List of Twenty

Can’t figure out why your character needs to move to California (besides the fact that you want your story to take place there)? Want something unexpected to happen to your character when she walks into a restaurant? Use the List of Twenty.
Author Patricia McLinn shared this exercise with me years ago. She and Emilie Richards and I plotted and brainstormed together and I miss them both since moving to North Carolina. Anyhow, it’s an exercise I come back to over and over again because it works in so many different instances.
When you encounter any sort of problem with your story, give yourself three or four minutes to generate twenty solutions without censoring your thoughts. Your subconsious mind will kick into gear and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results. Better yet, enlist some friends to come up with their list of twenty solutions for your problem. When I only have a short time to teach the List of Twenty during a workshop, I have one person describe the problem they’re having with their story and then all the participants write a list of twenty solutions for them and give them to that one lucky attendee.
By the way, the List of Twenty works on real life problems too, helping you think outside the box. Let me know how it works for you.


  1. Brenda on July 26, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    Please give a more detailed example…thanks…this could work with my students too.

  2. diane on July 26, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Try it with some friends, Brenda, so you get a sense of how it works. For example, if it’s important to me that a certain character have a falling out with her grandmother that’s bad enough to keep them apart for a decade, I’ll ask some friends to do a list of twenty possible reasons why that might happen. They’ll write the numbers 1-20 on a blank piece of paper, I’ll give them five minutes, and we’ll see what we get. The first few will be typical responses, such as “she discovered her grandmother beat her mother when the mother was a child.” But then the out-of-box thinking begins and you’ll be amazed by the ideas people come up with!

  3. brenda on August 11, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Thank you.
    It works

  4. » My Writers’ Group and My WIP on September 18, 2006 at 9:56 pm

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