The Orchard & Using Dixit to Generate Ideas for Story Elements

I recently had my novelette ‘The Orchard’ published in the latest issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, so I thought I’d post an updated version of a Twitter thread I wrote last year when I first finished drafting that piece. It’s about using Dixit to generate ideas for story elements.

(As a quick aside before I launch into that, though, I’ve also joined Curious Fictions and was honoured to have my story ‘Little Freedoms’ chosen as one of their featured stories. Have a look and subscribe to my CF profile if you’d like; I’ll be posting free stories at Curious Fictions every so often!)

Onto the meat of this post:

‘The Orchard’ is a story about competing to win a magical orchard, and as a result of this I needed to generate dozens of different magical trees for the characters to admire and/or grow themselves.

The first 15 of these magical trees were fairly easy for me, but thinking up the rest of them became quite challenging. Not much came up when I Google/Pinterest searched ‘magic tree’, and I needed their individual magical properties to be immediately visually obvious. Making something magical on a basic level is straightforward, because you can combine it with different elements (fire tree, ice tree) or everyday items (tree made of string, tree made of candlewax), but for this story I needed the trees to be more complex than either of those.

Which is where Dixit came in: I’d heard of some writers using tarot cards for inspiration, which isn’t really my thing, but it made me think of Dixit cards.

Cards from the Dixit Harmonies expansion.

Dixit is a board game, but I don’t own the base game; I’d bought two expansion packs (of only cards) a little while earlier specifically for the purpose of helping me generate story ideas. The cards have unusual, surrealist pictures on them. The expansions are all in different art styles, so I picked the two I liked best and thought would be the most useful. I appreciated that they made me consider images and connections that I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

I could’ve done something similar by flicking through some images on my computer, but I found the act of physically turning over a card and thinking about how it might help (in this case, ‘does it give me any ideas for interesting magic trees?’) really useful. I also thought about printing my own cards, but that would’ve required finding 50+ pictures that sparked my interest/ideas and that I also wasn’t too familiar with, because if I know an image well I’m not going to look at its contents in the same way.

So that was how Dixit helped me to create the 35+ magical trees that are described, competed over, and brought to life in ‘The Orchard’. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using this method to generate ideas for whole stories, but I’ve found it very useful for story elements, which is why I thought this was worth sharing in case others find it useful.

As a final note, I’ve also signed contracts with Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Constellary Tales recently, so expect a couple of new stories from me to go live in those publications before too long!

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