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Five-Quadrillion Combinations with "Deal a Story"… or MORE!?!

Cleone Reed character development choosing a plot comedy writers conferences for fiction writers conferences for writers Deal a Story Deal a Story combinations fiction writers Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks memoirs overcoming writer's block Patrick Vennebush playwrights plot development screen writers screenwriters Story development Sue Viders Tool for Writers villians and heroes and heroines writers block writers conferences writing coaches writing groups writing teachers

Our brainstorming card game, Deal a Story, by Sue Viders, boasts on the box top that there are 101 cards and 1,000,001 story ideas. But how many ideas really can come from this game? Even though I was really good at math and statistics when a student, over the years I have lost so much mathematical know-how.


So I wrote to our author, Patrick Vennebush, who wrote Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, (and has a blog of jokes and other fun math stuff) and asked him how many combinations were really possible with Deal a Story. A million and one sounds good, but how accurate is our advertising? 

Then last night, I awoke and wrote to Patrick: I realized in the middle of the night that there is no way to really calculate how many story ideas can come out of Deal a Story, because some cards have several ideas on one. And then one of the ideas on one (say a challenge is someone has a disease), that one concept alone has however many diseases exist.  A story about someone with Alzheimer's versus someone with cancer versus someone with bipolar disorder would all be completely different stories! So when I asked what the possible combinations there could be with the cards, I realize it would be just combinations of cards but not actual story possibilities. 

And add to this, many stories involve more than three characters, so when using  Deal a Story, one could easily draw more characters than the basic hero, heroine, and villain. 

Then first thing this morning, I realized that there are 196 countries in the world and over 7 billion people! And if everyone was given an identical hand as an exercise, everyone would come up with a different story from his or her own imagination. 

But take away all these extra tidbits of possibilities... with just the basic draw of three characters, a flaw for each character, a genre, and a plot, Patrick figured out that there are 151 trillion combinations!

And if you add just one wild card, it increases the combinations to over 906 trillion.

And if people got wild with the wild cards and used up to all five, there are 4.8 quadrillion possibilities.

The calculations are endless. The possibilities of stories are infinite.

The bottom line: Was our advertising accurate? Absolutely not. We are extremely low.

There are many, many times our one-million-and-one claim. Many more!


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  • Patrick Vennebush on

    Apologies to RDR readers! As explained in Re-Calculating Deal a Story, I goofed up the initial calculations. The numbers above reflect the total number of possibilities if 3 heros, 3 heroines, and 3 villains are chosen; since only 1 of each is to be chosen, the estimates above are an overestimate by a factor of 353 = 42,875.

    That may be good enough for government work, but it’s not good enough for me!

    Patrick Vennebush
    Author, Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks

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