Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Exercise To Help You Create Stories on the Fly

When I was an actor in theatre, I always looked forward to improvisation exercises. When we do improvs, we're given a situation to work with, or a "prompt," and try to act out a scene. It becomes more challenging when we're given limitations, like, "you cannot talk," or "all you say should be sung." It encourages us to think on our toes.

A similar game that you may have played before is Train of Thought. A group of people sit in a circle and create a story as a group, each person contributing one sentence.

There are other storytelling games in the market, such as Talecraft by Komikasi, and Once Upon a Time by Atlas Games. Both are card games, and great ways to get a group together to have fun.

The following exercise is similar to all of the above. Though it is best done by two people, you can create variations to accommodate more. But since we're working with two people, one will be the storyteller, and one will be the facilitator.

The facilitator will need five sheets of index card-sized paper, a pen, and a coin. The storyteller will need a pen and a sheet of paper. You will also need some kind of stopwatch or timer, though a simple watch will do.

The facilitator secretly writes down five prompts, all starting with "One day..."


One day, a fish discovers it has grown legs.
One day, Natalie finds a secret door underneath her bed.
One day, Joshua is approached by a mysterious guy in a black trenchcoat.

At the start of the exercise, the facilitator randomly picks one of the prompts and gives it to the storyteller.

Timer starts, set for ten minutes. The storyteller writes down on a sheet of paper the next Story Event that follows the prompt. For example, if the prompt is, "One day, a fish discovers it has grown legs," the storyteller can write down, "Surprised, the fish decides not to go to work" as the next Story Event. (If the storyteller doesn't feel like writing it down, he can just say it out loud.)

When the Storyteller finishes writing down the Story Event, the facilitator tosses the coin. "Heads" means that the storyteller should proceed to add another Story Event. "Tails" means that the storyteller should cross out what he had just written down and substitute it with a new Story Event.

The cycle continues. With every Story Event written down, the facilitator tosses the coin. "Heads" to proceed, "tails" to change. What's important is that the story still has to make sense. This goes on for ten minutes.

The purpose of the exercise is to encourage quick thinking and creativity, especially if the coin asks the storyteller to change Story Events repeatedly. When pressed for time, we usually go for a default way of thinking, to follow impulse. By telling the storyteller to "change" decisions, he is forced to go beyond default and tap into his latent creativity.

NEXT: If you've gone through this series of blog posts on How To Make Graphic Novel Stories From Scratch, the next post summarizes most everything that we've covered. Best to see how much ground we've covered before moving forward,

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