A customizable card deck to fight writer’s block

MediaTag has been designed to help you organize all your media. It is therefore a great tool to make more sense of all your ideas, as well as your sources of inspiration.

But sometimes it is great to shuffle things around. Having too much control can prevent us from exploring new directions. It is easy to think that there are no new ideas left to brainstorm about, but that’s rarely the case.

Or sometimes you’re just not sure where to look, and you would like to be passively suggested new ideas. This is the kind of ways MediaTag can also surprise you.

Having both of those situations in mind, I designed a tool inside MediaTag.

It’s called ‘Shuffle Cards’

Just like you can view all your media in your main dashboard, you can now view them randomly.

It is actually heavily inspired from two physical card decks that I purchased and very much enjoyed using.

It is beautifully designed and does offer very inventive ways to get new ideas for your story.

Each card comes with a main title and a drawing, with a longer explanation on how to push the idea.

The second is the Observation Deck from Naomi Epel.

It is a slightly different take, in the sense that each card only has a couple words on it.

But the deck comes with a book, which has longer explanations as to what each card means.

Both decks really helped me in situations where I was stuck developing my stories. So I am really grateful that I could use them.

But there are still situations where I wanted a tool that would be more flexible and more playful. A tool where I could design my own cards, and still be surprised by chance and by connecting ideas.

Since MediaTag is already a place where people gather their ideas, and those are presented as cards, there shouldn’t be much to add to allow such functionality.

So all I did was add a page where you could pick 2 tags, and then one card for each tag would be displayed at random. This was all that was needed!

This means that every document, photo or video that I imported into MediaTag can become part of a deck.

This also means that I can have as many decks as I want.

And of course, I can share them. Privately with my teams or publicly with anyone.

And the even better news is that you can create your own deck!

But before showing you how to create yours, here is how you can use one that has already been created.

Here is a short video showing the one I made:

how-mediatag-ios-newsletter-is-designed-f2a74a2cffc3Video capture of me using Shuffle Cards.
The way I made this one is I created 100 cards with the tag ‘verb’ and 100 cards with the tag ‘noun’. I took a couple hours to find the most used English verbs, and picked the ones that were easier to describe an action. Same thing for the nouns.

That gives in total (100x100=) 10.000 different combinations.

And since I made both verb and noun tag public, you can see all the verbs here: https://mediatag.io/gui/tags/card:verb and all the nouns here: https://mediatag.io/gui/tags/card:noun.

And if you want to pick cards just like in the video, head over there: https://mediatag.io/gui/shuffle/card:verb/card:noun. Simply click on ‘Pick New Cards’ to update them.

I’ve made a list below of the combinations seen in the video. It may be tempting at first to just think ‘what kind of rubbish is this?’, but if you accept this as a way to nudge your mind in a direction you haven’t considered before, it may be surprisingly stimulating. So I’ve just written my thoughts as they came when I was picking new cards.

  • protect from the bus — so the bus is something we should protect ourselves from, not just ride on? It’s of course a danger if we fall on the road, but should I also expect the bus to chase after people? That reminds me the bus in Totoro, although I can’t quite recall if it was evil or not. In any case, this makes me think of using public transports in my story in ways that may be different (Just like Miyazaki did in Totoro).
  • use the masters — The masters usually are mentors for my hero. But should the hero use them without their consent? That could be a surprising attitude. Maybe for an anti-hero story, or a redemption one?
  • enjoy success — Should my hero find success too early and all goes downhill from there?
  • hate confidence — Interestingly, hate is a verb and also a noun. So I could read this as ‘hate and confidence’ or as ‘you should hate confidence’. In the first case, I am thinking of a protagonist that is too confident and grows hateful because he never connects with anyone. In the second one, he learns that confidences is the flaw he needs to fix?
  • change limits — I always try and give my stories constraints, even if chosen at random, as it helps me narrow down the possible actions my characters can take. But ‘change limits’ can mean to lower them or to increase them. In the first case, that makes me think about a hero who gets freed and does not know how to enjoy his newly found freedom. In the second, he… gets in jail? or in a possessive relationship? So either a physical or psychological prison.
  • make a hand — That makes me think about Edward Scissorhands, who certainly wishes he had a normal hand. Or a puppeteer who has difficulties finishing a puppet as the hands are the most delicate part. Is the puppet secretly alive and sad not to have hands yet?
  • accumulate a poem — Note that it is the singular ‘poem’, not plural ‘poems’. That is just because this system has no notion of grammar, but if I were to accept this as a rule, I’m thinking of my protagonist as an author who cannot finish a poem and his life is consumed by it. He may simply be writing pages after pages, but never finding satisfaction.
  • consult the cat — Knowing that cats always (always!) have bad intentions, why would my protagonist want to get the opinion of a cat. Is that the cat from Alice in Wonderland?
  • sell a phone — That’s a fairly common activity. Is my protagonist suddenly broke? Is he selling broken phone? Is he selling the phone of an enemy? Or is he trying to buy one, and cannot yet afford one?
  • consult elements — I’m thinking elements as in ‘fire, earth, air, water’. That is easier to think about situations to consult those, rather than consult a cat. Maybe both? Or are they in competition? Will they give me opposite advice?
  • eliminate the masters — After having used them, they are now a threat? Many films have done that before (one that comes to mind now is Batman Begins), but there are surely original ways to spin this.
  • turn off details — is my hero confused because his investigation has too many details. Try and squint, to have a new perspective and maybe find new clues.
  • stop library — Hang on… The library is a building, very static. Not sure how I can stop it. But… maybe I can stop the activity of the people inside? Or maybe I can simply burn it? 1984-style?
  • accumulate conflict — Yes, that’s the fuel of any good drama, thank you. Or thinking about what I did with the ‘accumulate a poem’ above, maybe my hero keeps adding conflict on purpose, as opposed to be affected by it? A true anti-hero then. But what could help him reverse this destructive behaviour?
  • dream about a shadow — That sounds like a nightmare. Or is my hero wishing to find this shadow in his dreams? Does the shadow have information he needs? Has the shadow seen things even it is afraid of?
  • draw plane — My character can draw. Maybe he cannot speak? Maybe he does not have a pen to communicate a clue. So he takes a stone and draw a vague shape on a wall?
  • confess your sense — Confess… to a priest? To the police? Why would I confess a feeling? An action yes, but feeling I’d very much like to keep them for myself. But maybe my protagonist only know how to express feelings and not actions? Maybe because that is the only thing he remembers? That could be an original flaw.
So that was my interpretation when reading those cards. But you will surely (and I certainly hope you will) have very different ideas when reading the same.

But in any case, since there are 10.000 combinations, you will never read the same thing, so this is bound to get your imagination a good kick, every single time.

Which ever type of screenplay or other creative piece you are working on, those should make your neurons active. It should make you look in directions you haven’t thought of yet. In short, it should expand your creativity.

Use it with any photo or video, not just text

And you’ve just seen it with only text, but you can actually use it with any media. Here is with the tag ‘noun’ replaced by ‘creature’, which is where I put all the photos of fantasy world creature when I found them while browsing.

Here is what it looks like using photos as well:

Video capture of me using Shuffle Cards with photos as well.
You can also play with this version here: https://mediatag.io/gui/shuffle/card:verb/creatures.

How to make your own deck

The cards deck you saw were created right inside MediaTag.io. If you are already familiar with the app, there is nothing new to learn. And if you are discovering it now, it is a great (and very simple) way to get to know it.

So I will show you how to create a very simple card deck. And the good news is that you can do it with a free account!

We will create a deck with 3 verbs:

  • run
  • walk
  • jump
and 3 nouns:

  • street
  • house
  • mountain

Step 1: Add a Document.

Step 2: Set the title as ‘run’ and ignore the document body.

Step 3: Save the document.

Step 4: You will now see a field to add tags. Simply type the name of our first tag ‘verb’. Press enter to save.

Step 5: You can see the tag is now visible in blue.

Step 6: Let’s now go back to the dashboard.

Step 7: You now see on the left the tag in a list where all other tags would be displayed. Start another document (Note that you could have clicked on ‘Start new one’ in step 5 as well).

Step 8: Set the title to ‘walk’. Since you have already added a tag, ‘verb’ is already suggested for you, so you don’t have to type it again. Simply click it to add it.

Step 9: Save the document, and create the 3rd verb ‘jump’ in the same way. Once back on the dashboard, you should see all three cards like this.

Step 10: Let’s now add all 3 nouns ‘street’, ‘house’ and ‘mountain’.

Step 11: Once you have added all 6 cards, you should see this.

Step 12: Let’s now go to ‘Shuffle’ from the top right menu.

Step 13: You can now see two fields, similar to the ones used to add tags to the documents. Here you use them to select which tags the cards will be picked from.

Step 14: Let’s pick the tag ‘verb’ for the first field and ‘noun’ for the second one. You will see the ‘Shuffle Cards’ button appearing. Click on it.

Step 15: DONE! You can now see 2 cards picks at random from each tag. Simply click on ‘Pick New Cards’ to do just that. CONGRATULATIONS for following every step AND CREATING YOUR OWN DECK!
Now there are only 3x3 cards, which gives you only 9 combinations. But simply adding one card will make 4x3=12 combinations. And adding another one can be 4x4=16.

5 and 5 will give you 25, so this adds up quickly, giving you in little time a powerful tool.

And don’t forget that you can add anything, not just text. So a good way to add new cards, is to use MediaTag as a bookmarking tool, using its extension. All you need to do is to save a photo when you see one that inspire you. Once it is saved, you can instantly add it to your shuffled cards, really unlocking your creativity.

Don’t hesitate to share in the comments any new ideas you may have found when using this tool. I’d love to know how it helps you and how surprising it may have been.

MediaTag isn’t just a way to pick random cards, it is a way to stimulate your creativity by helping you saving your sources of inspiration, from the web and from any file. Try MediaTag.io for free.