Friday, November 28, 2008

They Shoot Stories, Don't They?

Remember when I spoke of my favorite teacher? Mrs. Leona Drizin. She passed along a little game called Writer’s Russian Roulette.

Writers (Players) are presented with a sentence. The proverbial opening line. Wordsmithing ensues for five minutes. Pencils down. Players pass their paper to the person on left. The text is read. Another five minutes are allotted to write. And so on, until players recover their original papers. They read quite a story, one they believe they once knew. Players must now write toward a conclusion.

Stories might be nowhere near what had been intended, veering off into uncharted territory begging for exploration. Curiosity is piqued. “What ever became of that one with the squid?” Before long, stories are read aloud, laughter breaks out and wonder overcomes.

And oh, yes. Somebody’s story will be shot. It’s inevitable. At least one of the adventures will take a serious turn for the absurd. A veering so far off course it should be put out of its misery if not so danged humorous. Free entertainment.

Or rather edutainment. Not only does it stimulate creativity and encourage interaction, it forces one to heed and hone basic writing skills. After all, a competent narrative and story-steering must be accomplished in five minutes.

For a different twist, provide the closing sentence. The added challenge of working toward a conclusion from the onset can be tricky.

I recall one Closing Sentence from when I’ve played.
And we all stared back at the grapefruit lying by the side
of the road.
Two of the stories it spawned stuck in my mind and they could not be more different. One dealt with a race of mutant big-headed humans bent on global domination…you know, that ordeal. Because of one quasi-scientific reason or another, they degenergated into…grapefruits, what else? The other told the plight of migrant workers, but not as bleakly as Steinbeck.

I played Writer’s Russian Roulette with my students when I interned at the Young Master’s Consortium for the Arts back in Pennsylvania. They had itchy trigger fingers…always wanting to squeeze in time for another round.

Gather up a group of your writing friends and fire away.

1 comment:

Danielle Filas said...

What a blast! There is actually (it may not surprise you to know) an online version... it's called the neverending story over at this site:

I love the idea.. it's like really really slow improvisation! It seems to me that while it's perfectly acceptable to turn someone's story absurd, the writing should still follow the improv tenet of "yes and"... in other words, if a person starts out the story with a main character who is a mouse, no fair suddenly saying, "He wasn't a mouse... he was a parrot!"

Code word: gynapod