Word Banks in Creative Writing

By Sarah Brodhead

You might have a project in mind but aren’t sure how to begin. Maybe you don’t have a project on the table but feel the urge to write. Either way, you can put word banks to use. These are nothing more or less than a list of words you use to assist you in your creative writing process. They may be words you wish to include in a poem or memoir, or they may be words you use to inspire a specific tone or theme.

Creating Word Banks

There are endless ways to put a word bank together. Some examples follow.

  • The Snowflake Word Bank: Start with a word. Ones with multiple or deep meanings are the best. Write every word or phrase or cultural reference that you can think of related to that word. Repeat this with the new words you have generated – to your heart’s content. If you chose the word “return” for your initial word, a secondary phrase might be “prodigal son.” Your tertiary words could range anywhere from “joy” to “sibling rivalry.”
  • The Thematic Word Bank: This is a variation of the Snowflake Word Bank, where instead of using a random word, you use your intended theme as a starting point. In fiction, your theme should show up in as many different manifestations as possible through different characters and events in the story. If your character needs to learn the meaning of friendship, friendship should manifest in different ways throughout the story, positively and negatively.Types of friendship like marriage, best friends, old friends, estranged friends, and worst enemies who used to be friends can be included. Depending on the length of your story, several manifestations need to be present. Creating a list displays your options and may allow you to pick the more interesting ones.

  • The Antithetical Word Bank: This method pairs well with poetry and creative nonfiction. Choose a magazine, newspaper, scientific journal, or any piece of writing that has absolutely nothing to do with the final content you wish to create. Then choose any interesting words from this material and fit them smoothly into your writing. It creates a sense of juxtaposition that makes work about an overused topic seem fresh and exciting. Nobody, for example, will expect an ornithologist in a sonnet about love.
  • The Stream of Consciousness Word Bank: You can start with a word that pops into your head or find any word of interest. Once you have a word, write down other words that are related. When you have done that, repeat with a new word until you have a list that suits the length of your project. You may use all the words you generated or only use a few with this method. You might just use a single one that seems right. This method is also an excellent exercise to get you into a creative state of mind and get your ideas on the page.


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