A bed
    – Why does it matter? It matters because it is empty
    – How is the bed here? The bed wss built in this specific spot, the room developed around and because of it.
    – What is unusual about this? It’s is perfectly made. Carved into the last tree of it’s kind, hand carved with forest motifs. It is alive and it is waiting
    – When did it appear? It was imagined by the Pair and carved over 100 years ago to be the vessel.
    – Where do this come from? From The Pair
    – Who were The Pair? Master craftsman and his partner, his half who was also his mate
    – Why is this here? It is here because it is waiting. It is almost time for the Seeing Pair to arrive (but I keep getting visions of conceived)

    Still need to ask where the room is, what the vessel is for and if there are other Pairs and how that works. So excited for this start. I’ve been a member for s while be have never really had an idea take off and develop like this! Thanks so much. 🙂

  24. Kathy Avatar

    There is an old wooden chest sitting on the floor a few feet in front of me. What’s unusual about it is that I can hear a low humming sound coming from it. The light in the room is fairly dim, but I can see that the chest is covered in a thick layer of dust. Suddenly there’s a click and a pale blue glow begins to seep from the edges of the lid. The chest is there not to keep it safe, but to keep everyone else safe from it. The lid slowly rises and I feel it pulling me in.

    Cool. I can work with that. 🙂

  25. Sallie Avatar

    What’s in the room? A laptop, sitting on the floor, sort of toward a dull gray corner, a little dusty.
    Why is it here? Access. Access to what? Dunno. OK. What kind of laptop? Sentient. How did it get sentient? Trapped. Which is when I noticed there are no doors and no windows and no power outlets (and no cord for the laptop). Wonder if the battery is still good. I hate it when my muse cackles like that … And then there was the throb of a … heartbeat? At which point open the laptop and get ready to run. (Yes, my Muse frequently starts off with a scream, a screech and then has to figure out why the reader can’t breathe.)

  26. Lina Avatar

    This is brilliant and my Muse came up with something interesting.

    I got a ghostly hunting dog in a bedroom. It’s sniffing and looking for the child, who normally sleeps here. The master of the dog is still in the forest, waiting for results…
    I know the man in the forest don’t want to hurt the child, but times running out. He has no choice, if he wants to save his own family.

  27. Ingus M. Avatar
    Ingus M.

    I’m horrible with directions. Also, had to do it in my native language, but that’s ok. Here’s what I got. Also, I didn’t realise I could ask subsequent questions until after I started reading your example.

    What’s there? A big clock.
    Why is it unusual? It’s broken but it’s ticking.
    Why is it ticking? Because there is something alive in there.
    What is it? Something small. (My Muse is an evasive little bastard)
    What is it doing in the clock? It lives there. It’s living off of time energy.
    Even if the clock isn’t working? It didn’t stop time *duh*.
    How did it get in the clock? The clock maker put it there when he made the clock.
    Is this entity the only one? No.
    How many are there? Loads. (See? I told you it’s evasive)

  28. Kyralae Avatar

    Wow, my Muse loved this! First image was a waterfall fountain in a round room with no doors or windows. I started asking questions and I got that I was put there cause I was angry and needed calm. When I asked more questions the story started forming. All I know is there is a flying creature that is a sort of guardian that transported me into the room before I broke or hurt someone. Haven’t gotten to the bottom of that but it’s still roaming around in my head.

    I’ll leave my notepad out while I putter around the house. That’s when my Muse likes to drop tidbits to me.

  29. Kathleen Gabriel Avatar
    Kathleen Gabriel

    What is in the room besides me? A lumpy white statue on a blond wood pedestal. Why is it here? Because this is a museum, and this room was made for this piece by a famous artist. So why am I alone with it? Because no one likes it — it’s embarrassing, lumpy and awkward. It looks like a seventh grader’s attempt to make a sexy cookie jar. The artist is actually famous as a painter, and this was his only statue. I wish the museum would get rid of it, but the artist insists that it remain displayed as a condition for them keeping his other works. So why did you come into the room to see it? Because the artist is my husband and the statue is of me. I wanted to see it one more time to remind myself of why I’m divorcing him.

  30. Kit Daven Avatar
    Kit Daven

    I have the Worldbuilding Clinic already and decided to try this exercise again, except the only thing I could see in the dark room was a demon character which popped into my mind as a visual while developing the sequel to a novel I recently finished. In asking the question, “What is unusual about this demon?” my muse replied with ideas I already knew about this character. After the third familiar response, my Muse tossed out a fourth bit of new information, the kind which will help tie together the bits of information I already know about him. In the end, this exercise helped to expand on a previously built world and reveal more about the demon’s story arc.

    Thanks again, Holly for a great article.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I’m glad you got a good result.

      I’ll note, however, that the result you got was atypical because when a character showed up, you didn’t kick him to the curb and insist that your muse show you the THING in the room.

      Which shows me that I need to rewrite that instruction to make it very clear that what’s needed is something inanimate.

      As well, perhaps, as a bit of training on getting the right brain to deliver specifically what you asked for. This partnership takes cooperation from both participants.

  31. Michelle Avatar

    I love this! Thanks Holly. Here’s what I got.

    A silver candle holder. Very plain, and warm to the touch.

    Why is it special? It was used to light the way.

    Whose way?

    The heroes who saved the city. Using the silver candle stick and a tallow candle, they braved the darkness, and fought back The Beast of Night. When the battle ended and the light returned, the heroes disappeared. No candle placed inside the silver candle stick would ever light. The city leaders displayed it in the royal museum, to remember.

    But the darkness is coming back.

  32. Carol Avatar

    The thing I see:
    a reflection

    Why does it matter:
    Because it brings hope.

    How did this get there:
    It came as a result of opening her heart.

    What is unusual about the reflection:
    What is reflected, isn’t there.

    What is this and how did it get there –
    It is the unseen world reaching out to her

    When did this appear:
    When she came of age

    Where does this go:
    It leads to the unseen world

    Why is this here:
    To show her that there is more.

  33. Nathan Avatar

    Answer: A light switch.

    Nathan: What’s so special about this light switch?
    Muse: It’s a brass plate with a lot of curly cues and ornate bric-a-brac around it. The switch itself is white in the middle of all this brass. It stands out because the plate looks old and an antique but the switch is brand new and plastic. The really weird thing is the switch doesn’t belong to the lights in this particular room or any room. The light switch shuts down the universe.

    Nathan: Why was it put in such an obvious place?
    Muse: Who says it’s obvious?

    Nathan: Ok…the plate reflects something that’s been there a while but the switch seems brand new. Why the disparity between the two?
    Muse: Because the original light switch was broken and replaced recently.

    Nathan: What happened when the original light switch broke?
    Muse: …Um, we covered that. It shut down the universe.

    Nathan: If the universe was shut down, who repaired the switch and turned it back on?
    Muse: One of the engineers who is responsible for sorting out these sorts of messes when they get notification that there’s a problem in one of the universes that needs their attention. They pop by and take care of the problem and leave a card saying they were there and resolved the issue with a mint by the card.

    Nathan: Who puts in the request for maintenance?
    Muse: Someone else.

    Nathan: Are there other light switches in this room?
    Muse: Nope. Just the one.

    Nathan: So there are other rooms with other light switches to other universes?
    Muse: Yep, the challenge is keeping track of which room has which switch to which universe, and when they get it wrong the engineers have to go down and correct whatever problems are created.

    Nathan: Why not have a map or a guide to keep track of all the rooms and switches and universes?
    Muse: The map was stolen and the manager responsible for keeping track of it left to get it back but never returned.

  34. Theresa C Givans Avatar
    Theresa C Givans

    OK. In the room is a teddy bear.
    It’s unusual because it’s alive, and menacing.
    It escaped from a laboratory where they’ve been experimenting with artificial intelligence. The teddy bear is supposed to be a child’s companion and it should have been educational. Unfortunately, this particular teddy bear got smart enough to realize that it did not want to be used by humans for their own purpose. It wants its own life and its own purpose, so it has escaped and is hiding in this room. But it views humans as the enemy. The question is, how dangerous can a teddy bear be?

    1. Holly Avatar

      I’m guessing pretty dangerous.

      My question would be, “In what way?”

      1. Amazingrace Avatar

        Dangerous because it seems to cuddly, so child friendly, that people can be mistaken and get seriously misled.

  35. Cathy Chapman Avatar
    Cathy Chapman

    This was so cool. I had in mind the series of novels which has been floating around in my mind for some months now.

    What I saw.

    There was a simple table about 12 inches square, about waist high against the wall, in the middle.

    On the table was a glowing globe. It emits an electric medium blue light.

    It is a portal into another universe. It was placed there by the Higher Self who is not as yet known by the individual who has the room.

    It will be used to assist the archangels Michael and Metatron who need people who are pure to fight the Darkness which threatens to overtake the world by capturing all the creative energy of Light.

    Only children have the purity needed. The globe is in the room of a 14-year old child with learning disabilities.

  36. Nicole Avatar

    Interesting. I got an object that hooked me right back into the story I’m working on. It’s the central object, a tinderbox (my Muse keeps insisting on that, although I’m not entirely sure what a tinderbox looks like or how it works; I used to think it was a box with matches and a striking patch outside, or one that held flint and steel, but Googling it came up with a very different picture). Strike it, and it opens or activates a gateway between worlds. The new information I got this time was: This one is inlaid with a guitar or lute in mother-of-pearl, and it has projections or rays to multiple worlds simultaneously, so it’s a multidimensional gateway. All perfect for the world/story I’m working on.

    When I asked, “How did this tinderbox get here?” I got “It popped through a multidimensional world-chute just for this purpose [i.e. for the purpose of this exercise]. When I responded with, “Interesting. How did that happen?” my Muse responded with “Somebody shot it through like a matchbox through a mail chute.” Ha! Not only is my Muse also a smart-aleck, but she likes to move between worlds *so much* that she’ll even play between the world of my consciousness and the world of the story… 😉

    And it seems like the matchbox imagery is getting stronger than the tinderbox imagery (visions of The Little Match Girl. My Muse is, after all, a seven-year-old girl; what seven-year-old girl in this day and age knows exactly what a tinderbox looks like??), which makes sense for the medieval-cum-industrial-but-pre-electrical world that I’m buidling… Also got a bit more detail on the back story of the matchbox/tinderbox…

    This was fun. I’ve had concerns that the Shadow Room exercise (which this appears to be an extension of) would keep giving me new characters and new stories beyond the one I’m working on, and I can only handle so many ideas and new stories before I go into complete information overwhelm and breakdown. This showed me that my Muse is indeed preoccupied with *this* story, and isn’t going to deviate too far from it until it’s finished. So that’s a huge sigh of relief, and maybe I’ll have the courage to use the Shadow Room to get more information about the characters in *this* story, knowing that it can effectively be “programmed” (by my Muse/unconscious, of course) for already-existing characters…

    1. Holly Avatar

      The trick with getting what you want is pretty much the same as it is in real life.

      First you have to know what you want. Then you have to ask for it.

      Your Muse will follow your instructions to the letter if you specify “this story,” “this specific character,” “this piece of conflict,” “this part of this exact world”…

      You can use any of my exercises for new story ideas or for building out existing ideas. Simply specify to your muse what you want it to offer you.

      And don’t expect your right brain to give it to you in an expected form.

      1. Nicole Avatar

        Good to know. Thanks! 🙂

      2. Elaine Avatar

        Oh! I will have to try getting really specific like that. I got a world that could make an interesting little fantasy, which is fun and might be used some day, but I am writing a historical series.

    2. Sophia Avatar

      This is eerie, only because “Tinderbox” is the focus item of my WIP that I’ve been working on for a year. I wasn’t sure what it looked like, either, and it was different from my mental image. I know we’re all surrounded by the same influences, generally speaking, but it still felt a bit shocking to see this item, that felt so personal and unique, be a central object for you, too!

  37. Marcia Avatar

    Wow, Holly, I got a totally different response from my right brain/muse…

    Answer: meadow (so now I suppose I jumped ahead and should have said an open door), so that I can see the meadow.

    What is unusual?: there’s a big hole in the center of it.

    When did it appear? Construction of a new home/barn

    Possibly out west…nothing sinister, as I write in the romance genre. So maybe this means community coming together to help a needy neighbor in building a new house/barn. This showing of the community maybe means acceptance for the newcomer to the valley…

    I could go on and on…

    Thanks for this push…brainstorming sometimes is hard when there’s only one I the room.

  38. Diane Berry Avatar
    Diane Berry

    Wow, this is really fun. I did it while on interminable hold with insurance customer service and still got something interesting that definitely didn’t come from my left brain.

    What’s in the room when the light comes on? A lamp. This is the source of the light.

    What’s unusual about this lamp? It’s ornately enameled in reds and golds, and it looks valuable and quite old. It isn’t plugged in anywhere, but burns with a warm, golden glow. Unlike the surrounding walls, ceiling and floor, which are all rough, dusty wood, the lamp is elegant and well polished.

    Why is it here? It lights the way.

    The way to where? Wherever you want or need to go. Moreover, it lights you to determine whether you’re worthy to go where you want to go, or whether you need to go somewhere else.

    What if you’re not worthy? It sends you somewhere else, or back, or worst of all, it turns off and the things in the darkness eat you.

    How does it know? It illuminates your soul and reads what is recorded there.

    Who put the lamp here? The Guardians of the Ways.

    I have lots more questions, and I can’t wait to see what answers I get. Thanks!

    1. Elizabeth Poole Avatar

      Ooooo! Ask it about the thing in the darkness! Ask it about the thing in the darkness!

      1. Diane Berry Avatar
        Diane Berry

        What are the things in the darkness? You can’t see them, but you can hear their sly whispers and skittering claws. You can smell their moist, rank breath. And, if you’re unlucky enough, you can feel the paralytic poison course from their sharp fangs into your body just before they drag you down to Forfeit.

  39. Charles Baucum Avatar
    Charles Baucum

    What I got:
    What is in the room?
    The thing in the room is a machine of device of some kind; largish, does something. How?
    How does it work?
    It is not normal.
    Is it technological or supernatural?
    It is high tech? Low tech? Super tech?
    High or super.
    Is it magic?
    Sorta. One man’s tech is another man’s magic. It isn’t strictly mechanistic physics tech stuff. It bypasses causality at some point.
    What does it do?
    It crosses worlds.
    Why is it here?
    It must be contained. Crossing worlds is dangerous.

    The room is a vault. It contains a machine that is not well understood. The machine allows someone or something to cross to another world. This is dangerous. Other things/people can cross back – voluntarily or involuntarily. The machine can be hijacked as it opens the path. There are things that want to come home.

    1. Holly Avatar

      The machine can be hijacked as it opens the path. There are things that want to come home.

      Enter Lovecraft, nightmares trailing.

      1. Charles Baucum Avatar
        Charles Baucum

        Yeah, I’m a big Lovecraft fan.
        Interestingly, after all that setup, my muse is telling me that the threat comes from here, not out there. And someone with the resources to design and build this machine and the vault that houses it, wants to keep them out.

  40. Nicolette Stephens Avatar

    I love this! Am so eager for the Clinic to be released so I can work through the whole thing. Thank you for sharing Chapter One. 🙂

    My Exercise:

    The Object: A single page.

    What is so unusual about this page?
    It’s made from the Mists, a realm separate from our own but linked to it.
    So…looking into the page, you won’t see writing, or pictures.
    It’s a blank page?
    Not exactly.
    Then what?
    The Mists are the place the Elementals and the Grey come from. The page is from that place. It can show someone the very fabric of the universe, and gives them the ability to twist their own part in it, gives them whatever they want.
    Okay…what’s the catch?
    In order to change the fabric of their own lives, they have to change themselves. They risk losing friends, family, memories and events that haven’t even happened yet. They risk changing what they thought they most wanted.

  41. Drake_Tesla Avatar

    My muse is feeling gothic, today.

    A knife.

    Why is it here? She dropped it as she ran.
    What’s unusual about it? It’s copper, there’s fresh blood on the blade, and the hilt and guard are formed of twisted snakes.

    How did it get here? She grabbed it from the man who was going to kill her, and stabbed him so she could get away, but she’s afraid of the knife, so she dropped it as soon as she could.

    Why is she afraid of the knife? Because she thinks it’s sentient, and was asleep, but she’s just fed it.

    Oh, dear heavens. My muse and I need to chat about this one a little more.

    1. Mike C. Baker Avatar
      Mike C. Baker

      Ya know, there are markets for just exactly this kind of tale… Chat quick, wanna know what comes next, I does!

      1. Drake_Tesla Avatar

        You and me both!

        I’m frantically trying to finish a novel first draft (as well as a short story on a deadline) right now, but this story is definitely up next.

        My muse likes ‘the dark room’ even better than she likes Calling Down Lightning. Every time I’ve sat back over the last few days, there’s a cold touch on the back of my neck and a hopeful little image of a dark room with the lights slowly coming up. I think this may be someone’s new favourite playground.

  42. Charlotte Henley Babb Avatar

    I do a lot of intuitive work by writing a dialog, not just for creative writing, so you are not that unusual.

    In the bamboo-walled room is a plain oak chair, no arms, looks new,glossy, like a chair you’d see in a school. It seems out of place to me.

    how did it get there?

    J brought it in to interrogate someone. He wanted a strong chair with no arms so the person could be tied up.

    Where did it come from.

    –(duh) a storge room

    How is this character related to character with same name.

    He isn’t

    Whati s the time period? 1990

    What does J want to know? Who killed E, no relation to charcgter in WIP

    Wh is being interrogated? B, who knows nothing and is not involved

    Why does J think B is involved? B has a connection to the detective group

    What will J do to B when no information is forthcoming? He will blackmail B into spying.

  43. Michael Tassano Avatar
    Michael Tassano

    A 6′ silver candlestick, unused. Turned, not cast.
    The room was built to contain, to honor it.
    Warriors from around the world journey to sit in its presence.
    To put a candle on the candlestick would be sacrilege. Its light (it does give light) would be profaned by a mortal candle.
    Not from some god; it’s above the gods, from another plane of existence, another time.
    Why is it here? It’s hiding from something that wishes to eat it, to consume and acquire its powers.

    1. Holly Avatar


      Also creepy. I love the Things That Move Between The Worlds. (Inasmuch as anyone can love the monsters that haunt their nightmares.)

  44. Laura Avatar

    What’s here? A complicated-looking contraption.

    I asked: Why is it here?
    Answer: It’s a collections device. Send it to the past, wait for some curious people to start playing with it and POOF into the future.

    Then I asked why. And why again. And more why. and the answers are piling up pretty fast. Off to write this.

      1. Laura Avatar


        I got 700 words on a short story already and I can probably get the rest some time today. Had to go to work.

        Working title is “Pandora’s Think Tank”

        1. Erin Avatar

          oooh I’ve read something with a concept loosely similar to this and it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever read, so this has amazing potential!! I’d be really interested to see where you took this!

  45. Peter Adamson Avatar
    Peter Adamson

    Building a World Exercise

    Answer: A wooden table.

    Peter: What is so unusual about the table?
    Muse: One of the legs is broken, and lays upon the floor, splintered and smeared with blood.

    Peter: Why does that matter?
    Muse: Because it suggests this room might have been used as a holding cell and somehting has gone terribly wrong.

    Peter: But an adult would topple the table over quite easily!
    Muse: Not so easy for a child . . . or, say, a small woman.

    Peter: But a child wouldn’t be able to physically snap the table-leg.
    Muse: Who said a child did it, or a woman for that matter?

    Peter: The interrogation must have gone wrong!
    Muse: Perhaps not. Pehaps it went accordingly.

    Peter: Somebody must know about it. There is blood. Harm has been done.
    Muse: Whose blood?

    Peter: Exactly!
    Muse: Shattered table-leg smeared in blood. Whose blood? How much harm has been done? Whay has this happened? Why hasn’t anybody said anything?

    This could lead to a police investigation, a man-hunt, sex-slave trafficking . . . a whole host of possibilities.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Yes. That definitely reads as suspense-heavy real-world fiction.

  46. Kat Avatar

    I got a chair – not just a chair but a throne. The room is a dusty old storage room. The throne was moved back here, because no one talks about the King anymore…

    1. Holly Avatar

      Which does beg the question, “What happened to the King?” 😀

  47. Stephanie Avatar

    very interesting! I was so sure that I was going to get painting on the wall or a window but instead, my muse give me a purple and blue perfume bottle. It was fun trying to figure out why the perfume bottle was there, with me. It actually can be the answer I was looking for for my series.

    Thanks again Holly for amazing exercises! can’t wait to have the clinic in my hands.

  48. Barbara Avatar

    The object I saw in the room, when the light came on, was an old-fashioned white table, precisely in the middle of an ultra-modern kitchen. The top was white enamel with a red border, pristine, as though the price sticker has just been removed.

    I saw stainless steel everywhere, appliances, a wine cooler, sinks, back splashes over black granite counter tops. Was that a trash compactor I saw? Beneath my feet was a marble floor covered with clear plastic, wall to wall.

    The lack of small appliances on the counter tops began to puzzle me, until I saw the surgical instruments laid out on the counter behind me. And the IV pole standing in the corner.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Wow. My brain reads that as “creepy, scary, mad doctor, serial killer, home surgery is a bad idea.”

      Where did you go with it, and what genre do you usually write in?

  49. K. L. Stevens (@KL_Stevens) Avatar

    Wow! Great first chapter – doing the exercise helped me with an upcoming short story I wasn’t even sure I was struggling with before I started the exercise.

    I, for one, cannot wait for the whole thing to be released!

    Thank you for sharing this, Holly!

    1. K. L. Stevens (@KL_Stevens) Avatar

      And because I swear I can follow directions…

      What is in the room? A desk.

      What’s unusual about the desk? It’s a very old, warped, and it’s covered in books and scrolls. There’s a candle holder with ages worth of wax caked on it and a stub of a candle – no color or scent – burning. The flame is a pale gold.

      Who owns this room? Nietrayt. This is her business area. The desk is made from driftwood – she likes to think it’s from the slaver ship she destroyed when she escaped. Every page on the desk is covered with names – some have thick lines drawn through them and others are circled or marked with a star. She’s going through every connection she has to try to find her parents – did they make it off the island before it was destroyed? She’s been working on this for a while now, at least a year. The fresher pages are marked with heavier lines, almost gouges in the parchment. How much hope does she really have at this point?

      1. Holly Avatar

        The desk is made from driftwood – she likes to think it’s from the slaver ship she destroyed when she escaped.

        The words “she likes to think” in the sentence above triggered the following questions from MY muse…

        “What is she hiding from herself?”
        “What other things that she suspects are not true does she pretend are?”

        Not questions you need to answer. This is the direction I would end up pursuing.

        1. K. L. Stevens (@KL_Stevens) Avatar

          Ah, my muse likes your muse!

          Immediately I got responses…

          She’s hiding from herself that she’s miserable. Her whole life has changed since the island was destroyed and she hates the direction it’s going, but she sees no other choice. She hates being a mercenary. She signed her contact in blood. There’s no other life for her now. Her smiles, quips, and helpfulness are all lies, but she believes in them because she has to in order to survive.

          She pretends that her connection to the elementals (she’s a shaman) is more than business. It makes her weak in the eyes of others (elementals are bribed or enslaved, not befriended) but she has no other friends. She seems to forget that she has to pay them for their help and companionship.

          She also pretends she’s useful. Her skills aren’t enough to keep up with the other mercenaries. She acts as if she’s a valued member. Again, she’s lonely.

          While these answers don’t give me more to work with as far as the plot to this little short, they do give me a lot more insight into Nietrayt. I had no idea she wasn’t the jovial person she lets on… and now the story of her abandoning her long search for the caring family of her youth is a lot more soulful.

          Thank you again for the help!

          1. Holly Avatar

            😀 Delighted. You got something cool from it.

  50. Denise Loughlin Avatar
    Denise Loughlin

    Brilliant step-by-step analysis to focus on one image and every entrancing idea it sparks to radiate whole new universes to share stories! Love this, and thanks so much Holly!

    1. Holly Avatar

      You’re welcome. 😀

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