Okay, I totally stole this from the treasurer of my London Writers’ Society exec board. But it’s a really cool writing activity, so hopefully she’ll forgive me!
What you need:
A few people, some paper, some pens, and lots of imagination!
How it works:
Each person writes down one element of a story, completely separate from everyone else so that no one else knows what they’re writing.
- Person #1 comes up with the main protagonist
- Person #2 comes up with a secondary character
- Person #3 comes up with a setting
- Person #4 comes up with an inciting incident (meteor crashes to Earth, protagonist loses car keys, etc.)
You can always come up with additional job roles if you have more people (e.g., person #5 comes up with a plot twist).
Once everyone’s done writing, share your part with the group. As a group, your task is now to figure out how to fit these disparate elements together into something resembling a story. Group bonding and side-splitting hilarity will ensue — guaranteed!
A lot of people are really good at coming up with the kernels of an idea, but actually turning that idea into a story is a lot harder. The point of this exercise is to practice that crucial step — turning ideas into stories. In all likelihood, the story you come up with will be ridiculous … although maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and everything will come together!
Note: If you don’t have a group on hand, you can always tackle this activity on your own. I shall proceed to do so now …
Michelle’s solo attempt at the group writing activity:
- Protagonist = Sylvia Longbeach, a private detective from Malibu who specializes in canine-related murders
- Secondary character = Cynthia Cornwallis, intergalactic lawyer and lead prosecutor in the famous “Betelgeuse Quintuplets Double Homicide” case, which she lost
- Setting = A post office
- Inciting incident = The president’s mistress is kidnapped
Sylvia is picking up a package at her local post office, and opens it to find a dog biscuit caked in blood. Immediately suspecting the worst, she rushes outside, only to crash into Cynthia. Cynthia is on Earth by accident — after losing the Betelgeuse Quintuplets Double Homicide case, she was not able to pay rent on her space yacht, so she had to take a public teleporter instead to get to work — which inevitably malfunctioned, as public services tend to do, sending her to Earth. Because of her alien origins, Cynthia has an excellent sense of smell, and immediately recognizes the scent coming off Sylvia’s dog biscuit as human blood. She tries to convey this information to Sylvia, but Sylvia unfortunately does not understand Universal Common.
They proceed to Sylvia’s lab (located behind the pet store Sylvia owns), and Cynthia’s suspicion is confirmed–the blood on the dog biscuit is human. That’s when Sylvia turns on the television to see if the daily news mentions any murders or kidnappings in the area … and they find out that the president’s mistress has been kidnapped on her way to zumba class. Hilarity ensues as these two unlikely friends team up to find the president’s missing mistress! Will Sylvia’s old nemesis and ex-husband, the Basset Hound Burglar, make his long-awaited return? Will Cynthia ever get back to Arcturus in time for her big comeback case? Find out in Michelle Proulx’s zany new mystery novel, The Paws-itively Puzzling Kidnapping!
Unrelated media of the day:
Introducing the “sexy sax man”, who brings his saxophone to random public places and plays George Michael’s Careless Whisper to the unsuspecting shoppers, security guards, etc.
I love these kinds of exercises. We regularly use similar techniques at my writer’s group.