Rory’s Story Cubes

A review of something other than books (for a change) but that is still intimately related to storytelling and storytellers.

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I’ve picked up a set of Rory’s Story Cubes (specifically, the orange “Original” set and the green “Voyages” set) a few years a ago as something to do with my daughters. This was before I started writing, but since I’ve always been a compulsive reader, I thought it would be great. Now that my son is getting to a stage where he can (occasionally) sit still for long enough, I brought them out again to play with him.

The premise is simple. There are 9 dice in each set, and a different picture on each (so 54 pictures per set). You roll the dice, look at the images, and let your imagination soar as you string them together to tell a story. There are millions ways a throw of the dice could land, and then, of course, each story teller will have their own take on how to string the set of images and make a story. What’s really important is just the seed, the spark of imagination, and then the constant practice of storytelling.

When my son picked up the keyhole image and asked what is it, I explained that this is where you put the key to open a door. He asked, “What’s behind the door?”, and hey presto – Narnia.

How effective are they? In the beginning, you might find the stories tend to be short and silly. That’s OK. Your skills (or those of your associated waist-high humans) can easily mature with practice. There are plenty of ways to play as group too – taking turns with the whole set, making each person roll a subset of dice and continue the same story, etc. To get my son more involved, I let him choose the next die facet for me to continue the story. There’s no right or wrong play (just like with stories themselves), you just keep practicing and improving.

Now, as many visitors on my blog are authors themselves, the implication for using these as idea generators, as ways to overcome writer’s block, or otherwise integrate them in any number of ways into your writing are obvious. I think, though, that it’s the constant practice that’s the most important. After all, ideas are cheap — it’s execution that’s the important selling factor. Even if you play with a preschooler, you can still think about constructing your tales to incorporate drama, conflict and resolution, building characters from tropes and what not. It’s the thinking about storytelling an impactful (rather than silly) story that matters here.

I always meant to pick up the blue set (“Actions”) at some point. When writing this post I checked their website, and saw that they now have a larger variety of sets — even one dedicated to Fantasy lovers! I know what hints I need to drop closer to Xmas. Besides the basic sets, there are licensed world sets (Batman, Dr Who, etc), and a collection of expansion sets with particular themes (if you want to focus of stories of a specific genre).

There’s also the official app (on both iPhone and Android), which I believe comes with the basic set, and you can buy more sets through it. Alternatively, there are similar ‘story dice’ apps for free. From my own experience, I much prefer the real dice. For kids it’s a must, but even just for me I appreciate both the feel in my hands and the distraction-free experience of the real thing.

I do suggest that, unless you have a specific interest, you should pick up one of the basic sets as a start and see how it goes. That should provide you with hours of story-telling entertainment, and you can easily work out if this is a useful tool as an author or a parent.


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